Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cheonan Theories Get a Torpedoing

Most people are in favor of putting as many points of view in the public sphere as possible, on pretty much all issues. Nobody should be forbidden from speaking their mind, it is generally believed. This is the way to create a creative, diverse, and harmonious society, after all.

Here is an example. It is a list of what some might call conspiracy theories, but I see as reasonable assertions of doubt about certain issues surrounding the Cheonan sinking. Much of it has long been disproved, but it is in the public domain and it asks some searching questions.

But there comes a time when exercising the right to free speech can turn into what General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett might call a "total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face."

There has been quite a bit of this in South Korea of late, but two events in the last two days should be enough to put paid to it as far as the Cheonan sinking is concerned.

Last Friday, North Korea's National Defense Commission (NDC) made its own presentation to a group of assorted persons both Korean and foreign, the latter presumed by most to be embassy officials. The details of it, and the associated refutations by the Ministry of National Defense, are here.

The NDC presentation, as this Chosun Ilbo articles points out, seemed for all the world to be an agglomeration of facts and conspiracy theories pulled from the internet, which, as the article points out, it may well have been.

Well, the internet bites both ways, it turns out. First, for North Korea to think it could claim that it "does not have Ghadir class, Sangeo class, or any other 130-ton submarines” in the era of Google Earth was outright foolhardy.

Second, it also thought that even though nigh on 20,000 North Korean defectors and former soldiers live in South Korea it would be possible to make claims like "It is impossible for a 130-ton submarine loaded with a 1.7 ton torpedo to attack in a ‘C’-formation." No, as has today been proven by this.

Pyongyang may think it unfortunate that the helmsman of a Sangeo class submarine which was beached at Gangneung in 1996 might break his 14-year silence to debunk the whole show, but that is not so. International Relations is changing, and changing too fast for North Korea to keep up.

Together, these two stories are likely to do more to convince skeptics of North Korea's guilt than all the evidence presented by the joint investigation team, and the two efforts together, added to the extraordinarily amateur effort of the NDC, really ought to bring this particular debate to a close, and allow the world to focus on what to actually do.

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