The sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16 has caused the entire nation to mourn for the tragic loss of many lives. More than 300 people were found dead or missing, while only 172 people out of 476 passengers were rescued. Immediately after the accident, the government announced that 368 people were rescued. However, it was later found that there was a counting error, and the number was corrected to 164. When it became clear that the remaining passengers were unaccounted for, the public response began to transform from shock to anger.
Many began to question the causes of the tragedy, such as the violation of safety standards by the regulators and operators of the ferry, and the irresponsible behavior of the captain and the crew. People also criticized the slow initial response and inefficient rescue efforts by the government agencies.
However, finding someone to blame is hardly the answer to handling the tragedy that is gripping the nation. Instead of pointing fingers, we must try to make lemonade with the awful lemon that Sewol has handed us. Punishment is necessary, but the most urgent task is to fix the fundamental problems that caused such disaster. Finding someone to blame and imposing punishments is only getting rid of the symptoms of the disease that is slowly killing us all.
The tragedy sheds light on Korea’s “hurry, hurry” culture, which places much importance on the speed at which things are done and overlooks the principles to be abided by. What South Korea has achieved after the war is truly remarkable; no other country has shown such fast rate of economic growth after a war. To the deprived Koreans at the time, priority was placed on economic development, while concern for welfare and safety were put aside and even considered as luxury. This kind of mindset may have allowed us to develop our economy at the highest efficiency, but it also resulted in many problems that are acting as obstacles in enhancing the welfare and safety culture of Korea.
Negligence towards safety is the result of such mindset. Because Koreans have managed to catch up economically using their methods, they naively believe that everything will somehow turn out okay. In fact, the investigators found that the ferry carried excess cargo in order for the ferry company to earn an extra profit of 3 billion Korean Won, even though they were clearly informed about the dangers of such practice.
The Sewol disaster is something that is far from unexpected and is not unheard of. This incident highlights the strong need to look back at Korea’s development path and find out what we had ignored so far. We should not stop at lamenting the loss - instead, we must try to correct the malpractices that are prevalent in our society to prevent our future generations from experiencing another disaster.
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