I had every intention of writing yesterday, reassuring you all that I was still doing fine in the ROK after the shelling attack on the island of Yeonpyeong 90 miles off the western coast of the country.
Here you go. I’m still fine.
From what I can gather, yesterday's attack was the culmination of a number of internal issues going on in North Korea currently. At the center of these issues you have the priming of Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, for the impeding regime change. Add to that the newfound presence of advanced uranium enrichment facilities over the weekend which suggest the North Koreans possess stronger nuclear capabilities than what we had previously thought. Then combine these recent developments with the long standing and increasing poverty within the nation, the general tensions between North Korea and the conservative policies of South Korea's president Lee Myung-Bak, and of course, the March sinking of the Cheonan, and you're bound to have conflict. Though the island of Yeonpyeong has been the target of North Korean hostilities before, both in 1999 and 2002 as a result of a disagreement about the UN drawn NLL, the current situation has truly raised tensions and made people nervous.
It’s a delicate situation, and I would be lying to say otherwise.
One of the coolest things about Koreans, however, is their resilience against the ongoing war. The two Koreas have technically been at war since the signing of the Armistice Agreement (read: not a formal peace treaty) in 1953, but you’d never know it walking around the streets of Seoul.
Today felt like any other day at work. My students still whined and moaned about the same things, pretending to have hiccups in a futile attempt to trick teacher into letting them get water, begging for a few extra minutes for the “picture game”, and the like. A few had devised elaborate plans for killing Kim Jong Il since yesterday, my personal favorite being sneaking a 1/1,000,000,000th sized bomb into his favorite food, but for the most part, they seemed calm about the whole situation. At one point in the day, however, one of my classes briefly deviated to the topic of war. Still struggling to understand the critical difference between “fun” and “funny” (Me: “Dan, what did you do this weekend?” Dan: “I played soccer. It was funny.”), one of my more outspoken students proclaimed suddenly “War is funny.”
War is anything but funny (or even fun, for that matter) especially on the Korean peninsula. South Korea has made incomprehensibly huge strides in the past sixty years, becoming one of the most thriving economies in Asia, if not the world. Looking back at pictures of Korea from before the war, South Korea’s development from the poorer and less industrial of the two Korea’s is nothing less than awesome. Where once lay rice fields and small villages now lay thriving cities and complexes of apartment buildings. The striking economic achievement, the rise of Korea to being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world added to the rich historical and cultural environment here would be just devastated by war. To be sure, the same can be said of any nation plagued by war, but I suppose I feel particularly strongly about this country I’ve learned to call home and believe adamantly that we should do everything possible to avoid war with the North.
Like an adolescent lashing out against its parents, North Korea’s actions are a form of garnering attention from the international community. We need to resume talks, acknowledging the very legitimate problems going on in the rogue nation, and work to come to some kind of agreement. Does that sound wussy, less macho than going on the offensive and seeking revenge for the lives lost and billions of won spent on repairs from their lashing out over the years? Maybe, but in this case restraint is imperative in preventing the escalation of a potential war of an unimaginable magnitude on the continent. At present, no one is firing at anyone, and with a little restraint and a whole lot of talking, things will hopefully remain that way.
(In the meantime China needs to get off its ass and start talking some sense into it’s ally, like a Korean hagwon teacher who can just with words terrify a student in a way a foreign teacher like me simply cannot.)
In summary, I’m fine and hoping things here remain calm. I really like Korea, and I’m not ready to fly back to Ohio just yet. So no panicking, please :)
- Christine -