A world full of helpless victims
I had dinner with a few friends who are around my age. Some of them currently have sons serving in the military, so the conversation was quickly steered in that direction.
“Life in the barracks has been strange lately,” one said. “Even the Tang Army wouldn’t be so weird.”
One of my friends’ sons took a photo of some of his comrades enjoying barbecue at the unit and posted the picture on his social networking account for his friends and family.
When the mother of one of the soldier’s wrote, “I cannot see my son; please add another photo with his face,” the company commander quickly replied.
“I will take appropriate steps immediately,” he said.
It may be an understandable gesture. But after visiting his son, my friend said, “The scariest thing in the military these days is the ‘letter from the heart’” - a secret letter soldiers can write to their commanders once a month.
It is a kind of petition. A few senior soldiers once secretly brought in fried chicken and shared it only among themselves. And a soldier who was not included in the chicken party wrote about it in his secret letter. Investigators actually looked into the case and everyone who enjoyed the chicken was reprimanded, losing five vacation days.
Another friend said that his nephew had warned a soldier “in need of special attention” who was transferred from another unit: “You are dead if you get in trouble again.”
That soldier then called his mother, telling her, “My superior said he would kill me.”
So the allegation puts my friend’s nephew in the guardhouse, yet the case barely made waves.
I’ve read similar stories in the newspaper, and it seems like a common event in the military. After a private first class was beaten to death by his superiors, it’s understandable that parents feel extremely sensitive about their children’s lives in the barracks.
The problem is that the military should be the military. It may be the transitional chaos until new disciplines are established, but it is worrisome that current disciplines and the chain of command, which are necessary for military strength, may be undermined.
In a way, the military is a miniature society. We have long experienced a world in which the strong and powerful abuse their authority and sway law and order. With democratization, a sense of rights and responsibility emerged, and illegal and inhumane acts in the military and society have been punished. People often share their anger over the unreasonable abuse of power on social networking sites. Sometimes, a vortex collides with another vortex, like when a few family members of the Sewol ferry victims and a hired driver got into a clash.
Most people in Korean society empathize with the weak, while nationwide fury is concentrated on targets like former Korean Air Vice President Cho Hyun-ah, who abuse their authority.
I agree with Yonsei University Professor Kim Ho-gi, who stated in the JoongAng Sunday that he saw the case as a sign of social democratization, corresponding to the democratization in politics and the economy.
However, I cannot help but feel that the progress in this case is a “hollow festival of the weak.”
Cho is the perfect prey in this social atmosphere, where everyone claims to be the victim. It seems to be group psychology, with self-consolation, vicarious satisfaction and even self-deception.
We can’t complain if a widespread resentment of the weak over the powerful serves as the momentum for reform and improvement. But the latest situation is more a one-off, consumptive release of anger. If everyone assumes the role of the victim, the world will be full of weak people. It is easier to blame others, the system and the world. It is more convenient to berate others than to achieve.
There have to be assailants as well as victims in abuse and assault cases in the military and in school, but people always rule out the possibility of their children being the aggressor.
Naturally, politicians have caught on to this and are trying desperately to please the public. While people like Choi Hyun-ah steal the spotlight from the true victims, important issues have been lost under the radar. This continued regressive emotional state in which we make ourselves victims is worrisome. Meanwhile, the super-rich and powerful are busy calculating their next move.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 17, Page 35
*The author is the CEO of JoongAng Books.
by Noh Jae-hyun