[Letters] The case of ‘Roh-manticism’

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[Letters] The case of ‘Roh-manticism’

They’re loving him. Enemies have become friends, friends have become admirers and admirers have become the patriots. The man is now a hero - socially, culturally, historically and politically. The Internet, newspapers and the streets are rampant with resurrected romanticists professing love and respect for the former president of South Korea.

Perhaps the shock was so great that the whole society has gone amnesiac. The government had just recently initiated a thorough investigation of pro-suicide Web sites. It also sponsored a series of campaigns against suicide in the media. In light of the media’s and the nation’s reaction to Roh’s suicide, however, all such efforts seem to have been undermined significantly. Parents have mostly been silent about the glorification of this self-murdered man.

According to the biographical documentaries airing on Korean news channels, Roh was not only a good president, but he was also a morally respectable man and lived admirably on all counts. His failures are mentioned, but suicide is not one of them. What message does this send to our youth among whom the suicide rate is rising? What are we teaching our children? Is life meaningful or not? Is it worth living or not? Do we know how to answer Sartre’s question, “Why not suicide?” Have we an answer for our own sake? The message we’re sending the kids today are not mixed signals. We’re loud and clear - Roh lived a good, fulfilling life and we love him more since the moment he jumped.

When will this Roh-mantic honeymoon come to an end, I wonder. This is a faint cry against this delusional Roh-manticism spreading across Korea today. Historians will, and should, give him the respect due a president. History will tell the story of his rough road to the presidency, and the tough legislation he’s passed will be much admired for the good it brought about. But these shouldn’t paint the man’s life entirely.

He was by no means an old man. He had legal and familial issues unresolved, and he was still a father and husband to his family that loved him. Let it be heard now - Roh chose the cowardly way out. A presidential suicide (the phrase itself is an oxymoron) at this point should provoke at best the nation’s sympathies, not adoration. But Roh has only received the latter since his death, even from those who’d wish their children will grow up to be nothing like the man.

The Democrats back in the Bill Clinton impeachment days had the objectivity to say Clinton was a good president but a bad husband. Americans understand that just because there’s a museum named after Clinton it doesn’t thereby legitimize his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Why Korea lacks such objectivity is beyond me. And what adds to the frustration is the silence about it all.

Consider it from a medical point of view. Legally speaking, a person who wishes to hurt himself constitutes a danger to his own self and can be dragged forcefully to a medical facility until psychiatrists approve of his mental health. Then let me suggest - Roh was, to an extent, mentally ill. Was this mentioned in any of the documentaries on the man’s life lately?

As I write this letter, it occurs to me that those of you who are feeling outraged at my disrespect for Roh will remain that way, and those who agree with me will agree. Whence, then, the purpose of writing this article? For one, let’s have some balance in the media. There seems to be a quiet reluctance even in the foreign press to socially condemn a suicide just because the killer/victim was a liberal president of a democracy.

But let it be said that the man’s life did not merely end tragically, but it also ended unethically. He failed at bringing his life to a modest, responsible closure, and we will remember him not apart from this note.

I agree with the great English bard who knew much about tragedies, that “all is well that ends well.” So, I, perhaps along with a minority of my countrymen, respectfully refuse to pay Roh the respects due a great man, because he disrespected himself ultimately.

Now, we simply feel sorry for the poor guy.

John Kim, Yonsei University graduate
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