War, Unthinkable

<Crisis of Korean Peninsula and Reaction from South>

Lee Yu Kyung   / 15 April 2013

There used to be endless tales of war by ‘war generation’, who had survived Korean War (1950-1953), which was one of the most devastating conflicts in 20’s century. The tales had slowly faded away for decades until probably by a decade ago or more. However, some might have recalled or even been haunted by the tales while some may not, as the Peninsula has witnessed tension ever peaked for months now.

“Of course, I am very worry about deteriorating situation. My city is more close to North Korea than to Gangnam, the rich district of Seoul.” said Lee Jung-Eun, mother of two children living in Paju. Paju is located around 20-30 kilometers away from Kaesung in North, where Kaesung Industrial Zone (or KIZ) was born to Sun Shine Policy a decade ago as a collaborative development by the two Koreas.

“When I hear sounds while sleeping, I got frightened imagining a real war. The fear is from something unpredictable but it is immediate feeling” Lee described.

She is more disturbed when two teen aged sons asked her, “Mum, is it true that there will be a war?”

Whether or not war would occur seems to be an issue among anxious children according to some teachers and parents in Seoul. “In my class of 5th grade students talked of war. They asked me about North’s possible missile launch” said Kim Jeong-Mi, elementary school teacher.

Children are often portrayed to be the most vulnerable to conflict, which classic is seemingly applicable in South Korea.

Kim Jin-Sung, 13 year old boy who recently move to the States for study, said “I am very much worry about the future”, indicating he may have to live in a constant fear of war.

Children in fear, adults sickened  

Despite anxieties explicit or implicit, there’s no visible sign of perturbation in Metropolitan area in South, the prime target by North in case. As long as normal life is going on, there’s no storming super market to buy necessities to stock for emergency either.

“When people doubt about breakout of war, they must have expected China would play a role, I think”

Ha Nam-Seok, an academic on China Study in Hankuk University of Foreign Study said, as Secretary of State John Kerry visits to the region, including China. When asked about what he would do first if war breaks out, he replied, “it should never happen. War, unthinkable”

“I see recent threats from North different from missile launch or nuclear test, which could be said though North’s sovereignty if you like. And it’s ‘test’ or ‘fire’ towards sea or so. But North’s warnings towards South in recent do matter directly affecting South” Han Mang-Song, a reporter of local newspaper in Incheon, the port city west of Seoul carefully stated. “It wouldn’t be like other wars. In heavily connected city structure, nowhere to go, I assume” he added.

Given that South Korea is a de facto small island having developed city infra-structures at large with tensely populated metropolitan, ‘nowhere to go’ is echoed by almost everyone. On top of that, war in the Peninsula would likely to be played out with high-tech or much talked of nuclear war at worst. A liberal daily The Hankyoreh has reported on April 13 that only 0.02% of population could be in safe if nuclear war occurs as there are only fifteen shelters safe from nuclear attack from the North including one in Seoul. It pointed out that ‘national security’ in South Korea is poorly established, despite the fact that South Korea spends 14% of nation’s annual budget for Defense claiming the world 12th. “The Country wrongly equates ‘national security’ with ‘defense power'”.

Apart from the fact that people accustomed to North’s threats, it’s perhaps in this helpless ground why scene of ‘normal’ life might have to continue, disappointing war correspondents who have rushed to Seoul with a sense of emergency. Still, some foreign journalists, according to local media reports, questioned as to why people look so insensitive on ever serious tension. To a counter argument, some Koreans have complaint sensational reports by international media, notably CNN’s ‘war simulation’ piece, accusing it of causing unnecessary fear and creating even more tension.

“Well, there are people who buy lots of tobaccos because the price of it is going to rise soon. Nothing else.” said Choi Yoon Sil in Seoul. Hardly showing worry over the situation though, Ms. Choi Japanese tutor expressed sadness over temporary closure of Kaesung Industrial Zone. “It was a place where North and South got together and interchange without any ideological strain”.  Choi sighed. Her sigh is shared by many, among who is Kim Si-Chang, a business man in Su-won, north-west of Seoul.

“I’m not worrying about escalation of tension, just pondering what North wants to gain this time. But I feel very sad to see KIZ’s closure. There are hundreds of companies and accordingly many livelihoods depend on it” Kim said. “I also feel empty as 60th anniversary of armistice that ends Korean War is marked this year without significant progress towards peace” he stated.

In a way, closure of KIZ has brought more touch of crisis for ordinary citizens than much talked of missile launch or nuclear test.

“I think the closure of KIZ could have been avoided as it had not been disturbed by growing tension. I suspect it was attributed to Chosun ilbo’s ill-timed reports although I don’t rule out it was pre-planned by the North” said Jun Youngwoo, professor of Incheon National University.

As a matter of fact, the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo has made noisy headlines of ‘North would not shut down KIZ as it brings (the poor nation) lots of dollars’ and the kind, just before North’s angry announcement of shutdown of the Zone. To make it worse, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin stated security forces are ready to rescue South staffs in the Zone if North would hold them hostage. Part of society is, hence, convinced that insulting tones of reports and statement might have provoked North’s decision.

“In my view, the incumbent Park administration has more careful approach whereas her predecessor Lee had destroyed every single legacy of Sun Shine Policy. Yet, Park regime still has chipped in making situation worse by responding harsh words at times. We need more carrots than sticks” said Moon Byung-Ho, the opposition MP from United Democratic Party. This is what many emphasized on, despite the fact that majority have shown their mistrust or even abhorrence of the North’s new leader Kim Jeong-Eun.

By now, civil society stresses aggressive engagement through dialogue with the North. It has launched ‘Joint Meeting of Civil Society for Peace of Korea Peninsula and Cooperation’ on April 11 issuing statement that reads,

“We, as direct victims of militarization and escalation of tension in the Peninsula want to turn the 60th anniversary of Armistice about the first year of peace settlement”.

* Note : Variety of this article has been published in German here

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