Friday, May 22, 2009

shock: Noh Mu Hyeon dead

In the midst of our own problems, our family was shocked to learn, while watching the Korean news, that former South Korean President Noh Mu Hyeon is dead after having taken a fall (chu-rak is the Sino-Korean term being used to describe what happened to him)-- probably a suicide. If I'm not mistaken, reporters are claiming that he left behind a note, further prompting speculation that the fall was no accident.

The news, barely several hours old, is still unfolding; I can only imagine how it is to be in South Korea at this moment, and I cringe in anticipation of the fallout from this terrible-- and for me, completely unexpected-- event. President Noh was already in some trouble thanks to a bribery scandal; as often happens with Korean media figures, he made a show of public repentance (most notably by no longer dyeing his hair black). If Noh's death is indeed a suicide, as seems likely at this point, such a move would also be consistent with how certain scandal-plagued leaders in recent Korean history have dealt with mounting problems.

My sympathies lie mostly with President Noh's family and friends, who certainly deserve a better outcome than this. I'll admit that I had a low opinion of President Noh during his time in office; like many Koreans, I saw him as a weak-kneed complainer whose erratic attempts at populist, anti-American rhetoric did little to elevate Korea's position in the global scheme of things. Having said that, I'll add that I never wished such a fate on the former president; along with being shocked by this news, I'm saddened by it. And as I mentioned, I dread the fallout: Noh's leftist supporters will accuse the conservatives of having driven the man to despair, and the recriminations will fly once the period of mourning is over. The current president, Lee Myeong Bak, is a conservative currently saddled with his own PR issues, including the perception that he is too heavy-handed and authoritarian. President Noh's death will do little to extricate President Lee from his own troubles.

Suicide never sends a clear message to those left behind, even when the deceased has left a note. How all of this will color President Noh's legacy is beyond my ability to foresee. In the meantime, I can only hope his family and friends will find the strength to endure and overcome this crisis.

UPDATE: Comments at The Marmot's Hole and One Free Korea.

UPDATE 2: AP News article here.

UPDATE 3: Joshua's remarks on how South Korea's "Sunshine Policy"-- which began under President Kim Dae Joong-- was and remains more of a "Sunflower Policy" bear consideration. I agree with Joshua and his older interlocutor.


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