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South Korea's Reaction to the Virginia Tech Massacre
[Opinion] Koreans view American feelings through the lens of their own culture
Kim Sae-jung (sm830311)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-19 11:37 (KST)   
In its guilt-laden reaction to the Virginia Tech massacre South Korea may be muddling America's healing process.

The American reaction is that the crime was committed by a single isolated individual who happened to be South Korean, and that it's not South Korea that committed the crime.

But South Korea doesn't seem to make a distinction in this sense.

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President Roo Moo-hyun ran a press conference solely on the issue, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement and a Korean college held a prayer session for the victims. It was as if all Koreans expressed collective apology to the victims across the Pacific.

Is this something telling about Korean culture? Failure or achievement by a family member doesn't merely remain within the individual who made it, rather it becomes the shame or pride of the whole family.

When told of the rumor that the gunman's parents tried to kill themselves, one of the two Americans who were talking with me said, "it's something with Korea's pride."

Koreans are in shock and concerned that this incident will have a negative impact on South Korea's well-built reputation and the future treatment of all Koreans in America. But it's solely Korea's perspective, and it's an overreaction.

Of course, there are some hate-crime-like incidents recorded by Koreans today, two days after the shooting. Yet, it is absolutely obvious to most people that the gunman suffered from mental health problems.

American society, composed of diverse races and ethnicities, has a lot of tolerance of different kinds of people and can embrace them all as Americans.

Korean society, however, is composed of a single ethnicity. It is more intolerant to people of different ethnicity and skin colors. Koreans have a strong bond to people of Korean ethnic origin even when, as in the case of the gunman, a large proportion of their upbringing took place in a different culture.

That's why there is widespread mourning and collective guilt over the gunman's behavior and its consequences.

It's doubtful whether the South Korean reaction will really help anyone.
©2007 OhmyNews

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