Did North Korea Sink the Cheonan?

On March 26, 2010, the South Korean patrol boat Cheonan sank, resulting in the death of 46 South Korean sailors.  The South Korean government said the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo.  As this story reports,  South Korea will release a final report of about 250 pages, detailing the findings of 74 investigators from South Korea, the United States, Sweden, and Australia.  The study presents the evidence that shows the Cheonan was, in fact, sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

One interesting part of the story says, “Opinion polls show that 20% to 30% of South Koreans doubt the investigation committee’s findings.”  Talking with my US friends, none of them has expressed any doubt in the claim (made by the US government as well as the South Korean government) that the North Koreans sank the Cheonan.  Yet, talking with South Koreans, they tell me that many of them believe the Cheonan ran aground, which is what caused it to sink.  The opinion poll results reported in the WSJ story back up my casual observation on this.

Why would the South Korean government lie?  Talk of military threats often boosts support for incumbent politicians, and that’s the reason for the doubts I’ve heard from talking with South Koreans.  They view their political leaders with a healthy degree of skepticism, and as a result, 20-30% doubt the government’s claims about the Cheonan.

The US government has made the same claims, has supported the South Korean government on this, and has stepped up its military exercises with the South Koreans as a result of the sinking of the Cheonan.  In contrast to the skepticism of South Koreans, I’ve seen no evidence of any doubt in the US that North Korea sank the Cheonan.

It’s an interesting observation on people’s trust in their government.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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