Regret and Remorse Dominate Vigil
SEOUL, April 21 — Kim Sang Chul picked up his newspaper Wednesday morning and read the banner headline in horror: “Virginia Shooter Is an Overseas Korean.”
“A Korean? It was just pure shock,” he said. “And I immediately felt a prick of conscience.”
Kim, chairman of the National Crisis Council of Korea, a conservative pro-U.S. interest group, said he could not sit back and simply watch the story unfold. He quickly organized a candlelight vigil with the Korean Veterans’ Association and called on religious communities to participate in displaying condolences.
About 500 Koreans, many of them older people, attended the ceremony in front of the Seoul City Hall on Saturday evening. Artists danced to a requiem, recited a poem and sang prayers for the 32 students and teachers killed Monday at Virginia Tech. More vigils are scheduled this weekend.
“Yes, the unspeakable tragedy was done by an individual. But I began to worry about what kind of negative images of Ko- rea this would bring to the feelings of Americans in the long run,” Kim said.
Many here have expressed concern that the image of their country has been marred, despite statements from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul saying that Koreans should not feel guilty about the shooting and that the incident would not have any bearing on the countries’ relationship.
Expressions of regret and remorse have spread across the country in various forms. Citizens’ groups gathered in front of the embassy with pictures of the victims, candles and flowers and urged passersby to write condolences on bulletin boards. News media Web sites have created special sections for tributes. Christian groups announced a special fundraising week, and Buddhists set up a platform to burn incense for the victims and their families at the main temple in Seoul.
“Not all Americans are always thinking rationally,” the leading JoongAng Daily cautioned in an editorial. Instead of “passively waiting until the . . . event disappears from our memories,” the editorial said, Koreans should strive to restore the image of a “decent Korea.”
Such displays of national guilt and responsibility stem from Korea’s marked sense of community. “This is a strong, homogenous society,” said Yoon Young Chul, a professor of mass communications at Yonsei University. Even if the gunman, Seung Hui Cho, spent most of his life in the United States, “Koreans think of him as one of our own.”
But some Koreans say the feelings of guilt have been too strong. OhmyNews, a widely read online publication, blamed the media for playing up the fact that Cho was born in South Korea. Although Americans attribute the massacre to “one individual’s pathological madness, the media are constantly forcing Koreans to ‘kneel down and apologize,’ unduly raising worries that it might affect issuing more visas and exporting South Korean-made cars or semiconductors to the U.S.,” the article said.
Tae Soo Nam, 45, his wife and their two children offered prayers and flowers before pictures of victims at the vigil. “I wanted my boys to see what could happen if you lock yourself up and play too much violent games. This could happen to us, too. I just hope that this tragic event will somehow act as a catalyst for a peaceful future.” Special correspondent Joohee Cho is not related to the family of Seung Hui Cho.
Children attend a candlelight vigil in Seoul for the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. Many Koreans expressed concern that their country’s image has been marred by the rampage by a South Korean-born gunman, despite U.S. Embassy statements to the contrary.