Reader Challenge: Do Alternate Cheonan Narratives Ring True?

Asia Times Online periodically provides a forum for Kim Jong-il mouthpiece Kim Myong Chol. In an early May article titled Pyongyang sees US role in Cheonan sinking, he suggests that the incident may have been the result of friendly fire on the part of the United States.

Is it possible that North Korea carried out the daring act of torpedoing a South Korean corvette participating in a US-South Korean war exercise? The answer is a categorical no. The circumstantial evidence is quite revealing, showing who is the more likely culprit.

Among the evidence he cites:

The disaster took place precisely in the waters where what the Pentagon has called “one of the world’s largest simulated exercises” was underway. This war exercise, known as “Key Resolve/Foal Eagle” did not end on March 18 as was reported but actually ran from March 18 to April 30.

North Korean submarines are not stealthy enough to penetrate heavily guarded South Korean waters at night and remain undetected by the highly touted anti-submarine warfare units of the American and South Korean forces. A North Korean submarine submarine would be unable to outmaneuver an awesome array of high-tech Aegis warships, identify the corvette Cheonan and then slice it in two with a torpedo before escaping unscathed, leaving no trace of its identity.

Or as Lex, who frequently writes for Scholars & Rogues, put it:

If that’s how good the DPRK is, I’m not so sure we want to be rattling sabers.

Sticking the knife in and twisting, Chol declared that “the US repeated the kind of friendly fire incident for which it is notorious in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, another alternative narrative, in the form of an open letter to Hillary Clinton, finds neither the United States nor South Korea culpable. Its author, S.C. Shin, a civil investigator recommended by Korean National Assembly to investigate the sinking of Cheonan, seeks only to stay their hand from retaliating. He writes: “I could not find even a slight sign of ‘Explosion’ but could find so many evidences of grounding in/out of the vessel.”

Chin provides a detailed analysis, complete with images, of the shallow and rocky area where he believes the Cheonan went aground, to which the initial Mayday calls also attested. He further provides pictures of damage to the hull and propeller blade which show (drawn from his bullet points): “No penetration, No burn damage, No heat, No splinters, Cable covers are not damaged, Oil tank and dump area not damaged at all.”

If the boat was hit by a torpedo, he asks:

How are the bodies of victim who were found near the cutting area so clean while a big explosion [supposedly] broke out that is enough to tear down the vessel in two?

  • How could the bottom of the hull no& penetrations by splinter at all?
  • Why couldn’t we find even dead fish in that area . . . ?
  • Why nobody got otolaryngologic disease at all? Even no nose-bleeding.

The crew of the Cheonan, Chin maintains, actually managed to free the ship, but another incident followed when it then collided with another ship (because it had lost the ability to steer?).

Chin also cites the initial reports, which, of course, may have just been attempts to head an international incident off at the pass.

Won See-hoon, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence, . . . told a South Korean parliamentary committee in early April . . . that there was no evidence linking North Korea to the Cheonan’s sinking. South Korea’s Defense Minister Kim Tae-young backed him up, pointing out that the Cheonan’s crew had not detected a torpedo, while Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the South Korean joint chiefs of staff agreed that “No North Korean warships have been detected . . . (in) the waters where the accident took place.”

Obviously, if there’s any merit to these alternative narratives (not conspiracy theories, at least in this instance) them, they deserve a hearing to prevent an international incident. Do Focal Points readers find them credible and compelling? Also, let’s try to dissect the motives on the part of South Korea and the United States for representing a grounding and/or accident as an act of aggression.