Monday, February 11, 2008

As flames consume national treasure, the firemen bow to a suit

It seems firemen just stood there, taking orders from some guy in a suit while Korea's greatest national treasure, a six hundred year-old monument in Seoul, burned to the ground Sunday.* Money quote:
Officials from Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration had told firemen to proceed cautiously, meaning they could not immediately break into the area where the fire started, according to local media.
And it's not as if the country had no warning of the potential for this kind of catastrophe:
The blaze comes less than three years after fire destroyed one of the country's oldest Buddhist temples, Naksan temple, along with its prized bronze bell.
Prior to that, throughout the 80s and 90s, Korean Air Lines' passenger planes routinely fell out of the skies. It seems that on the flight deck of the blacklisted national carrier, junior officers were reluctant to share information that contradicted the ideas of senior officers.

You would think the country would have learned something from all this. But to this day, no sooner does trouble confront South Korea than it gets pinned on the Japanese or the Americans. If people are not encouraged to acknowledge mistakes, how can they learn from them? The South Korean education system continues to reward memorization and deference to authority. In corridors of power, the opinions of too many young people and women go unheard. And when smoke fills the air, the fireman bows to the suit.

*Seoul's Namdaemun (Great South Gate) is no more. It's official name was Sungnyemun (Gate of Exalted Ceremonies) . From Wikipedia: "The construction of this gate began in 1395 during the fourth year of the reign of King Taejo of Joseon and was finished in 1398. The remaining structure went through renovation during the reign of King Sejong (1447) and the tenth year of the reign of King Seongjong (1479)."
Photo: Wikipedia.

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