During my time as a Yonsei student, I had the opportunity to ask some of my peers about what they thought of North Korea. This was before the Yeonpyeong incident. I was curious because I didn’t know that much about North Korea myself until college, even though I have relatives from there. And concerning unification issues… it wasn’t until recently that I began to realize this is something South Korea does need to be ready for—whether it takes ten years or ten decades, the possibility of a reunification (like East Germany and West Germany’s on October 3, 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989) happening to North and South Korea is always there.
The reactions to my questions concerning what the person knew about North Korea, or thought of possible future unification, varied.(Names have been replaced with first initial.)
“North Korea? I don’t know much about it… but it is pretty scary.” –R
“North and South Korea should not unify. Because the North did so much bad to South, how can we unify with them?! It should always be North and South because of the North’s reputation.” –A
“The Japanese people hate North Korea. Because of North Korea’s nuclear weapon testing so close to Japan, and since Japan has been bombed in the past, we are scared. North Korea is always a threat. Japan knows the North is making nuclear weapons, and there is no way to stop it.” –Y
“I don’t want North and South Korea to unite. I don’t think they ever can unite, anyway, because of culture differences. If the North falls, then sure the South should take over, but… I’m skeptical. And financially, there is no way—South Korea will be put back decades.” –J
I admit that I had many of these same feelings before interning with the Ministry of Unification, and before joining Wellesley’s Advocates for North Korean Human Rights (ANKHR) student group. However, I think that America, because we don’t have normalized relations with North Korea, tends to exaggerate upon and demonize the reputation of an irrational North Korea. When, on the contrary, Professor Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar of Asia and a specialist in Korean studies, swears that North Korea is by far more rational than any other state. Everything North Korea does is in order to preserve the power of the Kim family. (More on this here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/opinion/25iht-edlankov.html?_r=1)
In comparison with other countries that do have normalized relations with North Korea, America knows much less about the regime and what actually goes on in the country, and this lack of information fuels the scary, dark image of North Korea that we carry around with us. Now, I don’t consider North Korea as a scary, unpredictable country with no understanding off the outside world but rather as a country that is looking out for its survival in its own way, with every decision carefully made. Looking into issues outside of nuclear issues and human rights is a plethora of economic, political, and ideological factors that must be addressed and understood with what information we can gather. North Korea is in need of help, and the younger generation in particular needs to be aware of what is going on now so that we can make responsible decisions in the future.