Wednesday, May 26, 2010
North Korea Watch: What's Next?
About a year ago I began trying to explain to people why they shouldn't worry about North Korea. I mostly did so for the benefit of friends and family at home, who only see news regarding this peninsula when the North is causing a diplomatic skirmish, and who have therefore been led to believe that war could break out at any moment.
Whenever I wanted to reassure myself regarding the future of this country, I could always look to actual Koreans to see what they thought. Without fail, their response was that North Korea was something they had always lived with, and would for the foreseeable future. And it made sense; the North is ruled by a family that has for years been teaching its people that American imperialists were waiting to conquer its people, and that the South was the tool of those Yanks. The North had to maintain that position or its people would know they were being lied to, but an actual war was not what anyone wanted; not the South, because it endangered their rapid economic growth, and not the North, because they faced long odds of victory.
With that dynamic in place, the North's belligerence seemed the status quo.
The sinking of the Cheonan has changed that. Now, while I don't see people panicking in the street or issuing warnings to run to bomb shelters, this is the first time I've seen real concern about the North's actions. The Cheonan sank, and now South Korea has vowed to cut trade with the North and resume its propaganda broadcasts at the border. The North has responded by cutting all ties with the South and threatens to shoot the speakers that broadcast the South's propaganda.
We're all waiting to see whether they follow through. War won't be the next step, but we don't know what the next step will be, or whether one side will back down. From a logical standpoint it would seem that one side would have to, but sinking the Cheonan had a logic that only Kim Jong-il and/or his defense council understands. One day the reason for this will be revealed; the only question is how much pain the country will have to endure to reach that answer.
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