October 31, 2014 13:02
Marines guarding a hill along the inter-Korean border pulled down a giant steel Christmas tree earlier this month that served as a propaganda symbol for the South for 43 years. The Defense Ministry did not inform the press and only admitted it had been dismantled after the media belatedly reported it.
A military spokesman said the heavy steel structure was pulled down due to safety concerns after it was found that the nuts, bolts and other parts had rusted. The public did not pay much attention.
Still, the prevailing view was that the government pulled down the structure just ahead of high-level inter-Korean negotiations, and some accused the government of bending over backward even though there had been no request in all the non-stop rhetoric from the North to dismantle the structure.
A closer look at the situation reveals a different story. After media reported on Oct. 22 that the Christmas tree had been pulled down, President Park Geun-hye asked officials why it was dismantled and whose decision it had been. In other words, she had been left in the dark.
The 18-m tower was built in 1971. It stood only 3 km from Kaesong in North Korea, so Kaesong residents could see the seasonal illumination when their own lights were out due to chronic power shortages -- to the fury of the North Korean regime. The lights were turned off during the Roh Moo-hyun administration in order to prevent agitating the North, but lit up again after the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.
At one point the North threatened to bomb it.
That means the structure is in its way a symbol of cross-border relations. Tearing it down was obviously liable to send the wrong message to the North and stir up controversy here. But the military still pulled it down without even informing the president. This shows the perpetual lack of judgment of many frontline commanders.
Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told lawmakers that they learned about the demolition in the press. The government must at long last ferret out the weak links in its North Korea policy and defense against the North.
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