Re­gret and Re­morse Dom­i­nate Vigil

The Washington Post Sunday - - Shooting Rampage At Virginia Tech - By Joohee Cho

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.

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