Today, I am standing here keenly aware that I am responsible for not having been able to protect the lives and property of the people. I understand very well that you were greatly disappointed with how we responded to the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo(Yeonpyeong Island) by North Korea.
I feel enormous frustration and regret over the fact that innocent lives were lost and the homes and livelihood of the islanders were devastated.
I pray for the repose of the souls of Staff Sergeant Seo Jung-woo and Lance Corporal Moon Kwang-wook as well as the two civilian casualties—Mr. Kim Chi-baek and Mr. Bae Bok-chul. I also once again extend my heartfelt condolences to their families. I hope that those who were injured will recover quickly. I promise to urgently come up with the comprehensive measures to help the islanders of Yeonpyeongdo.
North Korea’s provocation this time was entirely different and unprecedented in nature. Since the end of the Korean War, the North has perpetrated numerous provocations, but it has never launched a direct attack onto our territory before. Making matters worse, it indiscriminately shelled the island where some 1,400 residents are peacefully living.
A military attack against civilians is strictly prohibited even in time of war; it is a crime against humanity. Only a few meters away from where shells landed, there is a school where classes were going on. I am outraged by the ruthlessness of the North Korean regime, which is even indifferent to the lives of little children.
Countries around the world are joining us in denouncing North Korea.
We have thus far tolerated provocations by the North time and again. On January 21, 1968, North Korean commandos infiltrated into Seoul with the intent of killing the President. A bomb explosion in Rangoon, Burma, set off by North Korean agents, killed many high-ranking South Korean Government officials who were accompanying the President. The North has already tried and failed twice to kill the South Korean head of state. North Korean agents blew up a civilian airplane in 1987, taking the lives of 115 passengers.
South Korea nonetheless endured these continual provocations because we entertained a slight hope that the North would change course someday and an unwavering commitment to peace on the Korean Peninsula. Over the past 20 years, therefore, South Korea has striven to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue and collaboration while at the same time providing unstinted humanitarian assistance.
North Korea, on the other hand, responded with a series of provocative acts, including the development of a nuclear program, the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan by an explosion and the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo.
At long last, we came to a realization that it no longer makes sense for us to anticipate that the North would abandon its nuclear program or its policy of brinkmanship on its own. The South Korean people now unequivocally understand that prolonged endurance and tolerance will spawn nothing but more serious provocations.
Those who have so far supported the North Korean regime might now see its true colors.
We are aware of the historic lesson that a disgraceful peace achieved through intimidation only brings about greater harm in the end. Only courage that defies retreat under any threat or provocation will bring about genuine peace. If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail.
I have confidence in the courage and potential of the citizens of Korea. We are a great people who, as of this year, have built the world’s seventh largest export powerhouse in the face of the North’s incessant menace and belligerence. In the current national crisis situation, the Korean people have demonstrated patriotism and composure.
Many young men and women went to the wake of the young soldiers who were killed in action. Citizens have volunteered to collect donations and have gone about their business with fortitude. The Republic of Korea is going to be safe and sound because of you.
There was a split in public opinion over the torpedoing of the Cheonan. Unlike that time, our people have united as one this time. Amid such unity and determination, any surreptitious attempt to create divisiveness in the nation will have no chance of success. Along with all the citizens of the Republic, I will never retreat.
The international community, too, is supporting us. Leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom as well as Russia and many other countries condemned the act of brutality by the North and are standing in full support of our position. Especially, as our ally, the United States has demonstrated a strong resolve to respond by taking action.
The courageous members of our Armed Forces have fought well. Some soldiers dashed to fulfill their duties without even noticing that the camouflage on their helmets had caught fire in the barrage of live shells. Those who were on leave of absence promptly returned to their units.
Citizens of Korea,
From now on, the Government will do whatever is required of it without fail.
The Government will establish Armed Forces that live up to their name. We will defend the five West Sea Islands near the northern sea border with a watertight stance against any kind of provocation. We will proactively carry out the defense reform as planned in order to make our Armed Forces even stronger.
Now is the time we have to demonstrate our determination with actions rather than many words. I plead with you to have confidence in the Government and the Armed Forces and rally around our cause.
Unity is the best national security measure.
Thank you very much.
* Government press release (November 29)