Thursday 10 August, Rush Limbaugh took a brief call from a South Korean national living legally in the USA. She has many relatives back home in Seoul. Her message to Rush’s audience? Chill about Kim Jong-Il. South Koreans have “normalized” the irrational and dangerous behavior of the dog-eating Dumpling Boy to the north. They understand that Li’l Kim is living very high off the hog, stashing away billions of dollars scammed from idiot western leaders. He is, the South Koreans believe, not likely to jeopardize his cushy situation by provoking a military strike launched from the US.
I doubted the veracity of a single caller to a radio show, so I did a little digging. Well, here’s print confirmation of most of that caller’s opinions, from a South Korean journalist. This is worth a careful read, as it will give you a granite base to stand on as the waters of leftist and GOPe panic swirl around your feet.
A South Korean journalist explains why her country isn’t panicking
Americans are afraid of war with North Korea, even though the United States probably wouldn’t be the first target if North Korea were to attack.
South Korea is a different story.
Seoul’s 25.6 million residents are in direct firing range of thousands of pieces of North Korean artillery already lined up along the border. And around 70 percent of North Korea’s ground forces are within 90 miles of the border, ready to move south at a moment’s notice. One war game convened by the Atlantic magazine back in 2005 predicted that a North Korean attack would kill 100,000 people in Seoul in the first few days alone.
But unlike in the US, few in South Korea seem panicked over the possibility of an impending war with North Korea. Instead, they are unfazed. The South Korean government even said on Thursday that it has “no sense of urgency” about North Korea.
So what gives? Are South Koreans just braver than Americans? Or have they simply gotten so used to living under the threat of annihilation that they’ve become numb to it?
To find out, I called Haeryun Kang, the managing editor of Korea Exposé, an English-language magazine and website based in Seoul. Kang told me that it all comes down to South Korea’s complicated, and contradictory, relationship with the North.
“In South Korea, it’s deeply personal, and it’s deeply complex. You don’t encounter North Korea just as a foreign country. It’s supposed to be your brother, your family, that one day you’re supposed to reunite with,” she said. “This kind of familial attachment coexists simultaneously with this aversion to North Korea because it’s a military threat.”
What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.
Do people in South Korea care about the rising tensions between North Korea and the US? Are people worried about this?
That’s actually a pretty difficult question. If I can speak for myself, I care because I’m a journalist. I have to know this stuff. Everyone around me cares, so I’m kind of in this bubble.
When you go out to the larger public, you see that life goes on as usual and a lot of people are pretty unfazed by what is going on. There’s a certain level of fear about what’s going on, if this or that were to happen, but on the whole, there’s not a hugely palpable sense of fear. Certainly not as much as what I encounter when I go abroad.
People abroad ask me, “What do you think about North Korea? What do you think about Kim Jong Un? Do you think he’s crazy?” People certainly don’t have that level of interest here.
The article you wrote for the Guardian earlier this week was titled “In South Korea we’re scared but we’ve normalized the fear.” Can you explain what that means?
I guess the headline for the article is a little bit misleading. That’s not necessarily what I intended to say. It’s not normalized fear. What I mean to say is normalized indifference. There’s years and years of indifference, of not really talking about North Korea that much and not showing too much interest.
And behind this normalization of indifference is fear — fear about North Korea as this malicious other, fear that people are going to judge you if you show too much interest.
So there’s stigma and ignorance and all these complicated feelings behind this indifference. The way South Koreans experience the idea of North Korea is extremely different from the way everyone else experiences it, for example, in the US.
What’s the difference?
For people in the US, you have the luxury of distance. North Korea is a foreign country. It’s some place exotic and mysterious and even sensational. It’s something that people can joke about and also have heated discussions about.
But in South Korea, it’s deeply personal, and it’s deeply complex. You don’t encounter North Korea just as a foreign country. It’s supposed to be your brother, your family, that one day you’re supposed to reunite with.
I mentioned in the article that a majority of South Koreans support [the reunification of North and South Korea]. They support unification to different degrees, but there aren’t a lot of South Koreans who say, “I never want reunification.”
But this kind of familial attachment coexists simultaneously with this aversion to North Korea because it’s a military threat.
I’ve been getting texts from American friends asking me if they should be afraid of a North Korean attack. And these are people who usually aren’t that concerned about these types of issues. So it’s interesting to me that, at least in the US, there’s this heightened interest and fear. And then to hear that in South Korea, where it’s actually more of a possibility that something could happen, there’s not this sense of fear.
I think the exposure to the threats and the proximity of it really affects it too. A lot of people really don’t care. And it’s partly because of this fear, but also because they’ve been exposed to it for so long.
Oftentimes you hear people say, “They do this all the time. They’re not going to do anything. I’ve seen this before.” But actually if you look at the statistics, that’s not quite true. This is pretty new what Kim Jong Un is doing. And the frequency with which he’s conducting these missile tests is much more intense than his predecessors combined.
Would you say that you’re personally concerned then?
I think if I really think about it, I’m a little concerned. But it’s also in the sense that I’m concerned about how easily accessible nuclear weapons are increasingly in this world. And it’s not just North Korea. It’s the United States, it’s Russia, it’s all these different countries.
There’s another layer of hypocrisy in the way we report about North Korea. Like, the United States owns nuclear weapons, but why is North Korea in the axis of evil that doesn’t get to because it’s supposed to be the less rational one? I’m just generally afraid of nuclear weapons in general. I’m just as afraid of Trump owning nuclear weapons as Kim Jong Un owning one.
It’s very unpredictable. But also, we write about growing global uncertainty all the time. When has that not been the case in the world? It’s just that now, the possible consequences are much more catastrophic.
So after Trump made that statement warning North Korea that “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if they keep threatening the US, what reaction did you see among people or talking with friends?
I mean, it’s mixed. The reactions really depended on what kind of North Korean policy you favor. The hardliners, it matches their rhetoric of being tough against North Korea. So you saw a lot of people in the older generation supporting Trump’s rhetoric.
But there were a lot of people who were alarmed because it seemed careless. And there were as many people, probably a lot more people, who just didn’t care. But I guess that’s what happens in world affairs. The majority of people actually just go on with their lives. That’s the same in any country.
Is it generational?
Definitely, definitely. I was talking to my mother about this the other day. I asked her, “Was North Korea something you guys discussed when you were young?” And she said, “You know, my generation was so poor. We were just trying to live our lives. We didn’t really talk about things like that.”
And I think that kind of mentality still applies today in that if you’re not directly involved in North Korean affairs, like if you’re not in journalism or in government, you don’t necessarily have to be interested in it. So in that way, there’s that common attitude of indifference.
But also, the sort of fear that the older generation has is a lot more vivid. A lot more real than the fear the younger generation might have.
For example, I was born in the late ’80s and I don’t think I’ve ever really been afraid of North Korea because I haven’t grown up in that generation when spy missions and terrorist attacks were happening more frequently. When I was growing up, narratives against North Korea were beginning to change positively in South Korea, and the Sunshine Policy [of opening up relations with the North] was coming up in the 2000s.
I think younger people in South Korea today who are interested in North Korea have a more nuanced attitude toward North Korea than the older generation who are a lot more black and white.
What you said earlier about there being this stigma around showing too much concern over North Korea is really interesting. That doesn’t really make sense to me. Why is there a stigma around caring too much about North Korea?
I think because the Red Scare [a period in the 1970s and ’80s when the South Korean government arrested political dissidents and fabricated charges that they were engaging in communist activities] is still very real in South Korean politics. I don’t think this self-censorship and stigma exists everywhere in South Korea. Certainly if I’m with a group of friends or in a classroom setting, I would feel comfortable talking about this. There are very dynamic discussions on the North Korean issue and the relationship with South Korea.
So…. If the folks sitting ten miles from the NORK border can take this all in stride, maybe the MSN and its allies in the Never-Trump Halls of Congress can pull up their big boy pantyhose and chill just a bit.
— SafeSpace —