Monday, May 05, 2008

10 years

Old news, yes, but I was struck by a few of the things said in this article about the Namdaemun arsonist:
The 70-year-old arsonist who set a fire to the national treasure of Namdaemun was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the Seoul Central District Court announced yesterday. Chae Jong-gi had pleaded guilty to setting the fire which gutted the 610-year-old gate on Feb. 10.

“It was necessary to hand him a severe punishment, considering that he caused indescribable damage to the nation,” read the court’s ruling. “Chae’s burning down the gate while he was still on probation for setting another fire at Changgyeong Palace is antisocial behavior that cannot be allowed in a law-abiding country.” Prosecutors had sought a 12 year sentence.
To be sure, no one wants this to happen again and there's no surprise that a harsh sentence was imposed. For a somewhat similar case in the U.S. (which did not have such destructive results) see here; the indictment can be seen third on the list here, where his crime is described as "attempting to damage and damaging an archeological resource." Leaving a few dents on the Liberty Bell by hitting it with a 4 pound hammer got him 9 months in prison.

Using words like "indescribable damage to the nation" in a judgement strikes me as being a little too emotional. It might better describe a situation such as this:

Kwangju, 1980

Yes, I realize Chun Doo-hwan was initially sentenced to death, (for mutiny and treason, not for anything specifically to do with the uprising, mind you) which was later commuted to a life sentence, and then he was pardoned. But he was only held accountable years later due to a shift in the fortunes of Kim Young-sam. And Chae may well not serve his entire sentence, but I would imagine he, who set fire to a 600-year-old building, would serve more time than a man who presided over what eventually became a military attack on a South Korean city which left hundreds dead. That, to me, fits the description "indescribable damage" much better.

I guess the trick is to inflict "indescribable damage" while in the process of seizing power. Inflicting it in order to get more money for your property is not going to get you invited to a chat with Lee Myung-bak.

(May 20, 2006)


gordsellar said...


By the way, have you read that fantasy comic novel by the webcomic artist "Kangfull" about the group of would-be assassins who hunt down Chun? It's one book I actually really do want to check out.

matt said...

I haven't heard of that comic novel. It sounds like it would be interesting to read, though. It reminded me of the fact that a friend of mine used to live in Yeonhui-dong and would get a fruit basket every new years with a note from Chun apologizing for the security in the neighbourhood.