Shaming and blaming and the tragic death of James Kim

Over at, Sarah Keech has a thoughful article about the Kim Family story, though I read it as a somewhat too defensive reaction to the letter from James’ Kim’s father Spencer published in the Washington Post last week.

In “Who’s to Blame for James Kim’s Death” Keech suggests, correctly in my view:

It’s not the federal government or law enforcement or the people who tried to rescue him from the Oregon wilderness.

Ironically, Spencer Kim would probably agree with her statement.   I’ve been concerned at the tone of many locals who have suggested a father, grieving his son no less, has no right to suggest that better maps, signs, gates and policies might have kept this from happening. Of course he has that right and his letter was in my opinion quite a reasonable reaction given that Mr. Kim has just lost his son to an unforgiving Oregon winter wilderness.

I know this area well and it’s common knowledge that signs on the Bear Camp Road could use improvement.   Money and priorities are legitimate issues with such improvements as are the rights people have to access to public lands.     A route that would be fine for an experienced hunter with 4WD Truck, chains, winter gear and provisions may become a death trap for a family car.

Here’s my reply to the Salon article:

Ms. Keech you have made several good and several obvious points about the folly of legislating solutions on the basis of unusual and tragic events, but that’s not the big story of the Kims tragic trip into Oregon’s Rogue River Wilderness. I think Spencer Kim’s letter is a reasonable characterization of the many challenges facing the search effort, though I agree the solutions suggested are far too expensive to justify the handful of lives this might save over many years. Better to spend on life saving measures that have a much higher return on the investment of tax dollars.

But that is _not_ the big story here!

As a southern Oregon local and long term resident of the region the Kim Family story capitivated me from the beginning. This interest has become almost obsessive as I blogged the event – almost play by play – as “Joe Duck”.

The Kim story is the triumph of a mother and children surviving the wilderness after nine days, and a father heroically challenging that wilderness in an unsuccessful, tragic hike to save them. It’s the story of an enormous and sometimes heroic search and rescue effort that was well intentioned at all times, but plagued by many of the bureaucratic forces that are likely to be proposed as the solution to future problems in Oregon. Perhaps more than anything the Kim Story is remarkable because it has touched the lives of millions around the world, millions who saw in the Kim’s happy family their own family and the life-shattering consequences of a single wrong turn on what appeared to be a passable road.

1 thought on “Shaming and blaming and the tragic death of James Kim

  1. I agree that Spencer Kim’s article is a legitimate way to approach this tragedy. It provides suggestions to the question – “Is there anything which we could do to avoid such an occurrence?”
    I am amazed to see that many are asking a different question – “Who is to blame?” And equally amazed to see some answer – “The Kim family themselves.” This is often followed by the comment that their folly cost us
    taxpayers money, ignoring the fact that we are already paying agencies money to do this job, and they need to do it right.
    Blame is irrelevant, we humans are intelligent beings who learn from experience how to survive and flourish. What did we learn from this experience? Some knowledge of how and how not to behave in such a situation – such as stay dry, don’t follow stream courses. That lesson is for us
    lost ones. Such as – mark the intersections with signs, say if there’s a fishing lodge down this road and how far. I got lost on the Lost Coast of California one time. taking the most travelled road at the unmarked fork, and ending up many tortuous miles later at a ghost lumbering town. The Kim’s were one mile short of a fishing lodge but didn’t know it. And helicopters were checking the lodge. That lesson is for the managers of roads and wildlands.
    And for the rescuers, there are other lessons – which need to be brought and will be soon. As Spenser Kim has been attempting to do.
    A few other things we might notice or wonder about –
    The gas station attendant who did not seem to respond helpfully to Kim’s
    questions about that road – I wonder if he hated Asians?
    John Rachor, the person who first found the other Kims & their car, rarely gets credit for his role in the rescue -is a local resident (& helicopter pilot) who KNEW THAT THAT UNMARKED TURNOFF HAD TRAPPED PEOPLE BEFORE, & went to check that area. In fact, I think 10 years earlier someone had died there under similar circumstances – except that he died BECAUSE he stayed with his car. (The capitals are for those who fault Kim for not staying with his car!)
    I have seen many people confidently laying blame when they are lacking all the facts, and have a disrespectful attitude towards their fellow humans and towards reality.
    Can’t we all just get along? – honoring our human heritage of cooperation, respect for each other, learning from experience, and passing that knowledge on to the group – the interdependent, cooperative group which is the normal human means of survial of our species. Some get this, some don’t.

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