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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Time bombs in Korean society

Recently, South Korea was severely hit by two major disasters. One was the sinking of the Sewol ferry, which cost hundreds of young lives, and the other was the shooting at a frontline barracks in which five soldiers were killed and seven others wounded.

Both incidents shook the nation and stirred up the wrath of so many angry mothers, who have to send their children on school excursions and eventually to the military, which is mandatory in Korea.

Experts pointed out that the tragic sinking of the Sewol happened as the inevitable consequence of chronic problems with our ferries such as overloading, illegal remodelling and loose inspections. Indeed, our maritime companies frequently ignored safety rules in order to maximise profits.

Meanwhile, the government officials in charge of overseeing them neglected their duty or looked the other way as the companies greased their palms. The clock was always ticking; we just did not know when the bomb would go off.

Likewise, our Army, too, had serious problems. There are so many misfits who are not able to adapt to military life and thus categorised as “requiring attention”. These soldiers, who needed special care, could easily become a target of bullying from other soldiers. It appears that the guilty soldier may have reacted violently to bullying, shooting his fellow soldiers brutally and blindly.

These soldiers requiring attention, who reportedly comprise 20% of personnel, should not be drafted in the first place because of the risks of similar incidents. However, serving in the military is compulsory in South Korea and the Military Manpower Administration does not hesitate to drag every young man into the Army, even if he has psychological or mental problems. Consequently, there are numerous time bombs ticking in our military units.

Recently, someone told me that there was another potential time bomb that will go off sooner or later in Korean society.

“It’s the children from multicultural families,” she pointed out. According to her, a child who has a Korean father and a foreign mother is doomed to be born with serious innate disadvantages: Since he cannot learn the Korean language from his mother, his Korean will not be fluent enough to compete with his peers at school. In addition, since he may look different, his Korean classmates will surely bully him. Isolated and alienated, he will eventually become a loner and social pariah. Since he is not likely to do well in school because of language issues and other obstacles, he may not be able to go to college. Then he will be frustrated again, as he cannot get a decent job. If that is true, his anger and exasperation will explode inevitably.

I was appalled at her warning, which unnerved me greatly. Indeed, unless we discard our prejudice against children from bicultural families, and the Korean government takes immediate action, the hidden time bombs will continue to tick until they go off abruptly in the near future. If so, the casualties will be beyond description.

Before it is too late, therefore, we should embrace them and take them in as one of us. In fact, we are by no means homogeneous people and thus it would be sheer nonsense to disparage children of mixed blood. Those biracial children are Korean citizens already. A country full of Christians and churches, South Korea should be a nation of multicultural, multiethnic people who embrace others despite their differences.

In reality, however, we do not seem to practice even the basic principle of Christianity: Love your neighbour as yourself. On the contrary, we antagonise those who are different from us, who are not one of us and who are not with us.

At the same time, we also detest anyone who is better than us, richer than us and more privileged than us. And we loathe our political foes and ideological opponents. Indeed, we are often indifferent and even hostile to those who are different from us and as a result, exhibit a lack of generosity, tolerance and compromising skills.

Before it is too late, we should try to understand others instead of practising antagonism and exclusionism which are unfortunately rampant in our society.

This undesirable tendency of antagonistic bipolarity in our society may be another time bomb that might also explode sooner or later.

If we just sit there and do nothing about the time bombs ticking in our society, they will eventually go off one by one, turning our society into ruin. Before that day comes, we should alter our consciousness and do our best to prevent these inevitable calamities from happening.

> Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

Tags / Keywords: Regional , Korea , people


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