[Outlook]Seeking many happy returns

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[Outlook]Seeking many happy returns

Upon receiving the news of the death of Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, the leader of the Korean volunteers kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, I was reminded of the Latin phrase, “memento mori,” or “Remember death.”
There are too many deaths in the world.
In Korea, an average of 673 people die every day. Among them, 17 die in car crashes, 179 die of cancer, seven from industrial disasters and 34 commit suicide. In the United States, an average of 81 people die each day from firearms accidents, whether suicide or murder.
How bad are the numbers in troubled areas? According to Iraq Body Count, 40,000 civilians have died in the Iraq war since 2003. On April 16, the same day Cho Seung-hui went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech, about 200 civilians died in Iraq from car bomb attacks. During the week in, starting June 17 this year, 763 Iraqi civilians died, according to news coverage.
Things are not much different in Afghanistan. During the last 17 months, about 1,700 civilians have died there, or about 100 per month on average.
Pastor Bae’s death can be treated as simply one of them. But to Koreans, the news of his death was more shocking than the news of all the other deaths combined. We are enraged that he was shot ― not with one bullet, but with 10. Some speculate he was killed in that brutal way because his captors found out he was a Christian pastor.
Pastor Bae probably took the shootings as a part of his fate. He met his death in a remote, barren area in Afghanistan on his birthday.
One feels terrified at the thought that his body was thrown onto a street in the desert area. We feel something more than remorse. We feel our blood boiling. Why did he have to face his death in that way? Is this God’s providence? The answer seems to be out of my reach.
In Swahili tribes in Africa, people have a unique concept of time. They believe there are two time dimensions: sasa and zamani. If a man dies, as long as someone remembers him, he is considered to be alive in the sasa time dimension. But when all the people remembering the dead also die and nobody remembers him any more, the dead person enters the time dimension of zamani, the infinite time of silence. According to their theory, as long as we are remembered by others, we are still alive. The same goes with Pastor Bae.
I wish the remaining 22 South Korean hostages a safe return home.
Some Internet users say sarcastically that the hostages caused their own trouble by going to a dangerous place, risking their lives and getting the whole nation in trouble. But they must not say that about the deceased person and the other 22 young people. It might be true that they were not well-prepared for the possible danger. But nobody can criticize them or make sarcastic remarks about them while their lives hang by a thread. Imagine what they are going through now. Their fault was, if there was any, that they were too naive. That’s why they entered the perilous country of Afghanistan fearlessly. Apart from religion and denomination or arguing about what is wrong and what is right, now the whole country must become one and hope to get the 22 Koreans back home safely. The key to their safe return may be our sincere wishes, not money, negotiation skills or military power. I wish for their safe return.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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