Wednesday, June 04, 2014

closing the books on the missing 16

I had been stopping by the Korea Times website about every other day to watch the rather morbid body-count ticker that had been placed at the top of the website's splash page. The number of missing people slowly dwindled to sixteen; it held there for days and days... and then the ticker was taken down without any further updates or explanations.

So—what did I miss? Have the missing been declared dead? I mean, I don't expect that any of the missing will turn up alive at this point, but I'm just wondering whether the Korean government has made an official decision to call off the search for the last cluster of bodies.

The whole thing has been one sad, sordid affair. The Sewol ferry disaster ripped open Korean society and caused a great deal of agonized soul-searching among Koreans—many of whom, it should be noted, did and do buy into the "culturalist" explanation of the disaster's causes, even while Western apologists (including yours truly) have argued against a facile oversimplification of the issues. I hope that some good has come of all this, especially in terms of Korea's cavalier attitude toward personal safety vis-à-vis the almighty won. I hope there's now a greater awareness of the culture of cronyism and corruption that can lead to such tragedies, and that Koreans, if they truly care about the world's opinion of their country, will listen to critiques from expats and other non-Koreans without dismissing them offhand as the resentful or unenlightened grumblings of the ignorant. I hope the world at large has learned a lesson or two from the Sewol disaster, especially regarding the preciousness of human life.

Of course, it's likely that nothing has been learned. Korea, in the midst of its pain, recited in its newspapers the long litany of preventable disasters that the country has experienced over the years, sadly noting that, from disaster to disaster, nothing seems to change. We can only hope that the loss of nearly 300 high schoolers will have taught the country to break its cycle of greed, passivity, and recklessness, but this is admittedly a feeble hope.

Today is Election Day, and it's very likely that President Park's political party, the conservative Saenuri, is going to suffer losses in many local elections as angry citizens use their votes to punish her administration for its perceived incompetence in the face of the Sewol tragedy. This anger is misplaced, in my opinion, but it's also not surprising. Tomorrow, we'll find out how radically the political landscape has changed.


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