Tragedy Can Have Value: Lessons Learned from the Sewol Disaster and Other Catastrophes

After drifting at sea for over two hours, the vessel gradually descended into the depths during a live television broadcast. The South Korean “Sewol” maritime disaster occurred on April 15th. As of April 24th, the catastrophe resulted in 167 fatalities and left 135 individuals unaccounted for. This event serves as a sobering reminder to those who have become infatuated with advanced technology and believe themselves to be all-powerful. Some individuals have begun to awaken to the realization that we are, in fact, quite powerless.

At that time, Malaysia Airlines MH370 remained shrouded in mystery. Despite being one of the world’s most advanced aircraft, capable of carrying over 200 passengers and spanning over 60 meters in length and width, it evaded detection by satellites and radar systems operated by the United States, Europe, and Russia, disappearing without a trace. It was a feeble and pitiful occurrence.

However, this tragedy has also served as a catalyst for human progress. For world civilization to progress, it is necessary to both discover and respect the laws of nature, and for humanity to bolster self-discipline, including the development of systems and moral constructs. The “Sewol” disaster in South Korea highlights the lack of system and moral failure. When the maritime department ordered the captain to evacuate the passengers, distribute life jackets, deploy life rafts, and wait for follow-up rescue, the captain hesitated to carry out the order. Instead, the relevant personnel aboard instructed passengers to remain where they were, effectively sealing their fate. The captain and crew, however, did not remain in place, escaping through a specialized channel and being rescued first. Although the captain and many crew members were subsequently arrested, a grave mistake had already been made, and countless lives were lost.

This tragedy is a source of frustration, but it requires more than mere expressions of impotence; we must find ways to prevent such setbacks from occurring again. Great tragedies should serve as a source of common lessons and wisdom for humanity. Koreans are currently reflecting on how to make their country safer and their people happier in the wake of the “Sewol” disaster. It is a theme that is destined to resonate with the Chinese as well. This brings to mind a series of tragedies that have occurred in China, such as the car rollover accident that claimed the lives of students during a school-organized spring outing in Hainan and the oil pipeline explosions that have occurred in multiple locations within PetroChina.

Traffic accidents are inevitable, but it is essential to determine their cause: are they the result of mechanical failures or improper human operation? After an incident occurs, it must be thoroughly examined. In the aftermath of the spring outing accident in Chengmai County, Hainan, the principal arranged for another spring outing without reporting it to the appropriate authorities, leading to their prompt detention by the public security organs. What was the outcome of such actions? Principals across the country became too afraid to approve spring outings for their students. I remember having a spring outing nearly every year when I was in primary and junior high school; it was an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the environment and to learn a great deal of knowledge, a fond memory of the process of growing up. However, how many school administrators today view spring outings as if they were avoiding a plague?

Many years ago, I attended a news class given by a BBC reporter who discussed a mine disaster in the United States. In order to rescue trapped miners, the mine manager stood at the mine entrance to assist the rescue team, and was subsequently interviewed by the media. Attendees of the class, myself included, were surprised by the fact that the mine manager was not placed under control. The BBC reporter shared our surprise, questioning why he should be controlled. The truth of the incident had not yet been revealed, and it was impossible to determine whether he had committed any crimes. Why then would he be detained? However, since the mine manager was the most familiar with the mine’s situation, it was necessary for him to remain at the site to assist the rescue team.

There are many issues to reflect upon in the aftermath of the CNPC oil pipeline explosion. Where should pipelines be laid? Should they be kept away from residential areas? How frequently should they be inspected? Is early warning equipment available? If not, can we increase research investment in this area? If the accident was caused by negligence, how can we pursue accountability? How can we improve the system after accountability has been established to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future?

The frequency of such accidents provides us with bloody and realistic teaching materials and becomes a valuable asset for humanity to constantly correct mistakes and surpass ourselves. Tragedy also has value beyond just pain and tears.

Of course, there are other events in life whose potential harm to us is yet to be determined due to the limitations of our understanding. For such situations, caution and foresight are necessary. For example, the safety of genetically modified foods is a hotly debated topic online. Cui Yongyuan hasproposed that genetically modified foods should be labeled so that people can make informed choices about whether to consume them. Recently, the Gansu Provincial Food and Drug Administration has issued clear regulations requiring supermarkets to clearly label genetically modified foods or foods containing legally modified genetically modified ingredients when selling food. This is an excellent example of good system construction.

The sinking of the “Yueyue” should not allow the truth to be buried at the bottom of the sea. Civilization must come to the surface as a tribute to the dead, and tragedy can have value.

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