Op-Ed: The tragedy in Seoul should force South Korean society to consider the despair of the next generation — and how the world is changing
When South Korea’s first lady, Kim Young-Bin, was given the title of “Person of the Year” last month, the country’s president made her a national honor after praising her as the “mother of this world.” She is, at 44, the country’s undisputed leader and its symbol of hope.
And that should have been a good enough reason for her to receive the award, even if the timing and circumstances are less than ideal. The next day, her husband, Lee Hae-Sook, was taken to the hospital after a violent, drunken fight with his live-in girlfriend.
Lee had long been a model husband. He was a doctor, and had an impressive resume. He was the youngest mayor-elect in South Korea, an architect, and he led his local chapter of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions for eight years, until he was elected president of the organization. He had never been in trouble with the law, and had no record of any kind of domestic violence prior to the event that has made headlines around the world.
And so the story was made into news bulletins in the U.S. and other countries, and Kim was hailed as a hero. She had been criticized for the way she handled the crisis, at the same time as she was celebrated for her courageous response to saving her husband and protecting her country.
But it was the way she handled herself afterward, after her husband had become the focus of intense press coverage and world sympathy, that should have given South Koreans pause. As a wife and mother, she certainly deserved to have the dignity she felt she had lost. But she was also the first lady, who should have been with her husband.
The problem was that this is not how Kim chose to behave as a first lady. In the aftermath of the fight, she was seen as a woman acting alone, a victim whose self-serving behavior had left her with no moral authority left to respond to the crisis head-on.
I think of her as I sit with her in a small, sunny room in a hospital in southwestern Seoul. Her mind seems sharp and clear, and she seems to