I doubt that there are many people who would view the Korean hostage situation in Afghanistan as anything other than appalling and disgusting.  The use of unarmed people desiring to give humanitarian aid as political blackmail is nothing short of cowardice and inhumanity.

And now we read of calls for the international community and particularly the U.S. to somehow work some magic (ie, cave into the demands of callous cretins) to save the lives of the Koreans.  Or, as Korea’s oh-so-effective President Noh/Roh said,

South Korea “is well aware of how the international community deals with these kinds of abduction cases,” said a statement from the president’s office. “But it also believes that it would be worthwhile to use flexibility in the cause of saving the precious lives of those still in captivity.”  (whole article here)

Several things come to mind.

First, South Korea needs to stop looking to the U.S.  They claim to want to cut ties and stand on their own two feet but in a crisis, the result is always the same.  Somehow it is all the U.S.’s fault and the U.S. should fix it.  To be fair, it may only be the families of the hostages and minor political organizations that are calling for U.S. intervention but, you know, still: 

“Especially, the families want the United States to disregard political interests and give more active support to save the 21 innocent lives,” said Kim Jung-ja, mother of captive Lee Sun-young.  

Some South Korean activists even lashed out at the United States for refusing to get more involved.

“As everyone knows, the Taliban’s demand is something the U.S. government can help resolve, not the Afghan or South Korean government,” the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said in a statement.

(Disclaimer:  I realize that The Associated Press are maybe not unbiased in reporting on this…) 

Someone has to be blamed and no one would want to blame their own child or spouse or friend for making a pitifully wrong decision and the U.S. is conveniently big, pumps billions of dollars a year into South Korean defense and is generally an international bully with a cowboy for a leader, so that is a much more acceptable target than some 19 year olds who had a brainwave to go help people in a war zone (it is certainly a less vulnerable target anyway).  But the first step to standing on their own is going to be firm responses to adverse situations, something which the government has not yet evinced any capability of (ie, their neighbor to the north).

Second, there is no other ethnic group that I know of that plays the martyr as well as Koreans.  Considering their history and the either constant threat of invasion or actual invasion itself, this is understandable and without the strong and at times unfathomable and irritating sense of national unity that they have developed in response, I seriously wonder if their culture could have survived as intact as it is.  But there is no other role that they love so well as stepping into the time-honored one of martyr.  There are even card-holding “National Heroes and Martyrs” (I assume that it would be the families of the martyrs that hold these cards) who are entitled to discount and subsidies for a range of things. (I assume this is some kind equivalent of a Veterans organization but that includes non-military personnel as well).

 The South Koreans who went to Afghanistan may or may not have understood the risks involved (too many times have I seen Koreans operating on a sudden whim that was not at all thought out, sometimes with extremely negative consequences) and there is no doubt that the terror they feel is real and it breaks my heart.  Given the social conditions of Korean culture, 19 year old Koreans (which = 18 years old Western age) pretty much equate on an emotional maturity level to 15, 16 or 17 year olds in the West, depending on their upbringing.

They are, so sadly, growing up fast now.


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