Upon retiring from his 40-year military service, former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Lee Sang-eui expressed concerns about the way the principle of civilian control of the military is practiced in this country.
In a change of command ceremony Monday, Lee remarked: “When civilian control is not practiced properly, the morale of the armed forces declines and their green uniforms turn gray.”
He further opined that as much as the military is barred from intervening in politics, the military should be protected against influences from “outside logic.”
We feel sorry that the general, who reached the pinnacle of the uniformed career in October 2009, had to cut short his service after nine months because of the tragic sinking of the Navy patrol craft Cheonan in March. He resigned after the Board of Audit and Inspection announced the result of its month-long inquiry into the Cheonan incident, which exposed a number of shortcomings in the military operational system and structures.
The BAI report described Lee as a top commander who was drunk on the night of the incident, who was kept uninformed of the naval incident for 52 minutes, and who failed to stay in his command/control position through the night of the emergency. He complained that he and his subordinates were not given opportunities to explain the “one-sided findings by a group of non-experts in military affairs.”
The general may find it hard to accept all the criticisms against him and the military in general. But it would have been better and more soldier-like if he made an exit silently or with a sincere apology to the nation. He is not being forced out simply as a scapegoat but because of his clear responsibility for the many unforgivable mistakes the military made before and after the North Korean torpedo attack on the warship. His preaching about the principle of civilian control is thoroughly regrettable.