I joined this blog as a member of the 2011-2012 class of correspondents; now the new class of correspondents is fully on board, and my old class is fully phased out, although I’m still writing articles.
It is exciting to see new batches of articles here, articles written by people I’ve never met. I feel a kinship arising out of our shared interests; these are subjects I’ve really come to care about. It’s fascinating to read about their summers with the MOU and compare their experiences to my own (I wish I could have climbed Baekdusan); inspiring to know that a program that is very much in the experimental stages of growth is still experimenting, alive, and growing. It makes me feel like this blog, which I’m pretty sure no one but my loving parents reads as of now, has a future ahead of it.
This gives me an odd hope for unification. All of my research makes it clear to me how difficult unification will be; sometimes I even wonder if it’s possible, desirable, or even worth it to keep pinning hopes—I, who am not Korean and may never even return to the peninsula—on something so abstract and implausible. The gaps are, if anything, only widening— culturally and economically. Sometimes it seems as if certain gaps might be narrowing. A reform is introduced; an NGO is doing good work. But time is widening the most important gap: the felt imperative to unify. As direct memories of a unified Korea fade, so does the urgency of unification.
In any case, even if political unification were to occur tomorrow, any true human and cultural unity would be far away, if the experiences of Germany or Yemen are any indication; perhaps decades or longer. Political unification is a vital goal, but it is not the end of the road.
But when people—especially young ones, even if they don’t seem to matter (If they really didn’t matter, how could a handful of student correspondents matter weighed against the 60 million people on the Korean peninsula? How on earth could a 500-word blog posts have any contribution in changing the path of a peninsula? How could one think our partially informed, youthful opinions have a power that seasoned journalists and experienced politicians lack?)—care about a cause, it seems possible that the cause can triumph.
The Korean peninsula without political division. Author’s image, taken from the Standard Atlas of Korea, published by Saso Publishing Co., 1960.
Some people in South Korea care about and will prepare for unification. There are not too many, but there are some (like the Ministry of Unification). They probably aren’t enough to make anything happen on their own; there is too much disinterest weighing against them. In North Korea, on the other hand, I think nearly every one of the 23 million people there are interested in unification. It’s a huge part of the political and cultural dialogue, a huge part of the way they understand their position in the world (see especially Brian Myers’ opinions in this interview). I also think North Koreans must know, somehow, that they have a lot to gain from it; access to information about South Korea is growing. They may still be misinformed, but they know there is a destiny for them past the confines of the DMZ, and larger than the bounds of the Tumen and Amnok rivers.
Whatever happens to spur unification—and something will happen—I think it will come from North Korea. That’s part of the reason why I write so often about understanding North Korea, not South Korea; that’s where any action toward unification seems most likely to originate.
When it does, and when political unification takes place, it may be three years from now. It may be ten years, twenty, or fifty. But I believe it will happen, because I see that people care even though they have little reason to be passionate, even though they have little power.