To extricate oneself from a sticky situation, suicide is literally the last resort. A person in full possession of all his faculties would naturally hesitate to resort to what has been called a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But there are people and cultures who look upon self-annihilation as a viable option in order to save some vestige of one’s honor. The Japanese are of course well-known for this. Seppuku or ritual suicide is a means not only of recovering some terminal self-respect and atoning for one’s misdeeds. It can also be aimed at shaming a morally bankrupt system to change. This is what spurred Buddhist monks to immolate themselves publicly and dramatically during the Vietnam war. Japanese novelist and ultra-nationalist Yukio Mishima thought he could do this too but only succeeded in killing himself.
Not that the Japanese are exceptional in this. The custom of falling on one’s sword dates back to ancient times. Plutarch records such a death in The Life of Brutus:
Then giving each of them his right hand, with a countenance full of pleasure, he said, that he found an infinite satisfaction in this, that none of his friends had been false to him; that as for fortune, he was angry with that only for his country’s sake; xxx and, taking hold of the hilt of his sword and directing it with both his hands, he fell upon it, and killed himself.
Thus, the suicide of former South Korean President and blogger Roh Moo Hyun, who leapt to his death from a hill behind his house was, although shocking, not totally unexpected. And perfectly understandable. He was a man of principle and was shamed that he should be under investigation for a bribery allegation involving U.S.$ 6 million. Roh’s suicide note said his health was poor and that “nothing is left in my life but to be a burden to others.” He faced death with equanimity and class, writing:
Don’t be too sad. Aren’t life and death both a piece of nature? Don’t be sorry. Don’t blame anyone. It is fate.
Nothing had yet been proven and it was likely he could have cleared himself, the money having been received by relatives and subalterns. Yet the fact that he was under suspicion caused him intolerable humiliation.
And he killed himself for a sum which is paltry by the standards of the Arroyo administration. In one deal alone for example, like the fertilizer fund scam, the Arroyo government squandered three times that amount. Yet no one shows any mortification within the Philippine government, least of all President Arroyo. It’s simply business as usual at the Palace. It’s a shame we don’t have a tradition of honorable self-destruction, one more remnant of the religious beliefs foisted on us by our colonial past . By a simple act like that of Roh, our country could be saved from further suffering and grief.