The real lesson in James Kim’s death

Monday, 8 January 2007

Spencer H Kim writes about his son, James Kim, in “The Lessons In My Son’s Death.”

Mr Kim, I’m sorry for you and especially sorry for your son’s family. No matter what the rest of this sounds like. I know what it’s like to feel like you need to do something. Anything. You’re choosing wrongly, though. If you succeed, you will perpetuate the exact thing that killed your son.

My son's death was a tragedy…

For his family. Not for anyone who didn’t know the man. 2,000 or so other Americans died the same day. They died of illness, fires, falls, car crashes, AIDS, local natural disasters, and even gunshot wounds. If every early death in the world is a tragedy then we’ll all need saline IVs to survive the tears shed. If everyone were a well known Internet writer or foreign princess, we’d be inflicted with 10,000 tragedies a day.

A wrong turn on a poorly marked wilderness road…

There are two things in this sentence that are easily lost in the pain with which you want to frighten us and heal yourself. It was a wrong turn. It was a mistake your son made. The roads were marked. Poorly? Anyone from the sticks and anyone who has ever travelled outside of urban America and Europe knows that most all travel markers off the beaten path require active attention.

…it is crucial that measures be adopted to ensure against mistaken access to potentially hazardous … roads…

Crucial? To save, at most, a few lives a year? Nonsense. Lowering the national maximum speed limit to 35 would save 30,000 lives next year. Since most of your proposal is changes in signage, it would cost about the same too.

…Congress should change the law so that most recent credit card and phone-use records can be immediately released to the next of kin in the event of an emergency.

What’s the definition of emergency? What’s immediately? Do you know how many married men are crowded online tonight to purchase access to homosexual pornography with their credit cards? There doesn’t need to be a law for this. There are lawyers and judges who can get the right warrant for you if you can convince them it’s necessary. The phone company itself volunteered information when offered the chance.

…steps should be taken to ensure that authorities are adequately trained for search-and-rescue operations, have a clear sense of their available resources and fully understand the procedures necessary to conduct an effective, well-coordinated search-and-rescue operation.

“Steps should be taken” doesn’t mean anything. You are implicitly accusing the search and rescue teams, or management, of incompetence and are apparently imaging criminal legal redress would be appropriate. Civil suits are wide open for you if you really feel “steps should be taken.” You will discover that making competency a legal requirement in a democracy is neither possible nor in anyone’s ultimate interest.

My son's death was a tragedy that could have been prevented.

Of course it could have been prevented. By your son. He left a major highway behind in horrible weather. He drove up a road he could obviously not negotiate. He drove on for mile after mile until his vehicle got stuck. This was hopelessly reckless. In the modern world it has become fairly safe to do things like this; to assume that someone else somewhere will take care of it and it can’t really be what it seems; i.e., lethal. Someone will take responsibility. Always someone else.

I don’t believe your son was stupid. His death trek to find help for his family showed he had courage and fortitude beyond most men. He was, however, an urbanite who was born and bred to make dangerous assumptions about life.

Small road signs, missing locks, misleading maps, incompetent rescue crews, and blood thirsty journalists did not conspire to kill your son. He was a victim of the delusion you would help build-up to honor him—that a padded world where no one can hurt themselves is possible or even desirable.

As a tribute to him, I am determined to follow his lead and do all I can to prevent another senseless tragedy.

No, you’re not. You’re determined to make other people pretend to do something about it by doing what most Americans think solves problems: pouring money and legislation on it. Ten new laws about search and rescue won’t make it better, it will just get in the way of professionals who know how to save lives. $50,000,000 of new signs labeling every moss and ivy covered switchback in the country won’t make it better, it will just give passers-by target practice.

If you are sincere then take the lead. Sponsor a Scout troop or, better, found a purely secular scouting organization otherwise identical to the otherwise superb BSA. Start an orientating class at your local high school. Include forestry, fishing, and hunting. Try to take the curriculum national. Try to get it accepted as college credit. Look for corporate sponsorship from those who knew and miss your son.

Teaching a new generation of Americans how to survive in the real world when things go wrong would be a far superior tribute to your son than passing legislation to ensure the next generation is even less fit to survive outside of an airbag and trans-fat-ban urban daycare world.

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