Those of you who watch the news will be aware that tensions are running higher between North and South right now, and I want to take the opportunity to comment briefly on the hilarious disparity between western and Korean responses to it all.
In case you're not familiar with the story, here's a CBC article that illustrates exactly what I'm talking about.
The western media seems to be collectively crapping it pants over the whole thing, leading to a lot of mis-informed panic on behalf of those who follow it. Many of my social feeds have been filled with links to relevant news articles accompanied by statements like "Well, I guess this is World War III" and "the Korean War is back on again."
Actually....No. That's not how it is at all.
Sometimes I wonder if people just get bored when there isn't a major world crisis for a while, so they feel like they need to make something up to be interesting and scary. Here in Korea, nobody cares. This kind of tension is nothing new. And actually the only thing that's really "escalating" is the rhetoric from the rest of the international community.
Tension with North Korea is something that is kind of a constant presence in the lives of Koreans...so the current slight heightening in tension is not causing much distress. My co-teacher mentioned briefly that "relations are not good with the North these days," then laughed and said it was nothing new. Out of curiosity I also asked my students what they thought. The response was a collective "...meh."
"But the hot-line has been severed! And Kim Jeong Un is threatening to tear up the armistice agreement!" Actually, the exact same thing happened in 2010. At that time, a South Korean ship was sunk (N.K. denied their involvement, but reports later pretty definitively proved that they were responsible), an island was bombed and evacuated, trade was cut off between Seoul and Pyongyang, and threats were exchanged. But, although tensions were significantly higher at that time than they are now, the Korean war still somehow failed to re-ignite and relations settled down again after a few months.
By the way, the events of 2010 are only the most recent example. North Korea tried to assassinate the South's president in 1983, bombed Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987, openly battled with the South in a naval conflict in 2002, and conducted multiple missile tests (including nuclear tests) in 2006.
So the historical context is one of constant tension broken by occasional localized violence. And a quick look at the current political context can help clarify things even further. In case you didn't know, South Korea recently elected a new president. Park Geun-hye is a woman, the controversial daughter of a former dictator, and has only been in office for a few weeks. As it has done during previous South Korean political changes, the North is taking this opportunity to test the waters and see how the new regime plans to deal with North/South relations. Such tests shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. If North Korea was really planning to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire," why would they announce it to the international community? These are threats meant to test the political waters, not battle plans.
What really truly and honestly worries me is the response of the international community to all this. Not only do media outlets seem to be leaving out the extremely important historical and political context of these recent events, but the general public seems perfectly happy to go along with it all. The comment sections of my favourite news sites are littered with these misplaced alarmist attitudes. "Lets turn the top half of that peninsula into a sheet of glass," reads one of the most disturbing comments, "until not even a single rickshaw remains."
Indeed, it seems to me that the irrational, overly violent, and reactionary party is not North Korea at all. It is entirely within the power of the international community to avoid tension with the North at this point, as it has been in the past. So the question is not "What will North Korea do?" but "What will the rest of the world do?" Perhaps enough time has passed that we aren't as shy about war as we once were. Perhaps people are tired of the dictatorship, which has continued despite Kim-Jeong-il's death, maybe they're tired of hearing about the North's weapons programs or their continued human rights violations. Maybe the international community is finally ready to do something about all these things. If so, Kim Jeong-un may have opened up a can of worms he is not ready to deal with.
But in the (frankly unlikely) event that violence does erupt on the peninsula whether it be now or in the future, it certainly won't be because of anything either of the Koreas have been doing. The North isn't doing anything new or different. The South is prepared to stand up for itself, but is otherwise more or less apathetic. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is losing its collective cool for absolutely no reason.
I really wish people would pick up a history book instead of a newspaper every once in a while.