Accidental death

Two fuel trains collided today at a North Korean station near the Chinese border. The crash ignited a huge explosion. Debris rained beyond a ten-mile radius and more than 20 houses were knocked down. As many as 3,000 people may have been injured or killed.

After the September 11th attacks in both New York and at the Pentagon, 3,030 people died; 2,337 were injured. While the numbers are much larger than the first estimates from today’s accident on the other side of the world, 3,000 is still a shocking number for, what it seems like, just an accident. In this day and age, it is hard to believe that two trains, on their regular routes, would somehow accidentally crash into each other so violently and cause such destruction.

But ironically, this is a country in which “self-reliance” is everything and that means one of the greatest military build-ups in history, even if the entire nation’s infrastructure is in decay and, just as an example, trains are always breaking down, often leaving crowds of people stranded until the electricity can be restored. Of course, you would think that at least fuel trains would have priority in this country, would not be run-down or decaying or susceptible to an accident of this magnitude. You would think since fuel trains are more important than, let’s say, food, they would be maintained better, function better.

In North Korea, both children and adults suffer from famine. Die from famine. How can you be self-reliant and protect your people when you cannot even feed them? No, instead, they will die and then you will only be protecting the millions of bodies of an oppressed people. But you have trained them well and they will tell you through their dying breaths that they are happy because North Korea and the North Korean people are self-reliant.

And now, with news of this horrible accident today, we must turn our gaze upon you again and watch from far away, peeking our heads over your high fences, trying to get a glimpse of what happened, what is going on. Part of it may be morbid curiosity that pushes us to peek– like slowing down as you drive past a fender bender on the side of the road. But personally, I’m watching to see how many have really been injured. How many have really been lost. And who they might have been.

Immediately after the accident, the North Korean government declared an emergency in the area, but then cut off all international phone lines. They did not want the story to leak. And by Friday morning in the northern half of the Land of Morning Calm, they had still not even mentioned the disaster.

South Korea’s acting President ordered his government to prepare aid if necessary and hospitals along the Chinese border prepare for a large influx in patients and offer help to their neighbor. But most of us know that while the aid will probably be very necessary, the request will never come. I will be surprised if the North Korean government even acknowledges the accident. We will most likely never hear a final casualty or injury count.

We mourn those who were lost or injured today not just because of this horrible disaster, but because they have been lost to us now for over fifty years– long enough for the pain to have subsided, but short enough for it to be remembered and return again sharply. While terrible accidents happen, they will suffer even more because of a terrorism that eats away within their own country against their own people. A terrorism that teaches militarism and self-reliance over feeding and educating children. A terrorism that will allow thousands to suffer after an accident just to save face, just to avoid asking for help. Just for the sake of self-reliance. How many will die because they were not found quickly enough within all the debris? How many will die because they could not be treated quickly enough or with the right type of modern medicine?

There might not be anywhere near as many casualties and injuries as there were after the September 11th attacks and perhaps, if truly an accident, at least we will not find the face of terrorism and hate behind the forces that killed our loved ones today.

Instead, we will wonder if they are alive. We– the global community– will read news reports of rumors and stories from along the Chinese border and we will wonder if our family might have been in the area. But for Koreans everywhere outside of that tiny isolated nation, the anticipation and frustration won’t be like calling the New York City area on the morning of September 11, 2001, only to hear a blaring busy signal because the phonelines were flooded. We can’t call. We can’t write. We can’t send an email. No, instead, we will wonder, again, if family members and friends left behind are still alive, whether they were in the accident or not. Whether they were even near the accident or not. We will continue to wonder like we have for over fifty years, wonder about the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers we lost in a political divide not so long ago. We will wonder if they survived the war, if they built families, have jobs or homes. We will wonder if they were lucky enough to survive all of these years of famine and isolation. We will wonder if they would recognize us if they ever saw us again. We will wonder if we could recognize them.