Are you like me? Do you often sit down and try to puzzle out why Koreans do the things they do and act the way they act? Yeah, me neither. I stopped doing that after my first year here. Why? Because the more you realize how things work and why people do the things they do, the more disappointed you become. The more you look into these things, the more quickly the layers of disappointment build.
Everyone, Korean and foreigner are at times united and hopeful in the thought that things like hosting the Olympics or World Cup, or G20 summit, or getting a Korean to lead the UN are symbols. Harbingers of the future. A future of modernity for a place long overdue. These baby steps are seized upon by everyone as a hopeful sign that maybe in fifty years Korea would abandon many of its backwards habits and plunge towards being a diverse, free thinking, honest, trustworthy, reliable, prosperous, economically democratic, fair, legally transparent, happy nation. This is a happy, generous subterranean thought that at various points in time, even the most jaded of expats have shared. Of course upon realization that progress in many areas is not forthcoming, disappointment often follows, and expat residents become increasingly more jaded. It is, after all, difficult to love a broken toy.
But sometimes thinkers are compelled to think and ask themselves questions about why certain things happen or don’t happen. And so, let me ask you a question:
What’s the most disturbing thing you’ve witnessed about Korea?
If you had to pick one stupid, weird, disturbing aspect of Korea, what would it be? Personally –and I’ve thought this over, I’d say that the Korean aversion to accepting responsibility and propensity towards deflecting blame ranks somewhere at the top of my list. The Korean aversion to accepting responsibility and the propensity for deflecting blame is a top-down, institutionalized, deeply rooted cultural flaw that is endemic in all aspects of society and highly visible in all age groups.
Take for example, a Korean automobile accident. When one driver crashes into another driver, the driver who caused the accident is never 100% at fault. The other driver is at least partially responsible for the accident, because if they’d stayed home that day, the accident might not have occurred. This is a simple example of institutionalized Korean blame deflection in its most basic form. Up until recently, men would blame alcohol when they were accused of sexual assault, and they’d actually get away with it. Blame deflection, avoidance of responsibility.
A Korean speed skating team is disqualified for breaking the rules? The foreign judge suddenly receives 21,000 death threats from Korean fans and has to go into protective custody. Again, blame deflection, avoidance of responsibility. Korean stock market down? That’s because foreigners are dumping Korean stock. Unemployment numbers too high? That’s because the Americans are printing too much money. Samsung loses a billion dollar copyright infringement case for ripping off Apple products? That’s because the American jurors/judge are not qualified to hear such a complicated case. Intern says I grabbed her ass and sexually harassed her? That’s because she’s Korean-American, and doesn’t “understand” Korean culture enough. Failed a test? It’s the teacher’s fault. Woman claims she was raped? She was probably wearing something slutty at the time. Etc. etc.
The deflection of blame and the victim mentality never seem to subside. And so when three pilots of an Asiana Boeing 777 belly-flopped the quarter of a billion dollar jetliner onto the runway of San Francisco International Airport, the entire world suddenly got a front row seat to yet another episode of the Korean Blame Game.
What caused the plane crash? Well friends, I’m no pilot, nor am I a crash scene investigator, but according to Korean newspapers, it definitely was not the Korean pilots who caused the crash. No sir, definitely not a Korean problem at all. It was either the plane manufacturer (American) or the air traffic controllers (American), the weather (mother nature) or possibly even the designers of the airport (American) who are responsible. But absolutely, unequivocally, without a shred of doubt; it was not anyone of Korean ancestry who caused the disaster, no sir.
Asiana’s President Yoon Young-doo flat-out told the press that “Pilot error is impossible” less than 3 days after the plane crashed into the tarmac and broke apart. Yoon of course being in Korea all the while, and having no experience as a crash scene investigator or pilot himself, nevertheless feels qualified to make such a claim mere days after the crash. The Korean newspapers followed suit with various “Boeing airplanes are dangerous” and “SFO is a dangerous airport with a flawed design” and “Plane was in auto-throttle mode, so the pilots have no responsibility” articles, some of which go so far as to attack the NTSB investigators. It’s a classic Korean circle-jerk circus of blame deflection by all of the usual suspects.
As predicted, we are already witnessing the traditional Korean practice of “blaming the judge”. When a situation looks as though it may not favor Korea, the judge is one of the first to be blamed. Usually death threats are sent, and attempts are made to find the judge’s personal information and discredit them in some way. When the judge is a woman, this phenomenon seems to go into overdrive. Here is a good example of such a practice from Korea’s least cerebral newspaper:
Naturally, Koreans are attacking the NTSB investigation because Koreans have no idea how a transparent investigation works. The NTSB, being a transparent investigative body with no interest other than to determine the source of transportation disasters, is something that Koreans can’t really fathom because there exists no such concept in Korea. The people are told what the investigators feel they should be told. Facts are withheld to protect guilty parties and avoid damaging anyone’s dignity. They can’t actually fathom the idea that the NTSB works for the public, and has a responsibility to inform the public of the progress that they make in their investigation.
After attacking the “judge”, a variety of other pathetic, dodgy maneuvers are still available, such as blaming the equipment, blaming the location, or even blaming Mother Nature for putting Korea into a disadvantageous situation. The Chosun ilbo is even going so far as to speculate that Air Traffic Control might be to blame for not warning the Korean pilots of their mistakes before allowing them to belly-flop onto the runway.
Blame deflection is standard operating procedure in Korea, at companies, in school, within the government and even in personal matters. Quite literally, no Korean bares any responsibility for any of their actions, at any time, ever. So why the crash? It will take months to find out. The below was recently posted on Facebook by a veteran pilot who trained Korean pilots at Asiana and KAL. His sentiment seems to be almost universally shared among expat pilots who have ever dealt with KAL or Asiana:
This Asiana SFO accident makes me sick and while I am surprised there are not more, I expect that there will be many more of the same type accidents in the future unless some drastic steps are taken. They are already required to hire a certain percentage of expats to try to ingrain more flying expertise in them, but more likely, they will eventually be fired too. One of the best trainees I ever had was a Korean/American (he grew up and went to school in the USA) who flew C-141s in the USAF. When he got out, he moved back to Korea and got hired by KAL. I met him when I gave him some training and a check on the B-737 and of course, he breezed through the training. I give him annual PCs for a few years and he was always a good pilot. Then, he got involved with trying to start a pilots union and when they tried to enforce some sort of duty rigs on international flights, he was fired after being arrested and JAILED!
The Koreans are very very bright and smart so I was puzzled by their inability to fly an airplane well. They would show up on Day 1 of training (an hour before the scheduled briefing time, in a 3-piece suit, and shined shoes) with the entire contents of the FCOM and Flight Manual totally memorized. But, putting that information to actual use was many times impossible. Crosswind landings are also an unsolvable puzzle for most of them. I never did figure it out completely, but I think I did uncover a few clues. Here is my best guess. First off, their educational system emphasizes ROTE memorization from the first day of school as little kids. As you know, that is the lowest form of learning and they act like robots. They are also taught to NEVER challenge authority and in spite of the flight training heavily emphasizing CRM/CLR, it still exists either on the surface or very subtly. You just can’t change 3000 years of culture.
The other thing that I think plays an important role is the fact that there is virtually NO civil aircraft flying in Korea. Its actually illegal to own a Cessna-152 and just go learn to fly. Ultra-lights and Powered Hang Gliders are Ok. I guess they don’t trust the people to not start WW III by flying 35 miles north of Inchon into North Korea. But, they don’t get the kids who grew up flying (and thinking for themselves) and hanging around airports. They do recruit some kids from college and send then to the US or Australia and get them their tickets. Generally, I had better experience with them than with the ex-Military pilots. This was a surprise to me as I spent years as a Naval Aviator flying fighters after getting my private in light airplanes. I would get experienced F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16 pilots who were actually terrible pilots if they had to hand fly the airplane. What a shock!
Finally, I’ll get off my box and talk about the total flight hours they claim. I do accept that there are a few talented and free-thinking pilots that I met and trained in Korea. Some are still in contact and I consider them friends. They were a joy! But, they were few and far between and certainly not the norm.
Actually, this is a worldwide problem involving automation and the auto-flight concept. Take one of these new first officers that got his ratings in the US or Australia and came to KAL or Asiana with 225 flight hours. After takeoff, in accordance with their SOP, he calls for the autopilot to be engaged after takeoff. How much actual flight time is that? Hardly one minute. Then he might fly for hours on the autopilot and finally disengage it (MAYBE?) below 800 ft after the gear was down, flaps extended and on airspeed (autothrottle). Then he might bring it in to land. Again, how much real flight time or real experience did he get. Minutes! Of course, on the 777 or 747, its the same only they get more inflated logbooks.
So, when I hear that a 10,000 hour Korean captain was vectored in for a 17-mile final and cleared for a visual approach in CAVOK weather, it raises the hair on the back of my neck.