To the Editor:
In Soo Chun, 61, took his own life on the Red Square on of the University of Washington campus on Oct. 30, 2008. He doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, in full view of the UW administration building.
Those who witnessed the event saw something terrifying that they will never forget. Others may have heard about it on television or read about it in the newspaper and thought, ‘That’s terrible,’ as they continued to surf channels or flipped the pages of a newspaper without another thought.
The UW officials claimed he committed suicide. However, what he did falls more in line with sacrificing his life for a cause or protesting something. Two months have passed since his death, but that does not diminish what Mr. Chun did.
During the Vietnam War, I clearly remember Buddhist Monks dousing themselves with gasoline and setting themselves on fire in downtown Saigon. That was their way of protesting and drawing attention to the fact that the South Vietnamese government was corrupt. True, it was suicide, but their purpose was not only to take their own lives; it was to publicly draw attention to a cause greater than themselves. I call it the ultimate sacrifice for a cause.
If Chun would have wanted to just commit suicide, he could have done so in the privacy of his own home and it would have probably gone unnoticed except to the few that knew him. On the other hand, if Chun was protesting, then his death needs to be examined more closely; otherwise his sacrifice was in vain.
He was a schoolteacher in Korea. Chun emigrated from Korea to the United States in 1977 where he earned his bachelors in political science in Portland and a master’s in political science at the UW. Then he became a U.S. citizen.
He was a custodian at the UW for three years before being dismissed from his job in August 2008. He was a member of Union Local 1488.
Chun was not what is considered a normal custodian. He was highly educated, probably more so than most up his chain of command.
Chun obviously gave his apparent sacrifice much thought. What could Mr. Chun have been protesting, if he was in fact protesting?
What happened to Mr. Chun that could have driven him to such a protest? Could it have possibly been something he witnessed on the university campus? Was Chun’s sacrifice related to the way he was dismissed from his job?
Did Chun commit suicide or sacrifice himself so that others might benefit? Did he give his life on behalf of others? If he did sacrifice himself on behalf of others, then aren’t we obligated to find out why?
—Charles Peters, Seattle
Editor’s note: Mr. Peters is referring to this incident.