Thoughts from the disaster of the Sewol

As I watched the sight of crying parents longing for their young children lost in the disaster of the sunken ferry, Sewol to somehow come back, I could not help shed my own tears as if I lost my own son. Though I have seen many disastrous accidents, how in the world can there be such an accident that makes us feel the futility of life?

First, the captain’s actions were outrageous. I cannot understand how the captain, almost 70 years old, could escape from the ship first, leaving behind those 300 young students on the ship who were just 17 or 18 years old, about as old as his grandchildren if he had any. It’s no wonder that the foreign press called him the devil of the Sewol.

I am so ashamed that the crew boarded a lifeboat first abandoning the ship through their secret path, and that furthermore the captain, disguised as a passenger and covered in a blanket, was drying his wet money with fire.

Are these sane people? From what I hear, it is an international convention and especially a law in Korea for the captain of a ship to remain as the last person aboard to take care of passengers in danger.

Secondly, the owner of the company is a disgrace. Despite his wealth more than 300 billion won, he bought a 20-year-old worn-out Japanese ship and had it illegally modified to fit more passengers and cargo in order to make more money. It is like modifying the inside of a 20-year-old worn-out three-story building into 10-story high-riser and stacking heavy machinery on the top of the building.

Due to this senseless structural modification, the ship lost its balance. Furthermore, on the day of the accident, the ship was carrying cargo whose weight was four times over the regulation. How much more does the owner have to make, risking precious human life?

I am amazed at him, a rich man with wealth ― 300 billion won ― that he will not be able to spend until his death, causing this disaster to make more money. I also wonder who gave the permission for the modification and how much the person got as his share. There is no way in which such a modification could be permitted without any kickback.

Thirdly, people died by trusting the captain’s words for them to stay in their rooms waiting to be rescued. This makes me tremble with a thought that they could be alive if they had tried to find the way out on their own disregarding the captain’s words.

A report from CNN regretted that the traditional culture of obeying adults in our country made the children die. Since trusting and following the advice of adults led to this disaster, I can hardly say anymore as one.

It was really a pity to watch on TV the sight of tens of rescue ships surrounding the Sewol as if they were waiting for orders from their boss. Who was the person in total charge of the situation?

Furthermore, as con men use this disaster by claiming they can show the situation in detail with a fee paid through a mobile phone, the heartache of the anxious parents of the students worsened. That is not all. There was also an anti-American conspiracy story on the Internet that the Sewol was sunk by its collision with a U.S. submarine.

This disaster is a disgrace to our country, which reveals the corruption hidden so deep in our society. Those who are responsible for this disaster should be investigated thoroughly, regardless of who they are, and punished by the law.

There should neither be probation nor pardon for them. They should be punished severely so that this kind of disaster may not be repeated. It is about time to get rid of the practice of lessening punishment for the reason of the criminal’s “previous contributions to society” in Korea.

In Korea, there is the Central Disaster and Safety Headquarters in the Ministry of Security and Public Administration. But it is in fact a name-only entity without substance.

Thus there were more than 10 headquarters for this disaster, as the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, and the Coast Guard set up their own disaster headquarters.

It’s no wonder why they were running around confused. Now is the time that we need a unified control tower for disasters, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the U.S.


Rising crime rate in the war of ideology

The crime rate has continued to rise in Korea, as too much emphasis on human rights naturally lowers the arrest rate. The types of crimes have become more diverse as well.

There are no rampages with firearms as there are in the U.S., but horrible crimes that do not involve guns are reported almost every day by the press.

It is unsettling to watch news reports on shameless crimes such as selling food containing carcinogens, swindling old people out of their hard-earned money, raping and robbing women in back alleys, and so on.

The problem is that punishments for these crimes are too soft. One good example ― Huh Jae-ho, the former chairman of Daeju Group, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison with four years of probation and a fine of 25.4 billion won in January 2010 for tax evasion and embezzlement.

In lieu of the payment of the fine, Huh was ordered to do prison labor for 50 days, which makes his labor amount to 500 million won per day. He chose to return to Korea last month to serve his prison term, rather than paying the fine.

He was placed in the Gwangju Correctional Institution.

Even though he does not work in prison on Saturdays and Sundays, his fine was reduced by 1 billion won. The Korean Bar Association criticized this special treatment in a statement titled “An emperor’s labor, 500 million won a day: we deplore the handling of former chairman of Daeju Huh Jae-ho’s case.

“For ordinary people, prison labor reduces their fines by 50,000 to 100,000 won per day,” it said, “but the reduction rate for Huh was 10,000 times higher than that. This severe disparity violates the principle of equality in the Constitution.”

In the U.S., the Republican Party (conservative) and the Democratic Party (liberal) hold different positions on crime. For example, the Democratic Party emphasizes the prevention of crimes as a measure to reduce crimes, while the Republican Party emphasizes the punishment of crimes.

Democrats believe that the gap between the rich and the poor has to be narrowed to create a crime-free society.

Children from poor environments are more likely to give in to temptations around them, since they do not receive proper education due to a polarized educational system, and do not have money to be inherited from their poor parents. This makes them more likely to give in easily to the allure of crime and become someone who is in and out of jail throughout his life.

Hence, liberals claim, since it is the responsibility of the government to rehabilitate and send inmates back as good members of society, it is not productive to send people to jail after they commit crimes.

The government should focus on studying the fundamental causes of crimes and preventing crimes. They believe that a society where people can buy $20 guns made in China easily in back alleys contributes a lot to the crimes, and that the government should bear responsibility for failing to get rid of violent movies where people are killed for nothing and try to make a responsible society. Thus they want a stronger, bigger government.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party believes that it is irresponsible to blame society for crimes, and that a society of justice and order can be maintained by making one pay for the crime that one commits.

For this reason, Republicans criticize the policy of the Democratic Party, which pours a tremendous amount of the governmental budget into thousands of crime prevention programs in the U.S. They claim that the government should adopt tough policies against crimes.

From the perspective of the Republican Party, which emphasizes the rights of victims, the sorrow of a victim’s family is in fact never revealed to people after all, as the press does not show interest in the grief of a victim’s family, only moving on to the next, more violent crime.

Conservatives give as much priority to the rights of a victim’s family that is broken into pieces by a crime as they do to the rights of a victim.

Thus, they claim that the government should make the perpetrators pay back to the victims’ families through prison labor and set the probation periods accordingly so that the families can be repaid directly.

It appears that the punishment against a crime in our country is set by a judge arbitrarily without any principle. I think that it would be desirable that the verdict should be made by a jury and sentencing should follow the federal guidelines as they do in the U.S.

Weak punishment only produces adverse effects encouraging more and more crimes. Especially, it is hard to understand how there is such a big difference in punishment between haves and have-nots, while everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at

On Local Self-Governance

In his interview with Daejon Ilbo on April 16, Jay Kim said that the self-governance through local governments could make progress only if local residents get back the power to nominate electoral candidates and the local governments have economic independence and police power.

He criticized the party nomination system for local elections, and claimed that such a system was part of the reason for people’s lack of interest in local elections. He argued that the real meaning of local self-governance would be realized only when people examine and nominate candidates on their own.