COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — What do U.S.-Korea relations look like from the Korean perspective? In the second of a three-part forum series about U.S.-Korea relations hosted by Columbus State University (CSU), retired Lt. Gen. Chun In-Bum former commander of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Special Warfare Command presented to a room of CSU officials, locals and other interested attendees.
In the presentation called “Challenge From Northeast Asia: It Isn’t Just China,” Chun, also the only international senior fellow with the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), addressed Korea’s relationship with the United States and offered his impressions of what the future between the countries may hold.
“This will be invigorating, might be a little contentious,” said retired Gen. Pat Donahoe as he introduced Chun. The former Fort Moore commander continued, “There might be some things thrown out that we don’t all agree with, but he’s gonna try to make you believe. It’s gonna be fantastic.”
In a nearly 60-minute presentation, Chun offered his insights on a range of topics, often peppered with quips.
On the possibility that missiles used by Iran and Syria came from North Korea: “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a North Korean duck.”
On the public availability of bathrooms in South Korea compared to the United States: “Restrooms in Korea. You can take a piss, every subway station is clean, it’s safe. … I have learned that in your country, it’s very difficult to take a piss.”
On tunnels created by Hamas which lie under Gaza: “We’re talking about Hamas, of their 500 kilometers (of) underground tunnels – that ain’t nothing. Where do you think the Hamas guys learned about underground tunnels? The North Koreans.”
On Kim Jong Un’s sister: “She is really scary looking; I would not want to be her husband.”
Delving into a discussion of Kim, Chun told audience members North Korea’s supreme leader is not someone to discount. As an example of Kim’s influence over his people, Chun referred to Russian director Vitaly Mansky’s 2015 documentary “Under the Sun,” which follows a young North Korean girl who will soon join the Korean Children’s Union.
At one point in the movie, the girl named Zin-mi is upset, so the director asks her what would make her happy. The girl began reciting the oath of the Red Color Youth, Chun recalled. In another scene, the director asks North Korean citizens if they are happy, to which they reply “yes.”
Chun pointed out the citizens in the documentary have eyes which say they really are happy. But it’s confusing, he said, calling the moment evidence of brainwashing.
“This guy [Kim] is no joke. Look at him, does it look like he’s stupid?” said Chun. “He is knowledgeable, he is able to tell his leadership what to do.”
The former military commander continued, “He might be making bad decisions, but he’s making decisions.”
According to Chun, the North Korean military is “potent,” a formidable foe not just because of its missiles but also because of other weapons. He showed the audience pictures of rockets disguised as firetrucks, soldiers holding MANPADS capable of shooting down helicopters and more.
In a Q&A session, one attendee asked why Chun felt North Korea’s self-defense ideology was wrong? Chun responded with a comparison to drug dealers feeling the need to protect themselves from law enforcement: if they weren’t selling drugs, they wouldn’t have to be worried in the first place. He added the entity’s goal is ultimately to gain control of South Korea, then Japan and the United States.
“They say it’s for their self-defense and it might be understood as such,” said Chun. “Only a fool would really think that … I think you need to be ready, vigilant, to be able to counter this idea.”
He also said Americans should be wary of the return of U.S. soldier Travis King, who crossed into North Korea in July of this year. According to Chun, King was just being a “stupid kid,” and while his return may me a show of goodwill by North Korea, it is more likely Kim is playing a longer game.
“I think he’s being patient and that’s really scary,” said Chun.
On the topic of South Korea’s confidence in the United States’ willingness to defend them in the event of a nuclear attack, Chun estimated seven out of 10 South Koreans would say the country needs nuclear weapons. This is not because of a distrust of the U.S., according to Chun. He said the push is primarily due to three factors: uneasy relations with China, national pride and U.S. hesitance to use nuclear weapons.
“The doubt that we have about the U.S. alliance is not your nuclear capability, but that Americans are not cruel enough,” said Chun. “You know, you guys feel bad because you dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945 … if you had not dropped that bomb millions of people would be dead.”
He continued with a discussion of 9/11, saying there is a double standard. Americans, he said, we’re upset when planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City, however when allies are attacked, they tell them to “be rational, keep your cool.”
“The American have the capabilities, we’re just not sure that you are going to execute your capabilities,” said Chun.
Chun’s discussion ended with affirmation of friendship between the U.S. and South Korea and a quote from Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
According to Pastoral Institute CEO Thomas Waynick, who was in attendance at the event, Chun’s remarks about American cruelty brought up questions of moral injury because “War, by its nature always involves cruelty” and causes soldiers to face realities which challenge them at their core existence. Due to this, and the sheer number of lives lost in warfare, Waynick said war should always be the last resort.
Waynick, who previously served 35 years as an Army chaplain, said he has often reflected on the necessity of war. He concluded it is sometimes necessary, but not without cost. “We should never believe it doesn’t change us,” Waynick said.
He added Americans across generations have had to respond to cruelty within the world, sometimes with cruelty itself. Waynick said, “It is a tragic irony, but I am thankful for those who have made that sacrifice for the peace I cherish here in this great nation.”
David Kieran of CSU’s Department of History, Geography and Philosophyreported the school was grateful to have an expert of Chun’s caliber weigh in on such major national security issues and American allies globally. Donahoe was equally supportive of the dialogue.
“The ROK-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of our security arrangement with Northeast Asia,” said Donahoe. He continued, “Anytime we can talk about the criticality of this alliance not only to America but to our world, it’s a time well-spent.”
A final forum discussion about U.S.-Korea relations will be held on Thursday, Nov. 2.