The fallout from the Virginia Tech massacre has provoked some interesting behaviour here in South Korean. There’s been wailing in the streets, a 10,000-srtong candle vigil, 100,000 netizens starting a virtual “black ribbon campaign” and a massive ”sorry” campaign at the highest levels.

But Koreans have also less publicly sought to disassociate themselves from killer Cho Seung-hui’s ethnicity. The Korean-on-the–street is claiming: “he wasn’t one of us”, “if so, how could he buy a gun”, “he moved to America when he was eight”, “Korean blood but American mind”, “1.5 Korean”. Not that you would hear that on TV and the Korean’s don’t want the Americans to.

It’s a crocodile tear performance all about tempering what Korean’s fear most about America: her vengeance. South Korean’s fear that rampaging racists could set ablaze the Korean quarters of American towns, just as they did during the LA riots.

The somewhat irrational fears also stem from comments by ignorant Republicans, who last year argued for an immigration clampdown on ”those Koreans” threatening to nuke America. The South Koreans took this as an incitement to hatred.

Such is the fear of American reprisals that by Wednesday night President Roh Moo-hyun ordered a crisis meeting and aired the possibility of sending a presidential delegation to Virginia.

The apologetic South Korean response is also a product of time. The killing spree comes at a delicate time when South Koreans are finalising the Free Trade Agreement with the Americans. And Seoul has fought doggedly for a worker and student visa waiver. A visa waiver now looks very doubtful and an FTA could be in jeopardy – unless of course the Koreas can act very, very, sorry.

Cho Seung-hui’s case also comes at a time when South Korean’s are debating just how well students adapt aboard – which according to recent studies is not all that well. Most return home early because of problems adapting from Confucian Korea society to the individualist western society. Not absolve to him, but western alienation and “hedonism” seems to be a major symptom in Cho Seung-hui’s insanity.

For now the ”sorry” South Koreans are optimistic that one Korean’s horrendous action’s can be overshadowed by another Korean’s triumph: Ban ki-moon the newly appointed UN Secretary General.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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