About the burning of a holy book

Warning: The following is a hypothetical case. Let's say that some journalists hear about cases of Marines who are being abused, tormented and bullied. We're talking crude stuff -- sticking a soldier's head in a toilet and hitting the flush lever over and over -- as well as brutal beatings.

Finally, the sickos grabbed one Marine's Koran and set it on fire.

I think, at that point, most reporters would assume that there is a religious element in this story that needs to be reported. At the very least, questions would be asked and the answers worked into the report.

Burning Korans is newsworthy, these days.

OK, so the Los Angeles Times story that a reader called to our attention is not about the U.S. Marines. It's about soldiers in South Korea. And, well, it wasn't a Koran that was burned. It was another holy book.

Here's the top of this riveting story:

His emotional pressure valve apparently blew: The distraught South Korean Marine Corps corporal decided he'd endured enough abuse from his peers at an isolated base outside Seoul, authorities say.

The 19-year-old allegedly went to an unlocked weapons storage room this month and smuggled out an assault rifle, bullets and a hand grenade. Then he returned to his barracks on Ganghwa Island near the North Korean border and opened fire.

Shooting at least a dozen times, authorities say, he killed four marines and injured another. He's believed to have set off the grenade then, in an unsuccessful attempt to take his own life.

The marine later told investigators he'd been singled out for abuse, and that neither superiors nor his juniors respected his rank.

"There should be no more beating or bullying," he reportedly told investigators. "I'm so miserable. I just want to die."

This kind of thing has happened before in South Korea. The story offers striking details from some of the cases. There have been recent suicides.

Also, the Ganghwa Island case may not have been the act of a single lonely, abused soldier. Officials are claiming that another Marine may have been involved in this act of violence.

Officials this month arrested another marine for allegedly assisting the suspected shooter at the barracks on Ganghwa Island. That marine allegedly told investigators he had suffered such indignities as seeing his Bible burned and having his pants sprayed with insecticide and lit on fire.

"It appears neither adjusted well to military life -- they were close to each other," Marine Corps Cmdr. Kim Yong-soo said. ...

Song Young-seon, a national lawmaker and critic of South Korea's military, said there's no question about the existence of excessive physical and verbal violence.

"I just don't understand how burning a Bible makes anyone a better soldier," she said. "It's humiliating. It's cruelty."

Have other soldiers suffered the same indignity? I don't know. That's the point. How about other holy books, other scriptures in other faiths? Have any been burned in similar cases? Readers do not know the answer to that question, either.

The bottom line: This story offers no insights into whether there is a religious element to the climate of abuse and fear that exists in the South Korean military (or at least in the Marines). This may be a key element of the story or it may not be.

Maybe it's just me, but I think someone should have asked and reported the results. Maybe this only happens, these days, when someone burns a Koran.

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