[VIEW 2035] We shouldn't have needed a hero

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

[VIEW 2035] We shouldn't have needed a hero

Park Tae-in
The author is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo. 
I feel sorry for the heroes. They come out every time a tragic disaster takes place. But they’re probably also victims. Individuals who shoulder the burden caused by dysfunctional systems.
The Itaewon tragedy was no exception. Kim Baek-gyeom, an assistant inspector at the Itaewon police station, is now recognized by the entire nation. “People are dying!” he shouts desperately in a video shared on social media.  
He told reporters that when he closes his eyes, he feels like the victims are staring at him and feels ashamed that he could not save more lives. His voice was trembling as he answers the questions. He burst into tears. “I feel pain when I think about the bereaved families. But that’s what I have to bear,” he said in an interview with the BBC.
He is a hero. At the same time, he is a victim as well. It’s the same for his colleagues who were there on the day.
People who hold a high position in the government like to mention a system. They say they will establish a system to handle the situation to go beyond depending on the power of individual heroes. This rhetoric is repeated whenever a disaster occurs.
However, as a reporter, I’ve seen those words on official documents never come to reality. In many cases, people used to stay silent unless someone with courage raised their voice. In this nation, individuals’ doing their part means a lot more than the system itself.
A system could be a useful means to dodge criticism. Government officials probably think “someone else will do it” or “another hero will come out.” It is hard to accept their response to the disaster. It was already projected that 100,000 people would rush to Itaewon to celebrate Halloween. 
When the tragedy happened, a minister was the last to be informed about it. The chief of the National Police Agency didn’t respond immediately as he was sleeping at a campsite. The head of the Yongsan District Office attended a picnic rather than a countermeasure meeting and visited a local festival held on the very day the tragedy took place. The result of their irresponsibility is 156 lives claimed by the disaster and tens of thousands living with trauma.
The police launched investigations into the incident. The government keeps mentioning stringent measures and an overhaul of disaster countermeasures. They dragged their feet when responding to the accident but now the police are investigating at rocket speed. They’re looking for someone to blame. 
The tragedy could have been avoided, if everyone had faithfully fulfilled their duty. We need a world where heroes do not need to take the burden, where people can enjoy their ordinary daily lives. It’s exactly what a system should do. Now the people who were there need to endure that pain. Kim said he’ll willingly bear the pain. But I hope he feels less guilty day by day. It’s not his fault. He's a victim as well.

BY PARK TAE-IN [park.taein@joongang.co.kr]
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)