September 23, 2011
The Ministry of National Defense is currently implementing special education courses for military personnel designed to help them recognize people who are “serving North Korea.” The argument is that a need for special current affairs education was perceived in the wake of the recent “Mount Wangjae” case, but both the content and the aims of the courses are highly questionable.
The ministry’s psychological combat power division produced Power Point materials titled “A Fifth Column Subverting Liberal Democracy: Who Is Repudiating the Republic of Korea?” and sent them to the different armed forces. The materials cite the April 3 uprising on Jeju Island and the People’s Revolution Party incident as examples of activity by “servants of North Korea who have changed their faces over the years.”
The government, however, officially apologized for its national error with the April 3 incident in 2003 after the National Assembly’s enactment of a special law for its investigation. And in the case of the People’s Revolution Party incident, the 23rd criminal consultation division of the Seoul Central District Court held a retrial that resulted in a not-guilty ruling on Jan. 23, 2007, against the eight individuals sentenced to death. So while the government and courts have worked to rectify past errors by the state, military authorities have ignored this and willfully altered their character. It even calls into question the underlying motives of this absurd distortion of modern history.
The course materials also state, “North Korean allies who subscribe to anachronistic communism and plot the destruction of South Korea are a cancerous presence in our society.”
As a background motif, they selected a picture of a 2008 candlelight vigil demonstration against resumed U.S. beef imports at Seoul’s Cheonggye Plaza. This is an attempt to manipulate the image to make it appear as though citizens who fought the government to ensure the safety of their food represent a “cancerous presence” or “purge target.” It is also a faithful echo of baseless political talking points from certain right-wing critics. This is more than just a comprehension error by the person who wrote the materials; it is a fundamental violation of the military’s obligation of political neutrality.
It has been reported that in the wake of an outcry, the ministry decided to remove the portion of the materials having to do with the April 3 uprising and People’s Revolution Party. Rather than simply making small revisions, it should collect all of the materials and discontinue the course. They are close in character to a script for extremist political propaganda. The writers and officials in change of distribution should also be sternly reprimanded for calling the military’s proper duty into question.