The day of the Yeonpyeong incident, South Korea as well as much of the international community was in shock. I was standing outside of Soongshil University at the time, and my friend was the one who let me in on the news that as I stood there, hungry for dinner, North and South Korean soldiers were attacking and shooting each other from their respective locations. A few moments later, as we were listening to the radio, North Korea bombed Yeongpyeong Island. It seemed so out of the blue, and I wondered why on earth such a thing was happening.
North Korea has a history of trying to provoke attack or become a victim of South Korea. Last March, the South Korean ship Cheonan was reportedly sunk by a North Korean submarine. This time, it came in the form of fighting over disputed waters, against an occupied territory that is internationally recognized as belonging to South Korea. (More on this here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11872034)
The news reported that North Korea had started it, but I’ll admit I was dubious since North Korea usually puts a lot of thought and strategy behind every decision they make, and firing on Yeonpyeong Island seemed too random. Some people suggested that perhaps South Korea had somehow provoked the reaction just by having the drills and threatening North Korea through that. However, Andrei Lankov, a professor and expert on North Korean issues, says that is unlikely: “both the unusual intensity and length of fire (the North Korean batteries fired about 150 shells) seems to indicate we are dealing with a well-planned operation.” (http://www.nkeconwatch.com/nk-uploads/Lankov-about-the-crisis.pdf)
My friend was nervous as well, even though most of the Soongshil University students walking around us seemed either blissfully unaware or blissfully unconcerned. “Korean War TWO?” she wondered. “Or… no! World War THREE?!” I prayed to God that it wouldn’t be the case—at the time it seemed like anything was possible. However, the newspapers and radio were making it seem like we were literally on the edge of beginning combat once again! Yet Prof. Lankov comforted us by saying “a war on the Korean peninsula is highly unlikely”.
These couple months after the incident, I’ve had time to reflect and think about the incident on both sides. This past February, Professor Moon of Wellesley College’s Political Science Department led a discussion on this event—for a more in depth look at the incident, look for Christine Oh’s article, “A Discussion with Professor Katharine Moon: A Different Perspective”.