This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Fire One: The Sinking of the Cheonan

Sometimes, it’s kind of interesting to take a stance directly opposed to “conventional wisdom”, and see just where that gets us.

For instance...

As anyone who is interested in current affairs knows by now, the two Koreas – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, or North Korea, or the bad guys; and the Republic of Korea, or the ROK, or South Korea, or the good guys – are in a standoff featuring war noises over the sinking of a South Korean warship by a North Korean submarine. That sinking is certified to have been the action of a North Korean torpedo...certified by an “international panel.”

Incidentally, that would make it only the third recorded post Second World War sinking of a ship by a sub, if you’re interested. The first was the torpedoing of the Indian frigate INS Khukri by a Pakistani Daphne Class sub, PNS Hangor, during the 1971 war, an extremely interesting episode in its own right. The second was the Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano, sunk by HMS Conqueror during the war for the Islas Malvinas in 1982, another interesting episode for rather different reasons. (For descriptions of these episodes, see links at the conclusion of this article).

Fair enough. Let’s get back to the point.

Now I’m not trying to claim that the North Koreans did not, in an evil act of wanton aggression, sink the South Korean vessel. I am not claiming that the North Korean regime isn’t evil incarnate, led by a madman with a weird flattop hairdo, whose every action is driven by his lunacy. All of that is perfectly possible, and I’m not ruling out the possibility that Kim Jong Il feasts every night on human flesh and blood.


But, now, just let’s assume – for the sake of argument, no more – that itisn’t completely and absolutely proved beyond reasonable doubt that the North Koreans sank the South Korean ship, which was, not necessarily, in international or South Korean waters at the time of the sinking, and see where it gets us. Now take a deep breath and calm down! Don’t blow a fuse! This is meant to be a mind-game only.

But, once we begin on this mind-game, just what do we have? Let’s see.

Logically, we should, then, begin by taking a look at the evidence that is presented to us, the evidence that makes us believe that North Korea was behind the sinking.

First, what we have (Source No 3, see link below) is a piece of rusty metal dredged up from the seabed, which is claimed by those in the know to be part of a North Korean torpedo – on the basis of a single marking, which is alleged to match those on a known North Korean origin torpedo. Yes, very, very damning evidence indeed. We know that when a ship sinks, anything found on the sea-bed in the vicinity is what must have sunk it.

Repeat after me...if a ship sinks, anything found on the sea bed in the vicinity, even if found weeks later, must have sunk it. Even if there’s nothing to say how old that piece of metal is, or whether it is even what a reputable international committee says it is, we must take it on faith that it’s what sank the ship, because it was found on the seabed.

Incontrovertible evidence, really, on a par with the WMDs that still lie unfound beneath the Iraqi sands.

OK, now we have that international group of experts, the “committee” as I called it. This committee, it seems,

(gave the)... investigation itself ... an added air of impartiality by the presence of 24 foreign experts from America, Australia, Britain and Sweden. They are all said to support the conclusions reached. (Source No 3, below.)

Ah, America, the land of wonder, great and impartial, as we all know; the land which went reluctantly to war to save us from Saddam Hussein’s thousands of weapons of mass destruction; Britain, which so accurately predicted that London was “45 minutes from destruction” at the hands of the Iraqi dictator, and which, of course, never ever sexed up any dossiers; and Australia, which has aided and abetted America’s democracy-building exercises by sending troops to Vietnam, not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to forget Sweden, trusted friend and alliance partner of all the above. Who could ever doubt any of them?

And while we are on the subject, might we just know the names of these gentlemen (and ladies, if any were present)? They are experts, are they? Experts in what, precisely? Marine weapons? Druid burial practices? Choral music? What are their qualifications? What were their individual conclusions? I’d be a mite happier if I knew a little more than the idea that they are “said” to support the conclusions reached. But then that’s just me.

Now, moving on, let’s see what the initial South Korean reaction was to the sinking of this ship, the Cheonan. This ship, a naval frigate, sank on the 26th March, it appears, two months ago as this is written. We still have access to the news reports that appeared at the time. Did they shout to heaven for justice against the evil North Koreans? Did they demand retaliation for the dastardly sinking? Did they hell. What the initial reports said, was, in essence, that there was no reason to think that the North Koreans were responsible for the ship’s sinking, despite survivor reports of an explosion. And the South Korean government (link no 1, below)

said they while they still had no idea what caused the hole, they were confident that it was not an attack by North Korea.

More, a news report (check link No 2, below) said that relatives of survivors

accused authorities of a cover-up, saying survivors told them the Cheonan was leaky and in need of repair.

Then, where, precisely, was this ship? Apparently, it was “near” a disputed maritime boundary where several “bloody naval clashes” between the Koreas had occurred in the past, and actually within sight of the North Korean coast. And yet...and yet, this leaky tub sank after an explosion in that volatile, dangerous area, and nobody initially claimed it had sunk due to hostile action!
Perhaps it’s just my stupidity that makes me think that there might just be a soupcon of a possibility that perhaps the initial reaction that the ship wasn’t sunk by the North was because the ship clearly wasn’t sunk by the North. No?

Oh, but wait, there’s a little bit more to it. There’s this clincher (source No 3, link below):

The investigation report says that a number of small submarines, escorted by a support ship, left a North Korean naval base in the Yellow Sea a few days prior to the attack and returned a few days after it took place.

Y’know, that just proves it. After all, we know perfectly well that no sub ever puts to sea for trials, exercises, and training. The very fact that subs were out on the ocean during the sinking proves...I tell you,proves, damn it...that they sank the ship.

Of course, it does strike me that it might have been kind of useful to the captain and crew of the Cheonan, who were off to prowl off an enemy coast (quite literally an enemy coast, since the two Koreas are still technically at war) where armed clashes had taken place in the recent past, if they had been warned that these North Korean subs were at sea. I don’t the South Korean captain’s place, it’s information I’d have appreciated having. It strikes me also that if I were a naval ship captain in hostile waters, I’d be looking out for a sub attack; and even more so if I were the captain of a ship belonging to a nation with a far more technically advanced military than my opponent. In fact, it shouldn’t have been all that difficult for me to detect, you know, those enemy subs before they launched their dastardly attack.

Oh well. It’s sort of late to be disclosing that now, two months later; kind of like shutting the stable door after the horse has found new pastures. Or not...apparently the South Koreans are now looking for four “vanished” Northern subs. Vanished as in disappeared without a trace, presumably to launch more dastardly attacks. Or, just maybe...not.

Now, as I said above, I’m perfectly open to the idea that the North Koreans did actually and with malice aforethought sink the ship. So, you know, the question comes up, just why?

Somehow, I find it a little bit difficult to believe that any international action is caused by a leader’s personal madness. All right, I’ll go along with the idea that Kim Jong Il is a drivelling lunatic. But even a drivelling lunatic, if in a position of power, can only issue orders, and those orders have to be followed and carried out by people who are, presumably, not lunatics. Therefore, let’s assume that there was actually some benefit to be accrued from sinking the South Korean ship. What was it?

If you remove madness from the table, there’s only speculation; and the brilliant BBC article I’ve already referred to (source No 3: see below) claims that it might be retaliation (for what? One retaliates against something done by someone else. Was this retaliation for similar aggression by the other side? No, the South Koreans are the goodboys, remember?). Or maybe it was an action by the North Korean military, acting alone, for whatever reason you care to dream up. Of course, this is also the nation where nothing, but nothing, happens without the personal orders of the lunatic Dear Leader with the flattop hairdo, if that is you believe the same Western sources. Reconcile that for me if you can.

I suppose there just might be a possibility, as the report claims, that this was a strike by North Korea’s lunatic flattop to “keep the military on side”. How this is supposed to work defeats my weak reasoning powers. Most military types I know aren’t exactly eager to jump into a clearly unwinnable war, and torpedoing a ship without good reason seems to be precisely risking jumping into a clearly unwinnable war. Again, I’d love some help on this.

Now, let me advance my own theory about what made the lunatic flattop order the sinking, and see where it gets us. The North Koreans attacked the South in order to force the South to launch an economic or even military aggression, thereby uniting the North behind its leaders. There. That’s my theory.

Now, in order for this to make sense, you would, you know, make sure that your attack on the other side was so clearly an attack that the other side would not just recognise it as such but would have no option to strike back. Now, what kind of attack would be best to achieve that? Something like...I don’t know, a sinking of a ship by a submarine, a sinking that might easily be mistaken for an accident, or the truth of which might be deliberately suppressed by an opponent not eager to respond to provocation?

Somehow, it strikes me that when you have one of the world’s most aggressive commando forces, which have repeatedly infiltrated the other side’s territory and carried out strikes, it might be somewhat more effective to use them instead; a clearer provocation, and more effective at ensuring a response.

Instead, what do we have? We have not just angry North Korean denials about carrying out the sinking, and (source no 12, below) we have them demanding access to the “evidence” to carry out their own independent investigation. You know, kind of like how the defence in an American trial gets to see the prosecution’s evidence in order to prepare a defence.

You know, reading over what I’ve just written, suddenly I’m not so hot about my theory any more.

OK, now, again, just for the sake of argument, let’s take a total fantasy track. Let’s imagine that the Cheonan was not sunk by a North Korean torpedo, but because of some other reason: an internal explosion or a close encounter with an old, drifting sea mine. Let’s also imagine that the alleged “sinking” was a story cooked up by someone in order to increase tensions in the Korean peninsula.

Why would they want to do that?

Some of the possible answers are rather interesting.

1. North Korea’s forces, while impressive on paper, are primitive and in the long run would be unable to stand up to the South, which also has well over 28,000 American forces all ready at hand. What use are those allied forces on your soil if you don’t make use of them, huh? What this means is that the South actually has, if you believe the same sources which feed us the rest of our information on the North, relatively little to fear from a shooting war. (The North Korean nuclear arsenal is unproven and unlikely to be used in a limited war, which is what the South would be banking on, not an all-out conflict.)

2. South Korea hasn’t come out too well from its involvement in the freedom-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq, and some unpatriotic people are even calling for withdrawal from the US’ freedom-building efforts. What better than a nifty little war noise to make people fall in line?

3. South Korea has a long history of allowing itself to be used for the furthering of US aims. For instance, there was the shooting down of KAL 007 over Soviet territory in 1983, an incident that was extremely likely to have involved a US spying mission over Sakhalin and the Kamchatka peninsula (see pdf file linked to below).

4. Japan has recently been in some turmoil over continued US military presence on Okinawa in particular and in Japan in general. The current Japanese government has signally failed to deliver on pre-election pledges to reduce the American military presence, and the US evidently has no plans ever to reduce that presence. After all, China is still being drum-beaten as the Next Big Enemy. And a war threat in the region is so very beneficial to an increased military presence, is it not?

5. The ongoing plans to attack Iran. Since the South Koreans ought to be able to handle the North on their own, it would be a useful distraction to keep the Russians and Chinese busy while the final preparations for the attack were underway.

Now I can scarcely stress enough that all this is fantasy. Repeat after me: Kim Jong Il is a flattopped lunatic maniac. It’s been proved beyond doubt that the North sank the ship. And anyone saying anything to the contrary is a North Korean agent in the pay of Pyongyang. Got it? Good.

But just imagine a world where my fantasy scenario is right, and the incident has been manufactured for purposes we can, um, only guess at.

Couldn’t happen...could it?



1. (Initial news item on the sinking, with official denials by Seoul of a torpedo attack)

2. item about the sinking of the Cheonan, soon after the sinking, with references to survivor accounts of leaks and mechanical faults.)

3. (BBC news item complete with “proof” the North sank the Cheonan)

4. (More innuendo-laced and evidence-sparse “proof”)

5. (The sinking of INS Khukri)

6. (The sinking of the ARA General Belgrano)

7. (An account, in somewhat sloppy language, of South Korea’s hunt for four Northern subs which are “missing”)

8. (An annotated account of the shooting down of KAL 007)

9. (On the current relations between the US and Japan)

10. (On the US drive to prepare for imminent war against Iran.)

11. BBC "evidence")

12. North Korean response)

Here's the "evidence": the alleged torpedo:

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