As no doubt many of you have already been reading or hearing about, tensions between the two Koreas have been escalating since April of last year. Most people living in the Republic of Korea, however, pay no mind to their noisy northern neighbors: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
DPRK, or North Korea, is to the international community what the boy who cried wolf is to Mother Goose. But to fully understand what’s currently happening between these two nations, divided along the 38th parallel, we must travel back in time…
As World War II began to wind down, the Allies met in Potsdam, Germany to discuss how the spoils of war were to be divided between victorious super powers. At that time, Korea wasn’t a sovereign nation; they fell under the jurisdiction of Japan – one of the Axis Powers. While Korea itself was hardly mentioned during the conference, mostly due to its tiny population and little, if any, strategic significance, Russia coveted the warm water ports available along the Pacific Ocean. And because the United States really had no plan for Korea, the peninsula came under the Soviet zone of operation (along with Manchuria).
However, the United Nations insisted that the people of Korea be given free and independent democratic elections, an event the Russians had no interest in. As a result, a permanent Communist state was established under Soviet control as well as a permanent democratic country fell under the auspices of the other western nations – most obviously the United States. The US believed that without their presence on the peninsula, the entire region would fall under the influence of the Soviets and become entirely Communist.
And thus two Koreas were born on August 10th, 1945. And all was quiet…
Until less than five years later, on Sunday June 25th, 1950, the Korean Peoples Army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded after three DPRK diplomats, while on assignment from Kim Il-Sung to convince South Korea to join in holding elections across both Koreas, were arrested.
The conflict lasted three years and included international intervention led by the United States. Most of the peninsula was lost until the South battled back forcing a stalemate. An armistice was signed by both parties to end the fighting in July of 1953, however the Korean War never officially came to an end (the only war in history to have no conclusion, winner, or loser).
Today, there are approximately 40,000 United States Armed Forces stationed at the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ just south of the 38th parallel. This defensive tactic is meant to dissuade any attempt by the DPRK to invade further south than they already have. Additionally, there are an estimated 2 million landmines along the 40 km wide stretch of land between the two nations.
Following the death of Kim Jong-Il in December of 2011, the DPRK has become more aggressive toward the United States. Repeatedly saying that they have no ill will toward the South Korean people, they promise to meet western aggression with hostility. This stance and verbal rhetoric are nothing new. After all, they’ve been regurgitating the same crap for years, saber-rattling as my father and many of the CNN correspondents call it. So what changed in 2012?
In December, North Korea conducted their first successful launch of a rocket with a potential range of 6,000 miles that projected a satellite into orbit. Their previous attempts failed in utter disaster however their recent success seems to have fueled the proverbial fire of piss and wind that spews from the state’s propaganda.
More recently, just last month in fact, the DPRK conducted a secret, underground test in which a miniaturized nuclear warhead was detonated. Or so they claimed. Japan called for an immediate United Nations intervention and further investigation by failed to detect any residual radiation. It remains unclear whether or not the massive explosion and subsequent earthquake were a result of a nuclear blast or a conventional blast simply made to resemble a nuclear one.
While Kim Jong-Un continues to make ridiculous statements and threats against the United States and the international media outlets continue to report on it, the general sentiment here in South Korea by the South Korean people can be summed up in a single word…
No one here is scared. Nobody here cares. If North Korea invades, then everyone will run for cover (and be unable to get off of the peninsula since less than 10% of Koreans actually know how to swim). In all likelihood, the DPRK will focus their attacks not on their self-proclaimed countrymen but on targets in the US. That being said, I’m much safer living in Daegu than I would be if I were living in Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.
So as you tune into CNN, MSNBC, BBC, or (God-forbid) FoxNews, do what the Koreans do: pop a bag of microwave popcorn, crack a beer, sit back, and enjoy the show. The Kims are good for loads of laughs.
Until Next Time…
(all photos courtesy of Ted Kaminski)