I went to bed on Friday night without looking at any news sites, fearing it would make me too upset about the ensuing chaos. The next morning, I was surprised at what I found -- or didn't find.
The Korea Times carried the above linked story that US President George W. Bush, meeting with South Korea President Roh Moohyun, had expressed condolences to the family of the accident victim. His words at the beginning of their joint appearance:
I first want to express my country’s deepest condolences for the accident that took place, where a U.S. military vehicle killed a Korean woman. And we send our deepest sympathies to the woman’s families. And Mr. President [Roh], I just want you to know our hearts are sad as a result of this incident.This was done with amazing swiftness and tact, no doubt helped along by the focus on the two leaders' potentially tense meeting. But I believe it was also reflective of the US embassy in Seoul and USFK learning that they need to handle Korean grievances more swiftly and with more care. I have long asserted that most South Koreans want the US military presence in Korea to remain (some enthusiastically, some grudgingly), but they want the US military to remain as small a footprint as possible.
Among a variety of things, that "small footprint" means (for some) few or no foreign troops in the capital (something based on historical reasons), bases that don't occupy huge tracts of prime real estate, and a US military population that is perceived as playing by the rules and behaving themselves.
To be fair, the USFK's reputation for crime may be somewhat exaggerated, with anti-Americanism pushed along by agenda-driven segments of the press that promote anti-USFK, anti-American, anti-Japanese, anti-business, anti-this, or anti-that sentiment. I have also frequently asserted that if even half of what the average Korean finds in the media were true, that would be reason to be very, very upset.
So I was fully expecting at least some parts of the press to be making a big deal out of this tragic story. But there it wasn't. Some news sources carried no stories in English at all, and few in Korean.
Was it Bush's nearly instantaneous apology (matched by an as-swift USFK apology), the type of treatment Koreans have long complained Washington gave to Tokyo but not Seoul? Was it careful treatment by the Korean media, which has learned the painful lesson that constant bashing of the US really can damage the US-ROK alliance and make some Americans consider leaving? Was it the lack of outrage on the part of the Korean viewers/readers, who can distinguish between negligence and an unavoidable accident?