The Military Needs to Be Knocked into Shape

      June 11, 2010 12:32

      The Board of Audit and Inspection has recommended that 25 people, including 13 high-ranking military officers, face disciplinary action. The Navy corvette Cheonan was attacked by a torpedo at 9:22 p.m. on March 26, but the BAI probe reveals that the sinking was not reported to the Joint Chiefs of Staff until 9:45 p.m., while the head of the JCS was informed at 10:11 p.m. and the defense minister at 10:24 p.m.

      It took 23 minutes until the incident was reported to the JCS, 49 minutes until it reached the head of the JCS and 62 minutes until the defense minister was told. The JCS then claimed that the attack took place at 9:45 p.m., and omitted to mention that an explosion was heard on Baeknyeong Island near the scene of the incident. The Second Naval Command was told by the captain of the Cheonan that the ship appeared to have been hit by a torpedo but did not mention this to officials higher up in the chain of command.

      At around 11 p.m., the Cheonan's sister ship Sokcho, which had been dispatched to the scene, fired scores of rounds at a fast-moving object in the water and reported that it appeared to be a new type of North Korean semi-submersible. But the command ordered the Sokcho crew to say in their report to the JCS that they had fired at "a flock of birds." The BAI said the command disobeyed regulations stipulating that the initial situation report must not contain assumptions or omissions. The BAI said the facts were distorted because officials were afraid of being punished for failing to respond properly.

      Regarding the delay in the JCS being informed of the sinking, the BAI said both individual officers and the military command are responsible but declined to disclose names. At the time of the Cheonan sinking the head of the JCS was on his way back from a seminar in Daejeon aboard the KTX bullet train. It does make one wonder whether a rumor among soldiers that the head of the JCS takes the train to save fuel costs is true.

      The military was apparently aware that a sudden attack by North Korean submarines could happen following the North's defeat in a naval skirmish in November. Military officers already had intelligence showing North Korean submarines had left a naval base on Cape Bipagot two to three days before the Cheonan sank. Yet the Navy left the Cheonan, which was not equipped with the latest sonar detection equipment, exposed on the West Sea. It was traveling at a speed of six knots when it was attacked. In other words, it had no idea what was coming. A military that loses a battle can be forgiven, but one that fails to remain vigilant cannot.

      The military faces a major reshuffle that reflects the results of the audit. The latest failure results only in disciplinary action for some officers, but in the annals of history there are countless incidents where such a failure caused the destruction of countries. The reshuffle must lead to a complete overhaul of troop morale and readiness. The day are over when it could be seen as a game of musical chairs where empty seats are filled by favored officers based on family, educational or regional ties. If that happens again, then the military can pretty much forget about winning the loyalty of frontline soldiers. Top brass must at long last wake up to the gravity of the situation.

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