South Koreans fearfor themselves first

Saturday, April 21, 2007

By Donald Boston

I admire American fortitude.

In the wake of events that have taken place at Virginia Tech, I must say that Americans have made me proud. As an American citizen living and working in South Korea, I have seen what should be seen as a totally wrong response by the Korean civilization to the events.

The Koreans' first public international response to the tragedy, relayed by the foreign minister who chose to remain nameless at the time, was: "I hope there is no upheaval, or reprisal against Koreans living in America." There were no words of sympathy, horror or sadness for the victims and their families.

The Korean mindset was exactly on how Koreans would have handled it if it had happened to them. In 1998 there was a tragic accident involving two Korean girls who had taken a shortcut to their homes in the southern part of the peninsula. It was across a U.S. Army tank training course. When a tank came over a hill, with limited driver vision through a porthole and electronic sighting and night vision for objects far away, the girls were crushed, hit by a tank doing maneuvers practicing for the next detail. This resulted in U.S. base lockdowns and mass demonstrations against Americans. Thereafter two Americans were kidnapped and forced to take a front-row seat at a demonstration and serve as whipping boys for the ire of this misguided hate. They were released, and the incident was swept under the carpet as they endured no physical harm.

Can you imagine if an American premeditated a mass killing of more that 30 people what the atmosphere would be for Americans here? I would have to run for my life. The police are not only useless here but would participate in the slaughter. This is a civilization that has extreme demonstrations, to the point of one individual publicly dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire over the U.S.-South Korean Free Trade Agreement.

It has only been Kofi Annan's replacement, Ban Ki-moon, as head of the U.N. who has expressed remorse, sympathy and sadness in support of the American recovery.

Today the follow-up reports show Koreans exhibiting further paranoia about reprisal.

In South Korea, where government officials feared that the incident could further sour relations with Washington, the foreign ministry issued a statement saying that it hoped the tragedy would not provoke "racial prejudice or confrontation."

As an American citizen, I would have loved to have gone to Virginia Tech for an education. Cho Seung-Hui had an older sister, Sun-Kyung, who graduated from Princeton University with an economics degree in 2004, Princeton officials confirmed, while Cho was a green-card holder who denied U.S. citizenship for 19 years. How does this happen?

Cho's family moved to the United States in search of a better life, said the family's landlady in South Korea. The family was poor and lived in a cheap basement apartment on the outskirts of Seoul, the woman told South Korean television Wednesday.

So, simply said, I admire how Americans can swallow this cynical sympathy and still be so introspective to their own rebuilding process.

Donald Boston works for Lockheed Martin Corp. as a civilian contractor in South Korea. He is the brother of Carol E. Carter of Cape Girardeau.

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