It finally happened yesterday – my family asked me if I am concerned about the developing situation between North and South Korea. My friends have been fielding nervous phone calls from parents and grandparents for weeks now, but I knew that I would be the last to receive such a call. Not because my family doesn’t care, but because we are simply not worriers. We save our hand-wringing for much more trivial things.
But I think the latest round of news reports about North Korea moving missiles and advising foreign embassies to evacuate was the push they needed to make the call. I told them what I tell everyone who asks me about North Korea: “I’m just not that worried.”
The recent flurry of ominous news reports, when taken out of context, might leave one with the impression that North and South Korea are seconds away from starting World War III. The reality here in South Korea is quite different. I’ve seen more panic the day before a 1/2″ of snow in North Carolina. There’s no shortage of bread or milk here. In fact, it’s such a non-issue among my Korean friends that I haven’t heard a single South Korean talk about it.
The first is the fact that, in Korean culture, image is much more important than action. Most Koreans, including North Koreans, seem fairly certain that Kim Jong-Un is trying to extort money from the west in exchange for peace and build a reputation within North Korea as a strong pro-military leader.
The second reason most South Koreans aren’t concerned is the history of North Korea’s provocations. This report, made for Congress in 2003, shows a long history of threats and small incidents without any major international confrontations. If you take the time to read the entire report (settle in – it’s boring), you’ll notice some patterns. For example, North Korea tends to threaten South Korea shortly after presidential elections in the south.
It’s also worth noting that it can’t be lost on Kim Jong-Un that starting a war and staying in power are mutually exclusive. It’s a safe bet that he is currently trying to push South Korea, the United Nations and the USA to their limits without actually stepping over the line.
So I’ll take my que from the South Koreans and just relax. I’m just not that worried.
Until next time.