How deep an investigation?
Last weekend's massacre of eight ROK army personnel in a unit stationed near the DMZ was a shocking tragedy.
At first there were speculations that it was an accident, then that it was a spur-of-the-moment attack out of anger. Then came news that it was premeditated and planned.
The Korea Times is going with the story that Private Kim Dong-min attacked his superior and his fellow soldiers out of anger for being harshly berated over an incident involving cleaning a bathroom, but that doesn't ring true with a lot of people I talked with.
Okay, in today's society where some teens go over the edge after playing hour after hour, day after day, of first-person shooting games, maybe it's possible for someone to hatch revenge over something so relatively trivial. Maybe Private Kim was mentally unstable and no one saw the signs or, if they did see the signs, wanted to do anything about it.
Whatever the case, the ROK Army said they will investigate and get to the bottom of this. But if it goes where I think it might, will they really reveal this to the public?
From what I've heard from several different people who would know these things, there is a deep, dark secret surrounding some ROK military units: using forced sex acts as a means of humiliation and control. I know what you might be thinking, that in a homophobic society like Korea this can't possibly be the case. I myself was in complete disbelief when I first heard this, and I am still skeptical, but I have heard of it from several different sources. That it comes from different sources could lend credibility to it on the one hand, or it could support the idea that it's merely a Korean urban legend.
I'm really not sure, but when certain news services reported that Private Kim had been "molested," I imagined he might have been a victim of such behavior (although "molest" can also mean "harass" or "abuse" in a non-sexual way). And to me, this would explain perfectly his behavior, much better than being angry over having been yelled at.
Male or female, a victim of sexual assault has gone through an intense trauma. Humiliation and despair can overtake even people who were once psychologically sound. This is why rape victims often become suicidal, reckless, or extremely withdrawn. As I said before in the Michael Jackson post, many people who are screwed up as adults are often people who were sexually assaulted as children. It can have a profound impact on someone.
The Korean military reportedly has a high rate of suicide, although the ROK military may be covering up the details of some cases. This is pure speculation, but I suppose that such incidents could also account for at least part of the suicide rate.
Can it push someone over the edge to mass murder? Maybe if the unit were in on the situation. I don't really know, but I suppose it would depend on what exactly happened. Maybe Private Kim was not a victim of any serious maltreatment. Maybe he did just go over the edge on his own. But I would hope that a real investigation into his actions would see what other factors might be pushing people over the edge to take their own lives as they serve their country.
At the same time, however, I hope the current administration doesn't use this situation as a chance to weaken the ROK military's credibility at a time when some in the ROK military may be unhappy about the direction President Roh may hope to take the country.