Two Years Later

Amidst the frenzy of North Korea’s recent rocket launch, another very important day came and passed. For many of you, this may have been just another day in your life. But whether you knew it or not, March 26th marked the second anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan naval ship.

March 26th 2010 was just an average day for the 104 crew members of the Cheonan. They were on a routine patrol near Baekryong Island, which is an extremely tense maritime border with North Korea, when they were suddenly torpedoed. The ship tore apart into two and sank to the bottom of the sea, killing 46 soldiers. Continue reading

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Fear, Miscommunication, and the Folk Hero Nasreddin Hoca

A statue of Nasreddin Hoca in Brussels (photo credit: tuhfe)

Ah, the charades of political dialogue! North Korea sends a memo urging unification and expressing its willingness to open immediate channels of dialogue with South Korea. The memo reads in part, “The resumption of dialogue and the improvement of relations hinge completely on the willingness of the South’s government.” Once the South gets its act together, in other words, the North is ready and willing to cooperate.

There are just a few small preconditions, we discover. Among them: withdrawal of US troops, apologizing for not showing proper respect toward Kim Jong Il’s death, apologizing for the false accusation of North Korean involvement in the March 2010 torpedo attacks on the Cheonan… the list demonstrates that any “dialogue” that the North might be willing to engage in would be one-sided.

Of course, this message is an improvement from North Korea’s earlier absolute unwillingness to have any relations with the South while President Lee Myung Bak remained in office. Indeed, it might signal in a backhanded way a willingness to engage in dialogue, even if not all preconditions are met. Continue reading

Cheonanham

There is a difficult balance between honoring the dead and the living.

This summer I visited Cheonanham, the memorial for a Korean Navy corvette that had sunk in March 2010. At that time, I had been teaching English in Jeollanam-do. We heard that a ship had sunk off of the coast, and 46 Korean sailors were dead. I remember the televised funeral services.

The ship was recovered from the seabed in two halves; upon investigation by an international team (South Korea called in foreign experts to increase the investigation’s credibility), the investigators determined that the ship broke in two from something called a bubble jet, caused by the explosion of a torpedo a few meters from the hull of the ship. The resulting pressure differential tore the ship in two.

Approaching the Cheonanham (author’s photo)

Continue reading