Tuesday, June 01, 2010


North Korea Watch: McPaper Weighs In

USA Today, that beacon of all that American journalism has become, has weighed in on the North Korea issue under the subtle headline of "Tension in Korea: A sunken ship, and talk of war."

Now, if it were just any newspaper, I'd be worried about a paper that doesn't have all that much to say on this issue suddenly churning out a story in these tense times as written by a guy with distinctly non-Asian sounding name. I'd be concerned that maybe, just maybe, the guy would lack the proper context to know just what the heck he's talking about. Given the hard times newspapers are going through, I'd be tempted to think that USA Today might just be covering the story now for the purpose of sensationalism, just to scare up readers.

But given USA Today's reputation, I gave it a chance. And guess what! In this case, Calum MacLeod has actually taught me, an almost five-year-resident of this peninsula, some things I didn't know! For example:

The March 26 sinking of the South Korea warship Cheonan by a suspected North Korean torpedo, killing all 46 sailors aboard, has grown into a crisis in which the world's two largest militaries — those of the United States and China— are lined up on opposite sides behind the South and North, respectively.

Silly me! I was under the impression that there were 104 on board and that all but 46 had been rescued. Also, I had come to the conclusion that the Chinese were rather neutral in all this, what with all the economic ties to South Korea, so thanks for clearing that up!

For several years, South Korea has pursued a policy of aid and diplomacy to the repressive and closed Stalinist country on its northern border, as a way of keeping peace.

Interesting! Opinions on the Sunshine Policy differ, but I thought it was because the economic consequences of a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime would devastate the South Korean economy, which they have worked so hard to build up, even under peaceful conditions.

Koreans have long lived with the nightmarish possibility of a devastating war, but the likelihood of conflict increases when all communications are cut off as they are now, says Daniel Pinkston, a regional analyst based in Seoul for the International Crisis Group, a think tank.

If war does break out, "there could be casualties like we've never seen," Pinkston says, as the North will "get off a lot of artillery" before being stopped, and there is the potential that chemical and even nuclear weapons could be used.

Yet for now, "people are going about their business and discount the possibilities," Pinkston says. "It may be denial, as the possibility is too horrible to imagine."

Or it could be that communications themselves are actually a recent development (2004, in fact), and that war didn't break out for all the decades before communications were established. In fact, it could be because the two sides have coexisted for decades without going to war despite the North's statements.

But, hey, you've got all the answers.

South Koreans show no stomach for a fight, complains Park, who runs the activist group Fighters for Free North Korea from a small office in Seoul.

Oh. I thought South Koreans had no stomach for seeing their capital city obliterated, millions killed and their way of life reduced to third-world status all over again. But I could be wrong.

Unlike in the isolated, impoverished North, there are many non-political diversions for South Koreans, one of Asia's most successful economies.

"I pay more attention to soccer than North Korea," telephone salesman Park Sang Kil says.

And, of course, the hawkish types like Park above and the apolitical soccer-centric types like Park below are the only two types of South Koreans that exist. Really, those are your only two choices.

At the nearby Noryangjin fish market, stall owner Ko Yang Lin, 56, is fatalistic about the crisis.

"I don't care about war, I'm happy to die as I'm too tired to live!" says Ko, who works daily from 2 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ko says she is angry at the North but high taxes are more of a concern.

Ah, if only the South Koreans weren't such pessimistic losers they could stand up to the North. Show them the way, USA Today!

All South Koreans know "the danger of war is worse for us as (we) have a lot more to lose economically and socially," says Lee Shin Wha, a professor of political science at Korea University. Lee worries her fellow citizens suffer a "security inertia," she says.

"After 9/11 in the USA, there were many diverse views, but when it comes to security, Americans are united."

Yeah, and look at all the great things unity and a lack of "inertia" did for us!

Recent polls indicate people are thinking harder more about the North. A poll by Gallup Korea published in The Chosun Ilbo said 60% of respondents supported sanctions against the North. In Washington, analysts say that the current situation escalating into an all-out war is unlikely, but the situation remains tense and could become more dangerous.

Of course, if you put that quote near the top of the story as opposed to the end, it doesn't sell papers, because who is going to read "all-out war unlikely" when "talk of war" is available? If nothing else, USA Today knows how to sell papers!

South Korea has 680,000 servicemembers backed by 28,500 U.S. troops, but it is outnumbered by the North's troops and vast advantage in rocket launchers, tanks and artillery.

Of course, North Korea's troops are impoverished and stunted in growth, plus their weaponry is outdated as demonstrated by the lickings they took in the naval skirmishes of 1999 and, hey, just last fall, but they must have had some reason not to include that context.

"(China) may want this (issue) to stick around a while to keep their dog on a leash and keep the United States looking weak. It serves them politically."

Say what? What does China stand to gain from having North Korea destabilize the region and thus threatening their growth? Why would China relish having Japan, the US, and pretty much the rest of the Western world line up behind South Korea, thus causing the Chinese to feel the pressure of having to act?

I'm beginning to think that USA Today's sources aren't the best-informed on this subject. Oh well. At least this time their sources actually exist.

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