In the aftermath of one of its worst-ever maritime disasters, South Korea has found itself grappling with the question of how a modern ferry came to capsize in calm waters with the loss of 302 passengers, most of them high school students.
Alongside the expected grief and anger, the sinking of the Sewol on April 16 has also fuelled introspection about arguably the crowning achievement of the country’s modern history: its rapid rise from poverty to prosperity.
From the 1960s up until the 1980s, successive dictatorial governments implemented massive infrastructure projects and ambitious manufacturing targets at lightning speed. There followed an almost uninterrupted period of unprecedented economic growth. The “ppalli ppalli” (hurry, hurry) mentality exemplified by former dictator Park Chung-hee is considered to have been an indispensible ingredient in the “Miracle on the Han.”
But in the wake of the tragedy, newspaper editorials and commentators have asked if one cost of such a dramatic economic rise has been a society with a pervasive disregard for public safety.