Lately we have been spending a lot of time discussing Korea. Yesterday I had a chance to discuss this issue with one of my best friends over lunch. This post is essentially a distillation of that conversation.
There are few more important points people should bear in mind when thinking about what is happening in that region. The DPRK indeed bombed an inhabited area killing two civilians and two marines. Even if the ROK was wrong in shelling into clearly DPRK territorial waters, an equal retaliation could have been to shell a ROK controlled territory not occupied by people. Beyond that is indeed overboard.
On this specific incident alone, the DPRK escalated the tension. On any form of escalation, I think it deserves condemnation. Some of you have expressed a need to condemn, and I agree in this context. The world community ought to be precise about that.
We also should bear in mind too ROK subsequently fired into DPRK in response to the Yeonpyeong shelling, and we still have no information where the ROK hit; casualties or no. But if this went after people and property, it should equally be condemned.
As I posted earlier, I think the U.S. and ROK should stop their military exercises so close to the DPRK. That, in the bigger picture, is the biggest provocation.
Some argue such exercises are normal and countries conduct them all over the world. They go furhter to say that ROK and the U.S. have been conducting them on a regular basis. Well, they should also know that the DPRK have been vehemently opposing such exercises all along.
Even if the exercises must go on, then, do the exercises in the southern tip of South Korea. Pick an island south of the ROK mainland and do a mock invasion there. That would be much less provocative.
This leads me to a sad story earlier this year in George Washington High School in Washington Heights, New York. If it is not already clear, I hope Americans think about the similarities between the case of U.S./ROK vs. DPRK and the case of the 15-year-old and the 14-year-old in the short story below:
“Violent School Stabbing Was Revenge For Bullying”
March 13, 2010
Yesterday, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for allegedly stabbing a fellow student 16 times at George Washington High School in Washington Heights. Now, it’s suggested that the teen was getting back at the 15-year-old victim because the victim taunted him over his Mexican heritage. A student told the Post, “They made fun of his name and his culture. This is mostly a Dominican school.”
The suspect used a steak knife and students watched the violence unfold in the hallway: One said, “I was walking through the hall, and I saw the [attacker] whip out a knife – medium-sized – and he started stabbing the other kid in the hip. Over and over,” as another said, “It was crazy. I saw blood going down.” The victim suffered non-life-threatening wounds to his arms, legs, and back.
Now there are concerns about the school’s safety—a student worried, “There’s metal detectors and everything, so how is he able to bring a knife to school? I mean it just scares me”—and anti-bullying measures. Councilwoman Ydanis Rodriguez said the stabbing was “unacceptable. Besides sending a young man to the hospital, the event has forced many questions to resurface and to ultimately wonder if our zero tolerance policies have run its course. Students need to be better protected against bullying tactics within the schools. I also believe parents need to understand why the metal detectors at the high school did not detect the weapon used in the incident,” and called for an investigation.
Is the stabbing fully justified? No. Is the bullying justified? No. Follow the link above to the article and read its comments, and you will find heated exchanges between the two sides of the story. The instinct they all have though, and the thing they all agree on, is the fact that both the bullying and the stabbing are unacceptable.
That should be our instinct too with the Korean issue.
Some of you will rightfully point out that this is not that simple an analogy, because the DPRK has pursued dangerous weapons, murdered South Korean citizens, and so forth. The DPRK is not that innocent kid, so the argument goes. American citizens genuinely fear DPRK spreading nuclear weapons to Al Queda or other like organizations. By the way, in this regard, China, U.S., and all the major powers in our world share that same goal of not wanting nuclear weapons to fall into the wrong hands.
Many in the Western media like to push this narrative that the North Koreans are simply crazy and irrational. My very good friend, who is kind, smart, and reasonable truly believes so.
Certainly they are of the exact same genes as the South Koreans, so I don’t think that is a fair narrative. Their behavior, however perceived, has to be a result of circumstances. Or, let me put it in another way; given South Korea’s circumstances, we should expect the North Koreans to be equally “sane” as the South Koreans.
There is certainly a view in the U.S. wanting to push the DPRK to the brink so that the government eventually collapses. If we go down that route, a war will likely break out on the peninsula. Sure, the war will not touch any of U.S.’s soil. But it will certainly mean catastrophe for the Koreans as a people. Don’t forget the fact that the Koreans were invaded by Japan around the turn of the century. They were then ripped apart by the Cold War. Both events were faults of not theirs. Their miseries of today are legacies of the Cold War.
If anything, Japan, U.S., China, and Russia owe the Koreans the most. At the very least, they owe the Koreans a country that is united and at peace.
Yes, there are genuine concerns for the six parties. But, foremost, the escalation must be stopped. The bullying must stop. The outrageous reactions must stop. That’s the only way to move forward.