[Viewpoint] Destruction of community

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[Viewpoint] Destruction of community

Two weeks have passed since the nightmarish artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. Some residents have returned to the island while others are still staying in public bathhouses. Others are staying with relatives in Incheon. The refugees miss their furniture and household goods, fishing nets, gardens and pets.

They are unsure if they can go back to the times when they innocently chatted with neighbors. Some have returned to the island, only to go back to the mainland after fixing the most urgent damage.

Their eyes are filled with tears as they board the ferry. They wonder if they can ever go back.

The unexpected attack destroyed the face of Yeonpyeong Island. Dozens of artillery shells missed the government buildings and knocked down some 30 houses in the middle of the island. Over 10 houses were partially destroyed. The once peaceful fishing village has become a ghost town, as the less than 200 residents, including those who have returned, tend to stay inside.

As night falls, the island town is filled with eerie silence. And the silence is broken by noise from military machinery. However, the augmentation of military equipment is not enough to assure the residents from the fear of a strike, since the artillery shells fell from the sky unannounced.

What is the government doing for the refugees and victims? The citizens are curious about why the government has not restored the village immediately and how long the refugees will have to stay in the bathhouses. Out of fury and frustration, I made an inquiry to the authorities. Fortunately, the government has made plans to help the refugees. Destroyed houses are to be built from scratch while partially-damaged houses are going through repairs.

Each resident will receive about 1 million won ($882) to cover living expenses for three months. They will also be provided with allowances for fuel and heating as well as necessities.

The infrastructure will be restored, and temporary housing will be built. Educational assistance for children and students will be given out. The Special Law for the Five Islands of the West Sea is expected to be passed in the National Assembly soon, and it includes some major measures, such as special college admission.

And yet, the news about new bomb shelters and weapons augmentation is still not enough to assure the residents. Their sense of life was turned upside down and their fishing nets torn apart. Their sighs have put Yeonpyeong Island into a deep quagmire. However, a more dreadful consequence is the destruction of community.

Destruction of community is invisible and, therefore, cannot be compensated by government assistance. The irony of a disaster is that the victims have to go through a division of community as they receive the government compensation they deserve.

In the aftermath of the oil leak in Taean Peninsula, the destroyed coast and fishing villages have now been barely restored, as there has been a clash over the amount and allocation of the government compensation.

The scope of damage from the recent strike varies, and the debate over the compensation is in progress. Some people work on the island but have home addresses elsewhere while others live and work in the island but cannot prove their contribution. Some want to live on the island for the rest of their lives while others wish to move off the island, taking advantage of the opportunity.

The hawks and doves always clash over this sort of issue, and as the damage increases, the hardliners advocating maximum compensation tend to garner support. However, after a few months of dispute over the compensation amount comes the time when people face a gloomy future. As the town economy has collapsed and the kindhearted islanders have lost their sentiment, internal division has begun to hit the community.

This is when leadership is desperately needed. Sadly, proper leadership is not easy to find.

The deteriorating island sentiment is scarier than the destruction caused by the North Korean artillery attack. Even the president is not capable of preventing a collapse of the community. Only the community members can keep the community rolling. We have already witnessed the hollowness in Taean. We need to shake off the despair and work together to safeguard the community.

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University.

By Song Ho-keun
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