As many people know, I just came back to America after being in S. Korea for 14 years. The first year I was in s. Korea, I lived right up close to the N. Korean border in Paju City, but most of my time was spent in Seoul which is about 45 minutes away from N. Korea by car.
S. Korea is very conscious that N. Korea is there. They feel the split between the countries deeply because many of them still have family in N. Korea. If you go to Freedom Park up right at the border, there is a place with ribbons hung on a fence that separates the two countries. On every ribbon, there are messages of love for the people of North Korea. The S. Koreans say that they love the people in N. Korea, but they want nothing to do with their politics. If you look back at the beginning of my blogs, you can see pictures of the border and Freedom Park.
There are warnings for the S. Koreans about N. Korea. They have slowed down in doing this, but for the first several years I lived there, the S. Korean government sent me messages on my phone because they were going to have a drill. They were having drills so the people knew what to do in case N. Korea would invade. First, they would send a message to everyone’s phone telling them the drill was coming and instructions on what to do when the alarm sounded. It came in Korean, so at first, I didn’t understand the messages they were sending, and I was surprised when the alarms went off. The messages instructed you to stay in the house during that time. If you were in a car, you were supposed to pull over and find a place to go inside. They scared me until I realized they were just drills and began understanding the messages coming on my phone. After that, I had a lot of foreign friends I knew didn’t understand those messages. I knew they would be scared when the alarm went off and not realize they didn’t need to be scared and that it was just a drill, so when I got the messages, I called foreigners I knew who didn’t understand Korean who might be scared and told them the drill was coming. They really appreciated it.
S. Korea really needs a military, and every man in S. Korea is considered either in the military or in the reserves. They have to go before a certain age, and if they are overseas and happen not to come back to go into the military, they are no longer allowed back into S. Korea. As a professor at the university, many of my male students would go to the university a year or two, drop out and go into the military, and then come back after their military time to finish. My Korean son in law is in the reserves for the Korean military because he has been in the military, and every so often, he has to go back for a short time just like the people who are in the reserves in the American military have to. All men in S. Korea do it. Many men in S. Korea maintain a black belt in Taekwondo, the Korean martial art.
Every so often, the military guys had drills, and they would be around the university where I taught. They all had to know where they should be and what they should do if N. Korea should attack. They made me feel safe. I have been in countries like Nigeria where the guys in the military uniforms seemed really radical and crazy, and I wanted to hide if I saw them rolling in with their big guns, but the S. Korean military didn’t have that feel to them. I actually felt safer knowing they were there.
There were always questions among the foreigners about, “What should we do if N. Korea drops a bomb on S. Korea?” or “What should we do if N. Korea invades?” Some of the S. Koreans thought they were funny and played it up. They told us to go to the subways if they dropped a bomb. One told us they didn’t have a lot of trash cans in public because people were dropping bombs in them, but it was a lie laughing at the foreigners who didn’t understand. There had been no bombs in the trash cans, but the subways are the place to go for protection. The S. Koreans were not really worried about N. Korea. I listened and watched because I wasn’t sure about N. Korea either like any other American who might go there. I remember thinking, “I’m glad I have a car because if I think they are coming, I will grab my kids, put them in the car and head south!” However, the S. Koreans weren’t worried. When there was news about what N. Korea was doing, they just ignored it and went about their business, so I learned to do the same.
Only one time did I see anything truly bad happen. I watched the bombs flying on the South Korean news. In 2010, N. Korea bombed a small island called Yeongpeong that belonged to S. Korea. The leader then was the father of Kim Jeong Un, Kim Jeong Il. It happened because the joint military exercises of S. Korea and America got to close and scared them. Every year, the American military and the S. Korean military would have joint military exercises up close to the N. Korean border. Those joint military exercises scared N. Korea to death! When you heard crazy stuff on the news in America about threats from N. Korea, they never told you that those joint military exercises up close to the N. Korean border were causing it. N. Korea would have issued less threats had those exercises not been so close. It wasn’t just S. Korea who worried about N. Korea possibly invading, N. Korea was afraid of being invaded too. The American news conveniently left out that the threats from N. Korea were because of the joint military practices, and around that time, I would get lots of worried messages from people in the States.
The truth is N. Korea is not a threat to S. Korea. N. Korea hates Japan and America, but not particularly S. Korea. At times, when they let missiles off, they let them off in the Japan sea. they didn’t direct them toward S. Korea because if there was a war and they decided to take over S. Korea, they would be cutting their nose off to spite their face, and they know it. N. Korea is very cold, and nothing grows there. S. Korea has a more luscious terrain. They have lots of farms and can grow a lot in S. Korea. N. Korea wants S. Korea for the land, and if they drop a big bomb on them, that land would be destroyed. They don’t show the same love of S. Korea as S. Korea shows for them. S. Korea, at times, even sent food into N. Korea because they have compassion on them. The South Koreans actually do care for the North Koreans. The S. Koreans, as I said, want reunification of the two countries just as the North does, but as long as the Communist regime is in charge in North Korea, South Korea will not reunify. S. Korea wants Democracy.
When Kim Jeong Un became the leader in N. Korea, everyone was watching him. No one knew what kind of a leader he would be. In the Korean culture, he is actually too young to be the leader, but everyone said that his uncle or someone like that was pulling his strings in the background. That is the uncle he had put to death.
S. Korea has learned to love President Trump. He made peace with North Korea. Because of his efforts, N. Korea and S. Korea finally signed a treaty after technically being at war for so many years even though they had a cease fire. He became a hero in S. Korea. President Trump is an old grumpy guy, and that fits the profile of what the Koreans think a leader should be.
Many people worried when envoys of Kim Jeong Un came to the Olympics in Busan in South Korea. However, nothing bad happened when they came. For the most part, S. Korea doesn’t worry about N. Korea. The Sunshine policy enacted by a South Korean president, President Kim Dae Jung, in 1998 has helped the relationship between the North and the South also, but there has not been any reconciliation, and I can’t see any reconciliation coming. The peace treaty was finally signed for the Korean war, but the countries, for now, are going to remain separate. If they did get back together, it would be good for the N. Korean economy, but bad for the S. Korean economy. I would hate to see economy take a downswing in S. Korea. As it is, S. Korea is doing great economically, but when we came to America and tried to change our money, we took a big loss in changing our S. Korean money to American money. The S. Koreans are safe from the N. Koreans. The American military base in Seoul has been slowly closing. There is a base a bit further south, and if they aren’t being sent somewhere else, the American military guys are being sent down there.