Cheonan Incident Useful Idiocy

Debunking the 3/26 Conspiracy “Science”

I have not, until now, seen the report of the The Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group linked elsewhere, so let’s begin there. You can read the whole thing for yourself, but for your convenience, I’ll reproduce something about the composition of the investigative group itself. Emphasis mine:

The Joint Civilian-military Investigation Group (JIG) conducted its investigation with 25 experts from 10 top Korean expert agencies, 22 military experts, 3 experts recommended by the National Assembly, and 24 foreign experts constituting 4 support teams from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Sweden. The JIG is composed of four teams–Scientific Investigation Team, Explosive Analysis Team, Ship Structure Management Team, and Intelligence Analysis Team.

Here is a summary of its findings. Apologies for the long quote.

The basis of our assessment that the sinking was caused by a torpedo attack is as follows:

* Precise measurement and analysis of the damaged part of the hull indicates that a shockwave and bubble effect caused significant upward bending of the CVK (Center Vertical Keel), compared to its original state, and shell plate was steeply bent, with some parts of the ship fragmented.

* On the main deck, fracture occurred around the large openings used for maintenance of equipment in the gas turbine room and significant upward deformation is present on the port side. Also, the bulkhead of the gas turbine room was significantly damaged and deformed.

* The bottoms of the stern and bow sections at the failure point were bent upward. This also proves that an underwater explosion took place.

Through a thorough investigation of the inside and outside of the ship, we have found evidence of extreme pressure on the fin stabilizer, a mechanism to reduce significant rolling of the ship; water pressure and bubble effects on the bottom of the hull; and wires cut with no traces of heat. All these point to a strong shockwave and bubble effect causing the splitting and the sinking of the ship.

We have analyzed statements by survivors from the incident and a sentry on Baekryong-do.

* The survivors made a statement that they heard a near-simultaneous explosion once or twice, and that water splashed on the face of a port-side lookout who fell from the impact; furthermore,

* a sentry on the shore of Baekryong-do stated that he witnessed an approximately 100-meter-high “pillar of white flash” for 2~3 seconds. The aforementioned phenomenon is consistent with damage resulting from a shockwave and bubble effect.

Regarding the medical examination on the deceased service members, no trace of fragmentation or burn injury were found, but fractures and lacerations were observed. All of these are consistent with damage resulting from a shockwave and bubble effect.

The seismic and infrasound wave analysis result conducted by the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM) is as follows:

* Seismic wave intensity of 1.5 degrees was detected by 4 stations.
* 2 infrasound waves with a 1.1-second interval were detected by 11 stations.
* The seismic and infrasound waves originated from an identical site of explosion.
* This phenomenon corresponds to a shock wave and bubble effect generated by an underwater explosion.

Numerous simulations of an underwater explosion show that a detonation with a net explosive weight of 200~300kg occurred at a depth of about 6~9m, approximately 3m left of the center of the gas turbine room.

Based on the analysis of tidal currents off Baekryong-do, the JIG determined that the currents would not prohibit a torpedo attack.

As for conclusive evidence that can corroborate the use of a torpedo, we have collected propulsion parts, including propulsion motor with propellers and a steering section from the site of the sinking.

The evidence matched in size and shape with the specifications on the drawing presented in introductory materials provided to foreign countries by North Korea for export purposes. The marking in Hangul, which reads “1 [Hangul not reproducible] (or No. 1 in English)”, found inside the end of the propulsion section, is consistent with the marking of a previously obtained North Korean torpedo. The above evidence allowed the JIG to confirm that the recovered parts were made in North Korea.

Also, the aforementioned result confirmed that other possible causes for sinking raised, including grounding, fatigue failure, mines, collision and internal explosion, played no part in the incident.

In conclusion, The following sums up the opinions of Korean and foreign experts on the conclusive evidence collected from the incident site; hull deformation; statements of relevant personnel; medical examination of the deceased service members; analysis on seismic and infrasound waves; simulation of underwater explosion; and analysis on currents off Baekryong-do and collected torpedo parts.

* ROKS “Cheonan” was split apart and sunk due to a shockwave and bubble effect produced by an underwater torpedo explosion.

* The explosion occurred approximately 3m left of the center of the gas turbine room, at a depth of about 6~9m.

* The weapon system used is confirmed to be a high explosive torpedo with a net explosive weight of about 250kg, manufactured by North Korea.

Now, pause and breathe deeply, because what I’m about to say is going to shock the bejeezus out of you. There are left-wing Korean professors who are questioning that North Korea sank the Cheonan.

I’ve never really bought the analogy between the Cheonan Incident and the September 11th attacks, but in one sense, the analogy holds up well. In both cases, persons of low emotional intelligence have constructed elaborate arguments to facilitate the belief that their own governments (rather than an external attacker) caused a national tragedy. The conclusion that an external enemy really did carry out a successful attack is hard for some people to accept for a variety of reasons. I suppose for some, the consequent sense of vulnerability and fear may be too much to accept. For more, I suspect that it’s based on simple malice toward their own government, or perhaps even a degree of emotional or ideological identification for its enemies. And because emotional intelligence and academic intelligence are two completely different things, a mind that combines low emotional intelligence and high academic intelligence is only going to construct its justifications more elaborately.

All of this may be a complicated way of saying that I’m completely unsurprised to see left-wing Korean academics say things like this:

Researchers J.J. Suh and Seung-Hun Lee say the South Korean Joint Investigation Group made a weak case when it concluded that North Korea was responsible for sinking the Cheonan.

Speaking in Tokyo Friday, the two said the investigation was riddled with inconsistencies and cast “profound doubt” on the integrity of the investigation. “The only conclusion one can draw on the basis of the evidence is that there was no outside explosion,” Suh said. “The JIG completely failed to produce evidence that backs up its claims that there was an outside explosion.” [Chosun Ilbo]

Reading this, you’d think these two distinguished academics had collaborated in a detailed scientific study or critique of the International Joint Investigation. You would think that these men were highly qualified experts in some relevant field of study, such as naval engineering, metallurgy, or forensic science.

And you would be wrong. Suh, whom the Chosun describes as a “researcher,” is none other than Professor Jae Jung Suh, a Professor of Korea Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. That’s right. Korea studies. And in that field, Suh’s previous analysis includes his early 2009 prediction, via the left-wing Hankyoreh, that relations with North Korea were at “an important turning point” — and I suppose they were! — and that President Obama would soon energetically engage North Korea and build momentum for His Vision of a world without nuclear weapons. As early as this year, Suh, via the left-wing Foreign Policy in Focus of John Feffer infamy, had aligned himself with calls to give North Korea a peace treaty in exchange for denuclearization, an objective that North Korea had by then firmly renounced. In this 2007 piece, edited by Feffer himself, Suh seemed irrationally exuberant over the visit of the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, and used this as a vehicle to oppose the relocation and consolidation of the USFK into larger (and less vulnerable) posts, which Suh worried would advance the Pentagon’s “neoliberal militarism.” Overall, however, the tone of Suh’s writing isn’t (or wasn’t, anyway) particularly acerbic or doctrinaire. What it really exhibited was a sincere but striking naivete about North Korean history, behavior, and intentions, which gave his analysis a dismal predictive value.

Suh, in other words, is no more qualified as an authority on engineering, shipbuilding, or forensics than John Feffer — who has at least conceded North Korea’s probable culpability — or me. Yet even after the two halves of the Cheonan had been raised, Suh suggested that a more likely cause of its loss was a South Korean mine. Suh offers no evidentiary or scientific basis for that speculation, which is nonetheless revealing. His views can be ignored with confidence.

Another of the “scientific” critics of the international investigation, the former naval officer and shipbuilder Shin Sang-Chul, has stated that the Cheonan was rammed by another ship, a conclusion that’s facial nonsense to anyone who has seen the two halves of the destroyed ship.

Lee, who is at least a physicist, is harder to dismiss, and it’s not quite fair of me to leave hanging the implication that he’s “left-wing” when none of his online writing reveals what his political views might be. His CV reveals that he also used to teach at Johns Hopkins, which probably explains how me met Suh. His particular field of specialty, however, is quantum mechanics, and the subject on which he writes really falls within the disciplines of metallurgy and forensic science. Were Lee to be called as an expert witness at trial, a competent lawyer would likely be able to get a court to disqualify him as an expert on the matters on which he opines here.

As to the substance of Lee’s argument, which you can read in greater detail here, the Ministry of Defense has responded in detail, suggesting that Lee bases his conclusions of conditions of temperature and pressure that aren’t anything like what the fragments of the Cheonan torpedo would have experienced. And given that the destruction of the Cheonan was the result of a pressure wave moving through cold water, this is just common sense. But for people who simply don’t want to believe that North Korea sank the Cheonan — even highly intelligent people — that may be too much to ask.


  1. Not much about Lee in Korean either. In June DP rep. Choi Moon-soon announced that he was soliciting expert help from two Korean professors in the US. Subsequently, Lee made public statements in the Korean media, including an interview with Pressian, casting doubt on the NK torpedo theory. In the Pressian interview, he explained that he got involved after Suh relayed a request from Rep. Choi. Lee also related to the Pressian episodes of violent police suppression of political activity he witnessed while at Korea University and his fears that Korea was returning to that era. It sounds like Rep. Choi tasked Suh with putting together an alternative investigation group that included English-speaking Koreans with foreign credentials, and Lee was someone who signed on.


  2. If only we could find some way to prove Lee’s “left-wingedness”, we might be able to go public with this. Don’t call me too hasty here, and I’m not saying anything for certain yet, but what if Lee himself were somehow behind the sinking of the Cheonan?

    Hmm. Brainstorm with me here, people.


  3. I met up with a Korean friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time and we talked about the Cheonan incident. He’s a former ROKAF fighter pilot and current Asiana Airline pilot and I was shocked when he told me that he didn’t believe the government’s story. Amazing… Granted the ROKAF is pretty left when compared to the other Korean military but still… He thought the US had something to do it, accidentally or not even though he is quite pro-American. The nKs do a brillant job at propaganda….


  4. Hey thanks for this post, it clears up the issue of the conflicting reports in the media.


  5. what if Lee himself were somehow behind the sinking of the Cheonan?

    That’s only a little less plausible than some other alternative theories being (pardon the pun) floated.


  6. Thanks, Sonagi for that comment.

    But, the way Seoul has followed the investigation with Cold War rhetoric and shelving plans to assume wartime OPCON from the US distracts and insults whatever scientific value the whole exercise had. And, how many other countries, like Canada really didn’t participate in the investigation process?

    I want science to win here, but politics and realism will trump the facts every time regardless. And backing science with the same sort of bluster Pyongyang excels at doesn’t make Seoul smell sweeter. The Lee administration lost this fight on the international stage because it looks like a corrupt chaebol enforcing the party line. It also badly fumbled its press coverage and reaction in the immediate aftermath.

    And, the Obama administration needs to get its China policy in order, or Beijing will take it to the cleaners for the rest of its term. The US needs to get ready for decades of this stuff after winning battles, like the UN action that led to the Korean War, in the last century.


  7. Left Flank, if the Lee administration needed a pretext to cut ROK’s economic ties with North Korea, revert to Cold War rhetoric, and even delay transfer of wartime OPCON, it could easily have done any of those things without killing four dozen of its own people. Even without the Chonan sinking, North Korea routinely supplies action or rhetoric that would justify any or all of that.

    Because that seems to be what the naysayers are saying. The “bluster” is unjustified only if North Korea didn’t do this. If they did, then I’d say they should bluster hella more bluster than they’ve been blustering.


  8. Other not insignificant incidents preceded the Cheonan debacle. Multiple live fire coastal artillery exercises, aimed toward US/ROK naval vessels, happen rarely, if ever. The majority of NK exercises involve empty shells, saving expensive hardware. Not too far away in Kaesong, NK nationals are gleaning grass seeds at the industrial center established by Korea, if we are to believe recent reports.
    All evidence so far convicts NK, especially taking into account their actions in the NLL area in the past and immediately preceding the sinking of the Cheonan.
    Cui Bono investigation also points more toward NK gaining and Korea’s Lee govt losing face
    (not a small matter).
    Any comparison to 9/11 is fallacy, unless we see vast deployments of regular army, navy, air force, marines and reservists up to the 38th parallel, a massive media blitz calling for regime change by force via an anti-WMD campaign, a Korean 1% doctrine, high level officials enunciating fear mongering rhetoric including smoking guns and mushroom clouds, etc.
    Interesting to note that the JIG report carries more excruciating detail than the 9/11 report.


  9. Kushibo:

    You start from a moral premise, that the DPRK is repulsive especially when it does something repulsive, like sink a ship. And, that the MERE fact that Pyongyang was caught so egregiously should warrant an even more moralistic response from the ROK and US. But, China’s and Russia’s disagreements with each other and each with Pyongyang didn’t stop both from playing this perfectly. Seoul could count on no help from any of the other UNSC members or Japan. And, I would point the finger for blame at Seoul. The US is hamstrung with a South Korean ally that can’t even win a fight when it’s the victim and is right.

    Ma Pae:

    I’m as amazed too tht the Lee administration came out of this looking worse than it entered it.


  10. No, I’m not starting from that premise. The closest I get to that is that the DPRK is more repulsive when it does something repulsive to people outside its jurisdiction (though it is repulsive when it does repulsive things to its own people, but the ultimate responsibility for rising up and throwing off their oppressors is that of the North Korean people themselves, so that’s a different matter).

    As for the US being hamstrung, it is hamstrung by the veto power held by occasionally morally bankrupt governments (e.g., Beijing and Moscow) on the UNSC, same as Seoul. It seems to me the US was also (like Seoul) unable to get any more teeth into the condemnation, despite sitting on the UNSC itself.

    Unless you are referring to “winning a fight” in the actual military sense. Are you suggesting that Seoul should have gone to war with Pyongyang over this incident? For a leftist, that’s an awfully belligerent position.


  11. Kushibo:

    I think Pyongyang plays Moscow and Beijing off one another for its own designs better than Seoul – or old Choson – ever did. Both Koreas are trying to stay independent in a region where three major global powers are competing, and another, Japan, is a regional player. The UNSC positions are just a benefit of Cold War-era power. I think Pyongyang’s overlords bested the ROK’s, the US and Japan, because the quasi-alliance is in tatters, and Japan has little economic power left, to be very useful to Seoul. I see this long-term: the US has not set up the ROK and Japan to challenge Beijing well at all. The Cheonan is just another example. No, Seoul should not be any more belligerent, because it is isolated. But, it should realize that and make its peace with Japan, or go seeking alliances with other powers, like the Aussies or India.


  12. Left Flank, also realize that Koreans were never divided north from south by history, more like east from west, “The Spine of Korea” seperated Koreans and thier Chinese ruled kingdoms for fact in history by mountains east/west not lines drawn in sand and brick. The truth is the world knows know is that the Koreans are unique only in the fact that they are the most diverse people on Earth with a single bloodline which are soo different. They learned it from the Japanese. Unfortunately their northern kin actually perfected the Japanese tradition of bloodline emperorship. Funny how the ones who hate their former masters mimmick them like the northern Koreans have done.


  13. hi Ditto81,

    The last time Korea was split East-West was in the year 900, and by 936 Korea was reunified under the Koryo dynasty.

    The last time Han Chinese had direct rule over any part of the Korean peninsula was during the Tang dynasty in 668 AD when Tang and their Korean allies in the Kingdom of Shilla defeated the Korean kingdom of Kokuryo which ruled Northern Korea and Manchuria. Shilla and Tang promptly began fighting amongst themselves and Shilla pushed Tang out of the Korean peninsula. In 698, remnants of Kokuryo founded the Parhae Kingdom (Bohai in Chinese).

    The Mongols did defeat Koryo and subjugate it but they let the Koryo dynasty continue to administer.

    So the Korean peninsula had been unified for over 1000 years when it was split in 1945.

    The idea that Koreans are ethnically distinct is also a myth. While the surnames Kim, Lee and Park come from the Shilla dynasty, many other surnames such as Roh (two recent presidents Roh Tae Woo and Roh Moo Hyun) and Song (as in Song Hye Kyo the actress) were from China but have been in Korea for many hundreds of years. There were many Manchurian nomads and Japanese who became Korean subjects as well. The exchange of genes occurred during the times of peace through trade as well as times of war.

    In fact, there was a very vibrant Chinese merchant community in Korea since the Song dynasty and Koryo. I believe they were in Song-do (present day Kaesong) when it was the capital of Koryo and Sogong-dong in the central business district of Seoul used to be a Chinatown when the Japanese ruled Korea. I recall reading or hearing that the ethnic Chinese merchants immensely helped the independence movement within Korea and the Shanghai branch during Imperial Japan’s rule. They fell out of favor with President Syngman Rhee (who was part of the American branch of the independence movement) and many left Korea for Hong Kong or Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s.


  14. Han Kim and Ditto81:

    This is all very interesting – and I really do like to read about history – but ultimately it’s irrelevant. As a realist, geography and power have to take precedence over culture for me.


  15. hello Left Flank,

    I too am very much a realist and appreciate geography and power, power comes in many forms. The Swiss banks are probably more important to protecting Swiss sovereignty and neutrality than the excellently trained F-18 fighter wings of the Swiss Air Force.

    I believe Stalin once asked “how many tank divisions the Pope has.” Well, Pope John Paul II’s message of hope to Eastern Europe was not stoppable by the powerful Soviet Second Guards Tank Army in Northern Germany.

    Culture and the soft power that comes with it is relevant and the faster South Koreans realize that we can be a globalized and multi-cultural nation, a place where others can come and find the “Korean Dream,” the stronger it will be. Hard power alone will not keep us independent. It does not matter if your military power is 5th in the world when your neighbors are China, Russia and Japan!


  16. Mr. Stanton,

    Do you see conclusive proof of NK involvement in the summary of the report you posted? I see conclusive proof of Torpedo use, a less conclusive but still highly probable proof of a North Korean Torpedo use, but NOTHING that proves a NK vessel fired this torpedo. By all accounts, this type of NK torpedo is widely exported and any party could’ve gotten their hands on it, so why is it definite that NK fired this torpedo? Innocent until proven guilty is a rule that we should abide by, so please forgive some of us for not labeling NK guilty without conclusive proof of their involvement.


  17. Your cultural power thesis is only less realistic than the hard power belief that Korea can be more than a shrimp in a region of whales. The Korean peninsula is a pivot. It will never be free of interference and will have to contend with adversity for as long as the geography permits. Foreign states will always control Korea’s destiny.


  18. Foreign powers will always be heavily involved in Korea’s destiny.

    One reason I am an avid supporter of the Pax Americana is that I feel it offers the greatest amount of security for which the least amount of interference (or “control”) is yielded. The US offers a reliable security package that Japan, China, and Russia would never provide, and it’s one where South Korea’s (or a united Korea’s) economic and democratic success is the reward its benefactor wants.

    Sure, I’m couching it in rosy terms (and not everything is perfect), but it’s not a stretch.


  19. Mr. Stanton,

    You asked what part of the doubt is reasonable, well let me show you: Given what has happened(i.e. the sinking of Cheonan and the laying of blame on NK), do you find the current situation entirely predictable(i.e. the drawing together of the U.S. and SK and increased American presence in East Asia with SK encouragement)? I do, and even if you don’t, I think you would at least admit that it is reasonable that some people think so. Now, with that established, it is very reasonable that whoever caused this incident predicted similarly, and thus whoever it is would be somebody who stands to gain the most and lost the least from this incident, is it not true?

    So who gained and who lost? Let’s take a look at NK first. What has it gained? Nothing. Really, I can’t think of a thing that they’ve gained from this. Unlike prior incidents across the 38th, NK has DENIED involvement and thus the incident is of not even propaganda value for them. Now what about the U.S.? At a time when the South Koreans wanted the American soldiers out of their countries, at a time when the lease for the American base is almost up, it gave them a perfect opportunity to re-establish their presence in East Asia. What have they lost? Nothing. What have they gained? A stronger foothold in East Asia at a time when both SK and the Okinawans wanted the opposite.

    In solving a crime, none can be proven in court without a motive. In this case, the North Koreans have no motive, while the Americans do.

    [Thank you for that advice, Sherlock. As a guy who’s tried dozens of actual felony cases to juries, I’ll give you some complimentary advice — there is no rule of evidence or procedure that says the prosecution has to prove a motive to get a conviction. In this case, however, the motives are clear enough. Not to wreck the premise of your Chomsky comic book plot line, but extending this same impeccable logic, then why did North Korea test two nukes, let 2 million people starve to death, kill Park Wang-Ja, or try to assassinate Hwang Jang Yop? All of those things are clearly also contrary to North Korea’s rational interest, too, aren’t they? Was North Korea framed for all those things, too? I mean, everyone in the world was begging North Korea to normalize trade relations and let them pour in aid. Seems the logical course of action would have been to take the loot. Let me suggest an alternative explanation: they might just be assholes. – Joshua]


  20. Just to clarify, I’m not saying that the Americans staged this. IMO this is too risky for something like a stronger foothold in East Asia, it’s not like they can’t achieve this otherwise either. I’m simply stating that given the entirely inconclusive evidence, it’s more reasonable to suspect the Americans than the North Koreans. However, given the lack of motive on BOTH sides, since the potential gains are far outweighed by potential losses for both of them, this is more likely an accident spinned for political convenience.

    The fact that German chemicals and metallic residues were found inside the ship, something that NK’s have no access to(note the difference between that and the NK torpedo, which much of the world has access to) but a SK sub in the area DOES have access to, only further corroborate my theory. Obviously, this is just a theory, but it’s no less believable than the theory the investigation group passed on as “proof”.

    [Your entire theory is based on one unnamed source’s statement that some of the explosive residue inside the wreckage was “consistent with a type of torpedo made in Germany.” That is not in fact a statement that “German chemicals and metallic residues were found inside the ship,” but by all means, show me some reliable source that backs your assertion. What you’re seizing on is one anonymous statement among dozens of anonymous statements by uninformed people running their mouths and saying dozens of things that, more often than not, turned out to be false. The multilateral investigation made no such findings. So in other words, you credit an anonymous South Korean official and you discredit the report of a panel of international experts. That sounds pretty stoned to me. – Joshua]


  21. David, North Korea denied liability –wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    What did it gain? Foreign exchange from sales of a proven reliable torpedo. This homing torpedo apparently has a device (which the US, UK, Russia and China have, but protect as a major secret) that moves its point of impact from the stern to the very middle of the ship, and explodes it below the hull. The warhead is large, and capable of breaking a well-built military vessel in two at its strongest point. These are significant selling points. Iran will buy, and becomes a major anti-ship force in the Gulf thereby.

    As for reasonable doubt — what about good evidence? The chalked numeral #1 in Hangul DPRK-style is a dead giveaway. No one would’ve expected the steel drag net to bring the housing up, so this notation has every likelihood of being genuine. The steel drag net was itself an unprecedented response. It was good technology.

    As for contradictions — no Western nation with a free press would ever today seek to explode its own vessel, and kill its own citizens. The USA hasn’t gained anything, since Obama appears resolute in not forcing the issue with Russia and China. Indeed, its failure to support the SoKo government when it needs support may’ve lost it kudos.

    Personally, I am still dubious that the torpedo was launched from a small submarine. I prefer to believe it was a wholly new weapon, a rocket-launched tube containing a “throw-away” homing torpedo, which would be a huge generator of foreign exchange for the DPRK — but I accept I’m out in left field here.

    There is ample evidence that the DPRK sank Cheonan and murdered 45 of its crew, and none to the contrary.


  22. While we will not know for sure why they sunk the Cheonan, until we see their archives after Kim Jong Il is ousted, it fits in well with the pattern of aggression near the NLL and Baek-ryoung-do and Yon-pyong-do islands since 1999. There were at least 3 major naval skirmishes in that area. The North Korean attack in 2002, that sank a South Korean patrol boat and killed 6 sailors when the FIFA World Cup was hosted in South Korea, was particularly senseless, premeditated and unprovoked – especially since it embarrassed Kim Dae Jung who was the most appeasing South Korean President they could hope for. There was also an incident a North Korean patrol boat fired on a South Korean boat earlier this year.

    So although it is meaningless to try to speculate what goes on in the inner Court of Pyongyang, there are definitely some factions within it that tries to kill South Korean sailors. Given that history, along with the evidence that a North Korean torpedo was used, it would definitely be unreasonable to believe that North Korea is being framed.

    The idea that one would even put the US and NK on the same level in that “given the inconclusive evidence, it’s more reasonable (?!) to suspect the Americans than the North Koreans” makes me wonder if I exist in the same reality as David. It is not reasonable to suspect the Americans or South Koreans, even with an accidental firing because it would be exceedingly difficult to keep the sub crew and chain of command quiet about the incident.

    I do believe the “German residue” turned out to be one of many unverified rumors. But even if the torpedo turned out to be German, and instead of North Korean parts we found pieces of a German torpedo, I would have thought most Koreans would suspect that the North Koreans used a German torpedo to disguise the attack before they would suspect the South Koreans of covering up an accidental firing.

    What was truly troubling about the reaction of many South Koreans was how many of us were willing to suspect the worst motives and behavior on the part of the South Korean military and the US. The only reason so many unverified rumors spread so rapidly seems to be because many of us were willing to believe them. South Korea’s military and its US allied forces seem to have a serious credibility problem.


  23. Mr. Stanton,

    Did you apply the same line of reasoning to WMD’s in Iraq? It seems like people fell for the exact same line of reasoning, that “they did it before, why can’t they do it now” rather than any type of hard proof to start a war. The poster above me mentioned that the U.S. and its allies have a serious credibility problem, is it really any surprise after the whole Iraq fiasco? If the interest is in finding out the truth, why didn’t this “multilateral” investigation group include say Russia or China? Even if we accept their findings, there is no conclusive proof of its conclusions based on those findings without using the same line of faulty reasoning.

    The U.S. could fabricate enough evidence to start a war, which I, like most other Americans, found very hard to believe until after years and years of search for the ephemeral WMD’s in Iraq. Don’t forget that. So using the same line of reasoning, that “they did it before, so why can’t they do it now,” why can’t the U.S. do it again?

    The problem is that many here start with the assumption of NK wrongdoing and U.S./SK clean hands, and the investigation did nothing to change that so it somehow serve as proof now. Note that there were many “leaks” implicating NK prior to the release of the findings of the investigation to ensure the spread of such an assumption. But if the assumption from the start was that NK had the clean hands while the U.S./SK were at fault, then you’ll see the findings of the investigation in the exact opposite light.

    [Your analogy is a red herring. In 2003, Saddam Hussein still controlled all of the sites where the CIA believed WMD’s were made and stored, and still exercised control by terror over all of the witnesses who knew all of the critical information. In circumstances where the evidence and witnesses under under the control of a regime that is determined to evade transparency and verification, certainty is impossible, and uncertainty about dangerous and untrustworthy regimes raises the risk of miscalculation and war. Saddam Hussein deliberately created that uncertainty. He wanted the Iranians and Americans to believe he had usable WMD stockpiles and didn’t believe the U.S. would invade. And Saddam, who still had all the means to reconstitute his WMD programs until March 2003, intended to do precisely that.

    There is no such uncertainty in the case of the Cheonan, which was sunk in South Korean waters, and where an international investigation that included neutral-nation experts had full access to the witnesses and evidence. In that case, the uncertainties are reversed, at least to rational minds. But of course, those who are absolutely determined to disbelieve what’s proven beyond a reasonable doubt, may. – Joshua]


  24. David,

    Just as there are people who refuse to believe anything about North Korean wrongdoing on the Korean Left, there are, as you say, people whose first reflex is to think of NK wrongdoing. But there are also quite a few of us who try to find out the facts first.

    My first reaction to the Cheonan was “not even the North Koreans would be this crazy.” I would have thought it was either some kind of accident or a loose mine. There were some early facts that could implicate a torpedo attack by the North Koreans.

    The time and date of the sinking was the most troubling. South Korea’s most experienced submariner wrote an early article about the treacherous tides off the west coast of Korea. He said that the time the Cheonan sank was precisely the narrow window (a matter of hours or even minutes) when the tides in that region are calm enough to reliably launch a torpedo attack from a small sub. He also noted that the phase of the moon that night provided just enough light to see the Cheonan from any of the angles a sub could have fired a torpedo. He concluded that if any submariner had decided to ambush a South Korean ship, that night and that time would be one of the very few times a month that it would be feasible.

    When the Cheonan was recovered, the evidence was increasingly damning. When the torpedo parts were a smoking gun. There is very little alternative explanation why North Korean torpedo parts would end up where they were found.

    As for a deliberate attack by the Americans with a North Korean torpedo, intending to frame the North Koreans there are absolutely no facts to support such a claim even though there is extensive scrutiny and many people in Korea are trying extremely hard to discredit the South Korean government.

    The idea that since the US invaded Iraq on flimsy evidence, they are capable of committing an atrocity of this scale is not a sensible comparison. During the build up to the Iraq war, there were many people within the US who questioned the presence of WMDs in Iraq and the whole process. Even Colin Powell’s presentation at the Security Council was criticized as soon as he made it. If the affair with Iraq and WMDs is to be compared to the Cheonan attack at all, the reasonable conclusion is that it would be exceedingly difficult for the Americans to pull off anything clandestinely.

    What seems to be going on is that as the claims by people who do not want to believe the South Korean government are becoming increasingly far-fetched, as other explanations such as the accidental sinking hypotheses are becoming less likely. I am quite certain that when North Korea’s archives are uncovered and the current leadership is sitting on trial at the Hague, we will learn the whole truth. While the big picture will be the same, the details will probably be quite surprising.


  25. No. Korea has, in the past, acquired weaponry made in the US and other countries around the world. Arms dealers are a strange bunch, who are not un-attracted to profit while ignoring ramifications. No. Korea has proven ability to obtain and use foreign-made materiel, for example OSA and KOMAR class missile boats, made in the old USSR.
    They even have American Standard faucets at their vacation villas south of Pyongyang.

    No. Korea’s govt. gains immensely on the only stage that matters to them: projection of power, standing up to the US and South Korea, demonstrating to their own population their ability to strike the fist, legitimizing “the General” KJI’s claims to military ability, and shoring up it’s crumbling foundation of support from the general population.


  26. Mr. Stanton,

    Red herring you say? Why does it seem like a pretty exact parallel to me?

    [OFK: Because you lack critical thinking skills?]

    I mean, you did just use “uncertainty” as some sort of proof, or at least some sort of justification, did you not? I don’t recall the mentioning of such uncertainty in the justifications Bush and his cohort presented to the country for the invasion of Iraq.

    Interesting news coming out of Russia these days, seems like they disagree with the results of this so called international investigation as well. So whose words should I believe?

    [OFK: You’ve obviously made your mind up. You don’t need me to tell you. It’s Pravda for you!]

    America and its allies, or Russia and China? I suppose the best way is to look at the evidence and arguments from each side. I already know your stance on the American argument, what are your rebukes for the Russian and Chinese arguments?

    [OFK: Yawwwn.]



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