January 03, 2003
|My daughter, I decided to write this to you when I heard that you were going to the candlelight rally in Gwanghwa-mun. As a father, I felt it was my duty to do more than just worry, and went to visit the site in Gyeonggi province where Mi-seon and Hyo-sun, two girls of your age, died in a tragic accident. Hyochon-ri is the place where the two middle-school girls were crushed to death by a U.S. military vehicle, an accident that turned the country into turmoil.
Following a curve on an uphill path, you come to a hill where there is a narrow two-way road. There are no sidewalks, and the people have to walk in the road. There is no place to duck in case of emergency. It is a shabby road with a steep slope running along it that leaves no space to step aside.
On the day of the accident, Hyo-sun and Mi-seon were probably walking on the road because there was no sidewalk and they couldn't see the vehicles because they were coming from the other side of the hill on the curving road. They probably had no room to duck when the vehicle came upon them. The U.S. soldier driving the vehicle might not have heard the warning because of all the noise, and tragic as the accident was, it seems that there was an element of inevitability to it.
You heard from some people that the American soldiers had killed the girls on purpose, that no compensation was paid and that, according to this American law called the SOFA or something, these soldiers were set free and whisked safely back to the United States.
The truth is that U.S. military commanders visited the parents of the girls after the accident to apologize and paid compensation of 190 million won ($158,000) for each girl. You grew angry when you heard the details I gave you because they were so different from what you had been told before by other people.
Since the accident, the commanders of the U.S. military in Korea, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and even the president of the United States have apologized to Korea, and efforts are being made to revise the Status of Forces Agreement.
The two soldiers directly involved in the accident were acquitted in a court-martial and have gone back to the United States, but their superiors have been seriously reprimanded for the accident.
Of course, both the U.S. military and the Korean government were at fault in not conducting thorough investigations of the site after the accident. Both governments admit that they are to blame for not having provided enough measures to prevent such accidents during military training exercises, and efforts are being made to improve that lack.
My concern is that at this minute, there are those who post gruesome posters of the mangled bodies of the girls on the Internet and on walls without any detailed explanation of the accident. They are trying to play with your emotions. Certain instigators of anti-Americanism equate this accident with all the crimes by U.S. military members during the past 50 years, and some are even using this incident to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea.
I, too, participated in anti-American rallies when I was a university student. At that time, we protested the United States' protection of the military dictatorship. But the United States helped the fight for democracy here and in the Philippines in the late 1980s and civilian governments were able to take over in Korea in the 1990s. President Kim Dae-jung himself was able to leave for exile and return to Korea in safety because of help from U.S. politicians. I hope you realize that the United States not only helped us during the Korean War but also helped in developing our democracy and continues to be a good friend that protects our national security.
Now we must put to place all that has happened because of the accident involving the two girls. No armed vehicles should be allowed on narrow two-way roads, U.S. and Korean soldiers must hold training exercises together, and the highest priority should be given to the safety of civilians.
Regulations under the SOFA should be revised and initial investigations should be conducted jointly so that there will be no difference of opinions afterward. Our government should also make sure that it builds roads not only with lanes for cars but also with shoulders and sidewalks for the protection of pedestrians.
Korea and the United States have already started to turn this into an opportunity to make their relations more mature and equal. It seems that a new timetable of changes in U.S.-South Korean relations in step with the development of North-South Korean relations will be announced soon.
Korea and the United States will remain partners in upholding democracy, human rights and the free market.
My beloved daughter, can you not trust your father and return to your school with peace of mind?
* The writer is a professor of defense policy at the Korea National Defense University.
by Han Yong-sup
January 03, 2003
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