We can overcome the tragedyKorean society has been in deep self-flagellation for nearly a month since the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry. In terms of repercussions, a number of previous national crises have been dwarfed by the man-made disaster at sea. However, nothing has defeated us so far. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Koreans kicked off a nationwide campaign to collect gold hidden by families and carried out the International Monetary Fund’s stringent requirements for its bailout program.
But the Sewol tragedy seems to be an exception. The calamity that cost more than 300 lives - mostly innocent high school students - off the country’s southwestern coast has broken our will to recover. The disaster laid bare our weaknesses: decades-old red tape, malpractice and irregularities; a fatal lack of safety awareness and training; the ominous revolving-door or “parachute” appointments in the government; and the shady connections between government ministries and their counterparts in the civilian sector. Older generations cannot hold their heads high amid the sense of guilt and shame derived from an inability to protect their own children.
But the time has come to put our grief and embarrassment aside - not because we should forget, but because we need to take care of the next generation. We need to ensure that our children grow up in a safer, fairer and more peaceful land.
First of all, we must not give up. Some of the victims’ families have attempted suicide. One volunteer who came to a group memorial altar in Ansan to offer a helping hand ended his own life. We do not know how many more will take their precious lives purely out of anger or despondency. But we should not show our weaknesses in front of our children. Instead, we must do our best to correct the deep-rooted abnormalities in our daily lives. We must demonstrate a sense of mature citizenship by shunning the pursuit of petty interests, investing in creating a safer society and calling for an end to greedy bureaucracy.
At the same time, we must take care of our struggling neighbors. After the tragedy at sea, Korea’s economic clock has suddenly stopped. The fiscal pain is first felt by ordinary citizens or mom-and-pop businesses, which will further dampen the slowing domestic demand. The government plans to spend a 7.8 trillion won ($7.61 billion) budget earlier than scheduled and has extended the time for tax payment for the underprivileged. But that cannot assure us of our society or economy’s successful recovery. Only when consumer confidence is recovered can they be rejuvenated.
We mourn the deaths of the Sewol passengers deeply. But we must regain energy to make our nation a better one. We will overcome this crisis, just like before.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 13, Page 30.