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26 March, 2010

Did a North Korean Sub Sink the ROKS Cheonan?


About 40 sailors are missing after a South Korean navy ship sank near the border with North Korea, Yonhap news agency said citing military officials.

The patrol vessel, with 104 people aboard, sank after an unexplained explosion tore through its hull.

Several sailors also died, officials are quoted saying as divers prepared to return to the scene after daybreak.

South Korean officials played down earlier reports that it may have been the result of an attack by North Korea.

There was no sign of the North's military in the area where the ship sank, Yonhap said citing officials.
The ship was the ROKS Cheonan, a Pohang class Patrol Combat Corvette patrolling in waters close to prior skirmishes between ROK and DPRK ships. 

NerveAgent (of Visions of Empire) argues that the authors of wire reports like the BBC piece above have bought South Korean propaganda hook, line, and sinker. According to him, this is the real thing:

Reporter for Peace
"NerveAgent". Visions of Empire. 26 March 2010.
So... the Cheonan must have backed up onto a rock that had remained undiscovered after decades of vigilant naval patrolling, causing the stern to explode and the ship to catch fire and sink. According to Baker, that sort of thing is an ordinary “accident that happens on a ship.” The fact that the incident occurred near the Northern Limit Line is completely irrelevant.

What planet is Baker living on? The DPRK commits military provocations on a regular basis, regardless of its inferior capabilities. These are political actions designed to get attention.

Seoul does seem to be playing down the incident; after all, if they acknowledged it as a North Korean attack, they would be compelled to respond in some fashion. It’s clear that they don’t want to do this. Unfortunately, nobody has reported the story from this angle.

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A few thoughts.

NerveAgent writes off the wire reports' glaring flaws as a matter of incompetence. I believe there is another explanation worth consideration: collusion. Editors are often friends with Presidents. Both in times of war and times of rumored war statesmen have called upon reporters to keep stories from reaching press. My suspicion is that the same has happened here. It was likely "suggested" to the various bureau office editors that the full extant of events be withheld from their dispatches until the South Korean government has had a chance to plan a proper response to the events unfolding before them. I doubt that any of these editors offered any serious resistance to this suggestion. If the peace should fall apart they know whose homes will be greeting the first North Korean missiles.

Most newsmen are in no such danger. I doubt the story can be contained once pundits oceans away learn of the Cheonan's fate. In particular, conservative outlets with an axe to grind will be quick to pick this up in service their own political battles with domestic opponents.

President Lee Myung-bak has very little time left before this story explodes across the world. Lets us hope he can make the best of it. 


ADDENDUM (30/3/2010):  I have been following the news reports on this one, and I have yet to see a more convincing explanation for this event than a DRPK torpedo. However, it appears that I was wrong in one respect - world leaders (and editors) have proved themselves quite capable of directing the public conscience elsewhere. The traffic this page has received reflects this; on the day this was published it received more than 100 hits.  Today it received four.  

ADDENDUM II (1/4/2010): South Korea is keeping the surviving sailors  under a strict media quarantine. None of them - including the healthy ones - have been allowed to tell their families or the media of the events that led to ROKS Cheonan's destruction.

2 comments:

NerveAgent said...

That's certainly a possibility, but colluding with government authorities would constitute "incompetence" by the supposed standards of journalistic integrity (which are little more than platitudes anyway).

I appreciate that the needs of war and peace sometimes require that the media be co-opted to further the interests of the state, and perhaps Seoul and the news organizations can be forgiven on that account. But for disinterested observers, the result is a glaring distortion of the truth.

JN Kish said...

So, to recap the official South Korean story- the ship could have fired "at a distand flock of birds" and then "struck a rock" which set off an "explosion on board", which "caused a hole in the ship, which led to its sinking". However, at this time, we are not ready to rule out the possibility of Nessie or climate change as a cause of this apparent natural disaster.
Korean Torpedo- Honest Mistake or Disinformation Campaign?