My Response to HS Yoon’s Comments on the Sewol Tragedy in Today’s “Last Three Weeks in Korea” Newsletter


But do you really not understand why Koreans are demanding answers from the government over the Sewol tragedy? If you object to the government protests like that, your readers who don't have a full understanding of the situation will think Korea is a nation of lawless and irrational street demonstrators and "impure elements."
You suggest people should be protesting at the offices of Chonghaejin. But what good would that do? There's nobody there, since the state's already chasing those people down and throwing them in jail as fast as it can. Who would defend scum like the ferry captain, the crazy cult leader who runs the organization (and was already investigated in connection with a mass murder many years ago) or any of the other members of the greedy company?
But HS, are those crooks solely responsible for the tragedy? The world will always have folks who don't give a damn for the lives of others; we don't just sit around and let them kill people though. The government is responsible for safety oversight and rescue operations.
I didn't need the Hangyoreh to point it out for me to sense that President Park's public association of the ferry captain with the word "murder" just a few days after the event was very un-president-like. I believe murder requires a deliberate intent to kill but if President Park can expand the meaning to gross negligence, then let's ask how many other murderers there are.
How about the Coast Guard that showed up on scene unprepared and did virtually nothing? They could have entered the boat themselves and rescued the passengers! Is that not gross negligence? The Coast Guard won't release all the video footage of the time immediately after the sinking began. They've obviously got stuff to hide. Then there's the Coast Guard control tower on Jindo that didn't bother to check in at all with the boat passing by and where employees were later found to be destroying evidence.
P1020954Would the boat have even capsized in the first place if corrupt government officials had not been allowing it to operate far in excess of legal weight limits?
If the lifeboats had deployed, the passengers would have been evacuated and saved. What officials turned a blind eye to the corrupt safety inspections that lead to broken safety equipment?
The government outsourced the rescue to a private salvage company called Undine that was more interested in its own commercial privilege than rescuing passengers. How else do you explain it taking nearly a week to even enter the damn ferry? No litany of excuses about how cold or fast or muddy the water was will convince me that all the resources of the country were focused on the rescue in a timely fashion.
I'd also like to know how the authorities could herd the families of the missing into a gymnasium in Jindo and leave them there out in the open for days, while letting the media sit up in the balcony filming them 24 hours a day. I have asked myself what that would be like had I just suffered the loss of a child. 
After such tragic loss, followed by humiliation day after day, what do you really expect from the families of the deceased? My wife visited an acquaintance a few days ago who lost her daughter in the tragedy and is now in the hospital, a nervous wreck. Her daughter's body was found with fingernails all torn up from trying to claw her way out of the sinking tomb. I can't think of anything sadder.
President Park showed up in Jindo the day after the event to say she'd do everything she could. Maybe she did; I don't know. But from what I've read, she didn't really know what was going on for almost ten hours after the sinking started! Someone asked me recently if I thought President Park had done a good job dealing with the crisis. As an American, I'm not sure we'd expect more from our president in a situation like that (which is probably why President Bush weathered the Hurricane Katrina disaster as well as he did) but Koreans clearly do, especially when the system failed at so many levels and this resulted in such loss of life.
At this point, I'm not sure what another apology from the President would do, but don't you think a proper accounting of the government's responsibility in the tragedy is in order? Can we let the forces on the Right just keep saying it's all the result of the actions of a few? 
BTW, I don't know why you say the Left is "impure"; then the Right is "pure"? Some of my dearest friends and associates in Korea are on the Left and I swear, they are good people.

Of course, the opposition will try to topple the current administration; that's their job! I'm not saying they are right or wrong, but do you think they have forgotten their (perhaps biased… perhaps not) memories of the years of JH Park, DW Chun and TW Roh? Or the actual overthrow for awhile of MH Noh and then his destruction after leaving office?
For whatever reason, politics is a battle and it's election time. 
I don't think anyone who aspires to be president of a nation has any right to feel indignant about criticism in any form. The best way for President Park to overcome the challenge is not to portray herself as a victim of harrassment and/or hit back at the protesters but to properly do her job to investigate and clean up the system, if she can. It seems to me that the pressure needs to be kept up, especially as President Park's response has been so tepid and her determination to see it through in doubt.


3 Responses

  1. Richard says:

    Very articulate response Steven. Even being thousands of miles away here in the US, this story and tragedy has broken out hearts as well.

  2. Colin says:

    If there is anything to commend the South Korean media on, it’s how to best beat a dead horse for what has now been over five days. Not a single minute of the 24 hour news day has been devoted to anything other than repeatedly blasting the same information about the sinking of the Saewolho (세월호), without seeing any development. This has done nothing but simply stoking public fury, allowing youtubers to cash-in on short-lived sentimental effusions, and satisfying desires for a witch hunt. In addition, the media is guilt of letting other ill-conceived contrivances of the world have their way while laypeople are distracted, affecting millions if not billions of people in the here and now while we mettle with foregone conclusions of events past. Most insensitive of all, is not allowing families a private grieving process.
    To say nothing of lives imperiled, we also now have a chartered shipping company on the defensive and examining what flexibility its insurance premium will afford it, millions of dollars in value of lost freight, and officials and ships crew in the court of public opinion. This event will always be remembered by how it is responded to, and this is what has become of it.
    It has become a field day for the government, in coordination with the media, to manage public perception through panned images of determined officials moving with purpose. They are shown as responsive and efficient at times of tragedy, while evidently useless and helpless in the face of nature. Much exalted is also the graphic design and animation intern somewhere, who takes grieving families through life-like reenactments of the violence and chaos of nature wrecking havoc on every level of the ship. A media executive now pats this person on the back. It also plays to wider society — being no less guilty — that its own ego must be made to feel relevant through carefully excerpted but untranslated broadcasts of foreign media outlets giving the situation some mild attention. If foreign recognition should be one’s own basis of being conscious of and legitimising one’s own suffering, it is only the most humiliating way of showing one’s own fear of owning reality. It is the lack of confidence in one’s own efficacy and thereby the worthiness of its own existence. The brevity of media interest is not a sin, but a reality in a dynamic world with thousands of moving parts.
    Watching the endless loop that is the media frenzy will do nothing to reverse the fate of those on board the ship, nor change the objective reality of human error. Even worse, however, is deriving some false, if not undignified, source of pleasure from seeing grief and those wishing to capitalise on it. It amount to an assault on the foundations of a society, an affront to its ability to demonstrate to those inside and outside that wish to exploit and destabilise it, that it can withstand any tragedy or calamity that should ever befall it with willpower, due process and the rule of law, respect for the separation of the public and private domain, and the self-esteem and pride of a country that knows how to do so without inventing entitlements nor thumping its chest.
    It is shameful that a tragedy that should be cause for somber reflection on the frailty of humanity has instead been appropriated as a tool of opportunism. The ordeal, as if it isn’t bad enough, driven into a circus, a spectacle for an audience, that has gone so far as to elbow its cameras into funeral processions.
    So acrid is the fury of the public, and so insulting is the media to public intelligence, the danger of a bloodletting and of the fabric of this society’s unraveling will be no other’s design but its own. And that, ladies and gentlemen, would truly be a spectacle to behold.

  3. Colin says:

    I’m kinda not sure if completely censoring ourselves and appropriating the individual suffering and tragedy of others for one’s own ability to show compassion is the greatest idea. It’s like hijacking someone else’s experiences for our own use. For example, a man is ridiculed and persecuted by state and society during his living life for who he is despite his great achievements, and after his death memorialized in a statue and called a national hero when his achievement was his and his alone and not to the credit of any nation nor society. The same can be said of individual suffering. It is the experience of those people and those who cared for them alone, and not the property of those who simply belong to the same nation or state. And so it follows that this particular incident and its value belongs only to those who directly suffered, and not by those moved to think it is a collective experience, and thus does not require a collective response (see clearly, the creation of a yellow campaign by private organizations and financed by the government, in order to show government compassion and thus maintain public order). It is those individuals who bare the right to be outraged, not to be stripped of the pride and dignity to have others speak on their behalf.
    In the same vein, it would be found to be ridiculous to see the man or woman who boasts of their Nobel-winning relative, or the brother who is a provincial/state governor, as if some if not complete credit was due to blood lineage and not to the productive capacity of the subject of achievement at all. As if that person’s achievement or human experience now belongs to them, without having earned it.
    With the additional suffering and deaths as a result of gang violence, cartel violence, civil war, preventable accidents, and disease that happen daily and cumulatively number in the thousands, we do have to see these events as part of the human experience, and tragedy as an event for somber reflection on the brevity of life, but we can’t be hamstrung by it forever.