I'm still sad, bummed, disappointed, upset, angry, confused about this.
For the sake of Roh the man, I wanted to leave a few days to let this whole thing sink in, but dear readers, Roh Moo-hyun's suicide is bad for Korea in so, so, so many ways. It's not often you see a situation that just has no upside whatsoever, but this one really doesn't.
Here are all the ways Roh's suicide is bad, and for whom:
1. For Korea's political scene.
Korea's political scene has been plagued for SO long by a hyper-polarization of left and right. Various presidential candidates (including, I believe, Roh himself) got to the Blue House partly on merit of promising to end the regional antagonism, and the us-against-them bloodsport of partisanship in Korean politics.
The fact, at this point, that it appears (and reality matters very little to demagogues, as long as there is an appeareance) that Lee Myung-Bak's very zealous investigation into Roh's corruption pushed him to desperation will further deepen, and crystallize the polarization of Korea's political parties.
2. For Korea's image internationally.
Yeah. Ex-president committing suicide in the middle of a corruption investigation? Kind of the exact opposite of a PR coup.
3. For Korea's slow journey out of the old corrupt ways and toward transparency
See, it would have been embarrassing, yeah, for the man, and even for the country, if Roh Moo-hyun had spent some time in jail for corruption... then again, it would have sent a message to everyone in Korea, as Lee Geon-hee's resignation from the top spot in Samsung did in '08, that corruption is no longer acceptable in Korea, even from the rich and powerful. By calling off the investigation after Roh's suicide, he and his family get away with corruption. Sure, the investigators could hardly have done anything else, given the backlash they would have faced, but the fact is, Roh's suicide is a major setback for a country trying to climb the world transparency index.
4. For Korea's suicide epidemic
When Roh killed himself, he managed to buy his family the out they needed: the corruption investigation was called off. By calling off the investigation, the Korean government has validated suicide as a way to get yourself out of a jam.
(opinion article stating as much)
Repeat: Calling off the corruption investigation, though inevitable, has validated suicide as an effective option for getting yourself, or your family out of a jam.
And this is to say nothing of the way the high profile suicide trend continues, and, as newspapers print photos of suicide funerals where famous people cry and wear black, as newspapers publish photos of suicide sites, it makes suicide that much more prominent in the mind of a depressed kid, as an option for dealing with life's problems: "If Choi Jin-shil did it..."
5. For Korean prosecutors
It is a huge blow to the credibility of Korea prosecutors and justice department, that Roh's investigation both appeared to be politically motivated, and that it was called off upon his death. When it looks like they're serving as hand in glove for the ones in power, to crap on the ones not in power, rather than being focused on justice alone, and when public emotion rather than satisfaction of the law is the reason for calling off an investigation, the credibility of Korean law is damaged.
6. For President Lee Myung-bak
Yep. The death is going to be politicized by the president's opponents. Yep, just wait for the protests in the street to begin. Yep, they'll find other things to blame on him. It's gonna be a whole lot of ugly in downtown Seoul, again this summer. Just when you thought it was safe to have a Hi Seoul! Festival...
7. For the Roh family.
Of course. Let's not forget that a wife lost her husband, a son lost his father. While it's a shame that a man they're trying to grieve is going to be used as a symbol for so many other things in the coming months, in the end, after the politicians have squeezed every bit of leverage they can out of Roh the image, Roh the symbol, and Roh the martyr, a wife will still be mourning her husband, and a son will still be mourning his father.
8. For Roh's legacy.
I don't want to go too deeply into what his motivations might have been, but yeah, a suicide is a pretty explicit admission of guilt in the corruption case. Unfortunately, that case will now be the final word on the man's life, instead of possibly spending some time in jail, but then possibly doing some good work as a former head-of-state who'd been (hopefully) humbled, and a man who, at one time, stood for something a lot of Koreans, and particularly, a lot of young Koreans, believed in.