Updated June. 23, 2014 03:57
A South Korean Army sergeant identified as Lim completed his shift at the general outpost (GOP) of the 22nd Infantry Division on Friday and hurled live grenades at and fired some 10 shots at his fellow soldiers. He ran after the soldiers who were running away, shooting at them, and attacked unarmed members of his division as well. Although the accurate reason is yet unknown, Lim committed an act that a normal soldier must never do. It is difficult to understand why Lim suddenly turned into a monster a mere three months before his discharge. Soldiers impending discharge are extremely careful. Furthermore, Lim, an old-timer, is unlikely to have been involved by any acts of cruelty. The military must not cover this up and disclose to the public the cause of this problem.
Lim, who fled after the attack with dozens of rounds of ammunition, was engaged in a shooting skirmish with the military, which pursued him. An officer of the unit chasing him was wounded by a bullet and was taken to hospital. Given Lim refused to give himself up and engaged in shooting matches, it is highly likely that the shooting rampage in the GOP was not due to impulse.
Lim had been classified Level A on the list of servicepersons who require special attention in an April 2013 test, as he had difficulties in adapting to military life. Level A soldiers are subject to special management as they are considered highly likely to commit suicide, or cause other incidents due to difficulties in adapting to military life. Yet Lim was issued a Level B ruling in the second test in November 2013, and sent to the GOP from the following month. Although the military explains Level Bs may be deployed at the GOP at the discretion of the supervising officer, this complacency has given rise to this horrific tragedy.
As to the reason the military categorized Lim to Level B, which allows serving at the GOP, the military said it had assigned him to a post where he played a more senior role in order to cultivate proactive thinking as he was introverted. As a result, the military said Lim became talkative and also engaged in conversation. Yet it is difficult to understand. Military men who serve at the GOP are armed with grenades and 75 rounds of ammunition regardless of whether they are serving during the daytime or nighttime. Clearly, heavily armed soldiers must be thoroughly and meticulously managed. The processes where a soldier was classified a level A in the past was assigned to the GOP by the military and led to the danger must be accurately identified. It would be even more serious if the Army was forced to deploy men under special attention at the GOP due to their drastic cuts in manpower. Regardless of the level, if the soldier is a misfit in military life, he should have been posted where the soldier is not armed with loaded automatic rifles and grenades.
Shootings in the military keep surfacing from time to time, when they are about to be forgotten. The public can never rest easy as a result. In May 2005 eight soldiers died due to a shooting rampage by a soldier in the barracks at the front lines in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province. In 2011, a Corporal identified by his family name of Kim slaughtered four of his follow men. Whenever a serious shootings incident occurred, the military has apologized to the public and vowed to prevent recurrence. Yet it seems the military was simply paying lip service, as another senseless tragedy has struck. It should also identify whether protocols were followed when Lim finished his GOP shift and was required to return his weapons.
In 2012 there was a so-called Knocking Defector Incident at the 22nd Infantry Division where nobody knew at all that a North Korean soldier passed the barbed wire fence on the North-South border until he knocked at the doors of the barracks on the South Korean side. At the time, multiple high-ranking officers were penalized, but their successors have not thoroughly reflected on their former lack of vigilance, leading to another incident again. They must identify why a string of incidents caused by lack of discipline keeps occurring at the same unit and sternly make the 22nd Infantry Division leaders take responsibility.
The Defense Ministers seat is currently de facto empty. With chief of presidential national security office Kim Kwan-jin holding both offices, Defense Minister nominee Han Min-koo is preparing for his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly. This vacancy in the upper ranks could lead to a lack of discipline in the military, which may increase risk factors in the front lines.
In the front lines facing North Korea, five South Korean soldiers died and seven were wounded due to a shooting spree by one of their own, not even from an attack from the other side. Parents who have sent their sons to do mandatory military service will not be able to rest easy. The negative impacts of this incident will be severe. If soldiers defending the front lines must fear their fellow soldiers behind them more than the enemy on the other side, it indicates a gaping hole in security. The military should make efforts to increase the accuracy of soldiers mental health by proactively utilizing people specializing in psychological analysis, not just military experts, in making decisions on the mental health of and managing the young digital generation who are used to individualistic lifestyles. The military should deal with this incident in the context of security, not a personal issue of the soldier alone.