Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin issued an apology to the Korean public on Friday for the shooting spree at the general outpost (GOP) on the eastern front lines. It is a belated apology coming six days after five soldiers were killed and seven wounded. Kim did not even read his brief, 550-character apology in person, leaving Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo read it in his stead. It is far from the appearance of a sense of deep responsibility for a tragedy that burst out on the border.
This expression of apology came in order to appease the bereaved families objections to Kims June 25 comment in the National Assembly that on the other side of an incident stirred by a Corporal is the existence of bullying in the Korean military. The defense chief apologized that he offended the bereaved families by causing misunderstanding that made it appear bullying was the cause behind the rampage. Yet this is retracting his words uttered just a day before, making it confusing as to where his stance lies.
The Defense Ministry and the Army responded in an inadequate way in dealing with the shooting spree. It took two hours after the shooter identified as Corporal Lim fled for them to issue the highest-level Jindotgae One alert. The dead and wounded were not even administered emergency first aid. They changed their account multiple times of how they eluded journalists who were covering the transport of Lim to hospital, even deploying a decoy.
The Korean military is even changing its disclosure of the memo prepared immediately before Lim was arrested. Kim said at the National Assembly that the bereaved families asked not to disclose the memo. Yet the families of the killed soldiers said they have not made such a request. A part of the memo was reported by the media, which contains details linked to the motive, which included expressions by Lim referring to himself as an insect and an innocent victim, a frog that was hit by a thrown stone. Yet the Defense Ministry has been tight-lipped about the reason for the shooting rampage, then its chief has overturned his own utterance in just one day.
Problems on the Korean military are also serious, which include false reporting by a GOP officer and his being relieved of his position that occurred two months ago, lax discipline in the military and in military deployment. Kim vowed to prevent recurrence three years ago in a shooting spree in the Marines, which killed four, but that was lip service. With this incident as well, if apology and prevention of recurrence remain lip service again, he will find it difficult to get the trust of the public as the chief of the presidential national security office, the security control tower in Korea.