All the latest developments show that the confrontation between the US and North Korea is raising tension to the highest level in recent years.
US President Donald Trump and other government leaders in Washington are openly talking about a war with the North, which in turn is inciting the communist regime to threaten to launch missile strikes in the waters off Guam, which houses US air and naval bases.
It is clear the crisis is reaching boiling point, placing the Korean Peninsula on alert as North Korea is threatening to turn South Korea into a sea of fire in the event of a military conflict with the US.
In light of the circumstances, there should be some sense of crisis in the South. And there should be action taken -- especially by the government and military -- to protect the nation if the worst-case scenario turns into reality. Citizens must also brace for a bad turn of events.
What we are seeing is far from that. The country as a whole is so calm. A US newspaper described it as “surprisingly blase.” Many South Koreans are indeed unconcerned about provocations from the North, believing there could be a full-scale war on the peninsula.
Nevertheless, this is no time for vague hope and unfounded optimism that things will be OK eventually. There are certain things that the country should do and the first is to prepare for contingencies. It is also important for the government and political leadership to forge national unity.
However, recent developments over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system tell you that we are doing exactly the opposite.
On Thursday, the government gave up its plan to conduct an environmental survey of the site for the THAAD battery in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province.
The survey team was unable to pass through roadblocks set up by residents and activists who oppose the US missile shield system. It tried to reach the site by helicopters, but the weather hampered the team’s efforts.
This is the sad reality. President Moon Jae-in had opposed the THAAD deployment in the early stage of his presidential campaign. As president, he ordered an assessment of the environmental impact of the THAAD system, which effectively delayed its deployment. He only called for the “tentative” deployment of additional launchers after the North’s missile provocation early last month.
Now anti-THAAD groups, who said they opposed the system mainly because of concerns about electromagnetic radiation, refuse the government’s invitation to participate in the assessment, and block the survey team’s activities. Why? Perhaps they know the survey will find that the level of radiation is not so high as to threaten the health of residents.
It is indeed ridiculous that the nation is unable to put a single anti-missile unit into full operation -- a decision made more than one year ago -- while the North has been upgrading its nuclear and missile technologies to the degree that it is believed to be capable of striking the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
After the US and North Korea exchanged aggressive words such as “fire and fury” and “firing four missiles into the waters off Guam,” a top Cheong Wa Dae official only said that he “did not agree” with the view that the peninsula was in crisis.
There is absolutely no need to panic whenever North Korea, or the US this time, talks about a war. But the government should dispel the illusion that there will be no war on the peninsula and the current crisis will be resolved peacefully in the end. One of the first steps should be to persuade or use police force to clear the roadblocks in Seongju and put the THAAD battery in full operation as soon as possible.