from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #23: Yeonpyeong Island, Unintentionally Revisited

with 6 comments

A couple of weeks ago, I started writing a blog entry on North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island until I realized I didn’t really have anything of material value to say. While I’m sure that the majority of expatriate bloggers have shared more than their two cents and it was a good way to get some Internet traffic directed your way (one such entry made it onto the Freshly Pressed on the WordPress.com main page), I’ve always been loath to jump on any bandwagon unless I can justify my actions to myself. Now that a considerable time has passed and it’s not breaking news, I’m finally getting around to finishing the entry. When I started this blog, my friends advised me to play on my strengths. Bad timing has always been my forte.

Actually, I’m in Seattle at the moment, helping my mom prepare for a move to Korea. Like mother, like son. Bad timing just runs in the family. It’s also the reason I’ve been later than usual with this entry.

So the question to ask is, exactly how serious is the situation on the Korean peninsula? While I did spend some time working Intel for the Korean Army, that was a long time ago in a past life I’m still trying to forget. The only thing I can share is the prevailing sentiment regarding the situation from the perspectives of both the expatriates and the native Koreans.

In a nutshell, native Koreans are largely unconcerned and disinterested while foreigners are overly paranoid and vocal—basically, we like to be scared and like for everyone to know it. For example, during that week, I asked all my students how they felt about the situation, if they had made any plans in the event of a war, and what they thought the likelihood of war was. The most typical answer was a shrug, Nope, and Less than five percent. I was working at the coffee shop when the attacks happened and didn’t notice anything until a few hours later when I came down to have dinner. The news was talking about an attack but most of the people around me were talking about their plans for the weekend. On the other hand, while I was eating my curry rice, I checked facebook on my phone and my home page was inundated with status updates about how people needed to leave Korea because a small island closer to the North than the South was shelled.

I know Michael Moore is no impartial observer of the Western condition, but I do think he was right in Bowling for Columbine when he pointed out that it isn’t the widespread possession of hunting-use assault weapons that leads to a high murder rate in America but the fact that we love to get scared. Add to that the nauseatingly high stress on fear-mongering by politicians and its acceptance by the general public and it’s a wonder people can get out of bed to go to work.

At the same time, Koreans are also too nonchalant about the fact that their greatest threat to national security, a hostile country with weapons of mass destruction, is also the only country with which they share a land border. If I were to guess why, I would say it is because, although the Yeonpyeong Island incident resulted in the loss of four people’s lives and was arguably of a more aggressive nature than a lot of the North’s past actions, the North attacking and threatening the South is nothing new. It was sixteen years ago when the North said that they would turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” (in the event of a war), but Seoul still stands today, left to its own destructive (de)vices.

So who is right? Neither. Both groups need to take a lesson from the other’s attitude. In the words of the Demolition Man (1993), “Why don’t you get a little dirty? You a lot clean. And somewhere in the middle… I don’t know. You’ll figure it out.”

* On a different note, Koreans complain that their country is sandwiched by two world powers, China and Japan, but the attention of the world at present (at least with regard to Asia) is on Korea. This is the shrimp saying, “Fuck you, take a back seat,” to the whales. Nevertheless, this past week in Seattle, I was asked on two separate occasions whether I was from North or South Korea. First, I’m an American, you assholes. Second, What the fuck?

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6 Responses

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  1. love it! As an expat (and not really that long), i’m as unconcerned as the native koreans. i hate it when people ask me “so, since you lived in korea before do you think there’s going to be a war.” and they are never satisfied with just a simple “no.” i just think some people love to get all worked up and involved in things they really don’t need to be sometimes…

    Vee

    December 30, 2010 at 10:56 am

    • Vee,

      Thanks for commenting.

      It does make life a lot simpler when you don’t worry about the big things as well as the little things. Maybe the big things are little things or the little things are big things but who has time to figure it out? Of course, this kind of mindset is what got me into the Korean Army so maybe it’s not the healthiest way of going about things.

      Anyway, Happy New Year.

      Holden

      holdenbeck

      January 1, 2011 at 10:14 am

  2. I’m gonna have to disagree with you on the observation that Koreans are disinterested about the Norks. One of the ironies of the situation is that while most Korean civilians (especially young students) are brainwashed by the left (or brought to believe so by their on accord like the blind sheep they are) that the situation is peaceful and the Norks are nothing to worry about. Yet at the same time it is enough of a concern to force citizens to serve in the “military” against the very consitutional freedoms Koreans pretend to enjoy. Something isn’t right here in my opinion. I mean, which is it? If it’s nothing to worry about why is nobody protesting conscription?

    Koreans, like the West and every other civilization on earth, need an enemy. They need something to fear to keep them in check and willingly oppressed. While the Norks have served this purpose for decades, they are still our “brothers,” and the same members of the “Han race.” So the modern generation made a new enemy; Americans and foreign English teachers (who also conveniently are scrapegoated for drugs and child-molestation). Sometimes Koreans get bored and rekindle anti-Japanese and anti-Chinese sentiments once in a while. Nobody here ever gets tired of hating on japs or chinks.

    This Yeonpyeongdo thing was a big eye-opener for the young generation who thought nothing of the Norks. Many were disillusioned about their “Han” brothers. If you think about it, this recent move by the Norks was exactly what the ROK gov needed to get rid of the pro-North leftists and increase military enlistment.

    Fermentation

    January 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    • I agree that my observations are limited by the people with which I come in contact (my students and bartenders) but my argument wasn’t that Koreans think the situation is peaceful by any means. They just don’t care. Status quo is the functional word here. North Korean threats and attacks are nothing new and so people don’t pay it any heed.

      That, however, is why there is a conscription system. The best defense is a good offense (or borrowing the good offense of a world superpower). Conscription is also the status quo. It is part of the system which facilitates this uneasy peace on the peninsula.

      I won’t argue on your points on politicians creating enemies to subdue the masses; they’re valid points. You’re preaching to the choir, or at least the guy sleeping in the back pew while his wife glares at him.

      holdenbeck

      January 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm

  3. good

    jim

    January 12, 2011 at 5:36 am

  4. Another Beiber fan above (justinbieber3488@****.com). What is happening to this world?

    holdenbeck

    January 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm


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