Killing a tourist

To remind us that North Korea is an oppressive totalitarian regime, they shot a tourist dead near the Mount Kumgang resort today. A 53-year old South Korean housewife went out for a walk alone, and somehow ended up in a restricted military area. After running away in panic when she was warned to stop, probably being terrified at the big guns being aimed at her, she was shot and killed.

It's not known how this happened, but if the North Koreans did their job properly and made sure that no one could wander outside the tourist area without warning, then she showed very poor judgement. This wouldn't be too surprising, since in any tourist group large enough there is bound to be those who have a poor sense of safety. And it's hardly an obscure fact that North Korea is an extremely oppressive nation to its own citizens, and their treatment of foreigners is not so hot, either. Of course, it's also entirely possible that the North Koreans screwed up and neglected to fence off certain portions of the tourist resort.

However, regardless of whose fault it was, there should not have been any deaths! Why couldn't they have just warned her back to the tourist resort? At worst, they should have just detained her. I don't see any justification for a shooting. It's not like a 53-year old housewife would have been armed to the teeth, leaving the North Korean guards no alternative. Even if she ignored their warnings and ran away, it wouldn't have killed the guards to run after her or get some vehicle to chase her.

Are North Korean soldiers so used to shooting any of their own citizens who show any sign of defiance? Have they forgotten how to detain harmless people intact, or have they never known such skills in the first place? The political oppression and rampant disregard for human life in North Korea has always been at intolerable levels, and there is no sign of any improvement. North Korea is politically and economically isolated for a reason, and that reason lies with themselves, no matter how much they would like to blame someone else.

This shooting incident will also bring nothing but harm to North Korea's own interests. It could derail economic aid from South Korea and the United States, plans by the United States to remove North Korea from its list of terrorist nations, and the six-party talks concerning its nuclear program. Without a significant show of goodwill, be it in the form of reforms or a meaningful apology with matching levels of action, North Korea stands to lose a lot from this incident. Or at least I hope the rest of the world treats the way this incident deserves to be treated and not sweep the entire affair under the rug. For now, all tourism to the Kumgang resort has been suspended.

The human cost of extreme intolerance

Extreme intolerance of any sort is evil. While the death toll from communist and fascist regimes are oft-cited examples, communism and fascism by no means have a monopoly on pointless mass killings. An estimated 100,000 executions of supposed communist sympathizers by South Korea occurred over a few weeks during the Korean War, despite South Korea being a supposedly democratic nation.

Even ignoring the fact that executing people for simply believing in communism is evil in itself, many of these executions were of people with no affiliation with communism in the first place. And such extreme intolerance of communism continued for a long time to a lesser degree even after the war ended. While probably not as bad as the intolerance shown by North Korea, this hardly makes it fine and dandy.

This is the kind of thing that happens when a government or populace is swept up in a frenzy of extreme intolerance, regardless of where their intolerance comes from. This happened during the French Revolution, which aimed for a democratic society, and between Catholic and Protestant Christians, where millions died due to religiously motivated conflict. Even twentieth-century United States has its moments of extreme intolerance with the Japanese-American internment camps and the oppression during the McCarthy era.

While many of us are fortunate enough to live in enlightened societies that are relatively tolerant, we should always beware of bigots that cannot tolerate those that are different from them, e.g. homophobes and sexists. And we should always strive to be tolerant ourselves, and not simply be smug that we are tolerant of others, lest we unknowingly become excessively intolerant without good reason.

Band-aid car traffic reduction

During the past decades, traffic congestion and parking space shortages have been steadily growing worse in Korea. While there are various efforts to reduce the problems from the growing number of cars, such as better road systems and traffic control, the country has one odd method that has been employed for awhile. Many institutions enforce a rule of only allowing people to commute with cars whose license plate number ends in certain numbers for each day.

Continue reading "Band-aid car traffic reduction"

Violence in Korean beef protests

About 130 people were injured during a violent clash during protests against the importation of American Beef into South Korea. By now, most of the moderates who participated in the protests are probably tired of them and need to go back to their own lives, so it's not a particular surprise that only the hardcore protestors would still go on. So it would have only been a matter of time before the ongoing protests resulted in violence.

The ironic thing is that for all we know, the injuries from this single protest might be more harm than what could result from the import of US beef, at least in terms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease infection. It is quite possible that no such cases might arise at all. I could be wrong, and the protestors could be right in their belief that import of US beef could result in a rash of cases, but there is no indication that this would be the case.

South Korean government woes

I wonder if South Korean president Lee Myung-bak will be able to get his government back on track? His record might indicate that he's a great businessman, which is probably the reason he got elected, but so far he seems to be terrible as a politician. Will he be able to get back some of the public confidence, or will he continue to be as unpopular or even more so as the previous South Korean president at the end of his term?

Continue reading "South Korean government woes"