When looking at North-East Asia on a world map, you will notice a tiny little peninsula located between the large country of China and the island nation of Japan. If you look closely at that peninsula, you will notice a line that cuts it into two. Yes, I am talking about the nation that we are living in, Korea. Currently, Korea is under a state of separation. As the one and the only ‘divided country’ in the world, there are presently two Koreas in the map.
One is South Korea - officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the other is North Korea - officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Recently, circumstances between both inside and outside of the Korean Peninsula are threatening the safety of Korean people. In this article, we will take a look at the North and discuss the relationship between the North and South.
The Division of Korea
During the latter years of the most recent Japanese colonial period in Korea, there was a movement among Koreans to gain independence from the Japanese occupiers by their own hands. Indeed, it resulted in many innocent lives being lost. However, because of their efforts, our country moved closer and closer to gaining independence.
But then, World War II ended and Japan was defeated by the Allied Forces, and forced to give up the territories that they had conquered by force. During this process, the occupation of Korea was at the forefront, and as a result Korea gained its independence from Japan. However, this was not a traditional form of independence whereby Koreans would govern themselves, but rather an independence that was administrated by the nations in power. The result of this was the northern part of Korea being placed under the supervision of the Soviet Union and the southern part was to be governed by the United States of America.
In the North, the DPRK was declared by by Kim Il-sung, the first Prime Minister. In the South, the government of South Korea was formed with President Syngman Rhee, representing the country. After a series of conflicts between the two nations, on the 25th of June 1950, the North Korean army, backed by the Soviet Union, attacked South Korea and as a result, the Korean War began. (Last year was the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. A number of movies, books and dramas related to the Korean War were made and are still being made, which showcase this tragic period in our history.)
A great number of valuable Korean lives were sacrificed during that conflict of ideologies. After that, the two sides agreed to divide the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel with a three-mile buffer zone, known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Ever since then, there are two Koreas, South Korea and North Korea.
Series of Constant Conflict
Between the 1950s and 1970s, anticommunist education in South Korea took up a large part of the educational field. Students were being educated to view North Korea as their biggest enemy and their people as evil communists, nicknamed ‘the Reds’ (Bbal-gaeng-yi).
The rumor about ‘partisans,’ who snuck into the mountains of South Korea to spy, destroy and harm South Koreans were wide-spread among people, some even saying that they ate children. The famous story of ‘Lee Seung-bok,’ who was shot by the North Korean communists, when he yelled out ‘I hate communists!’ was referred to as a role model story for children.
On January 21st, 1968, 31 armed communist guerillas crossed the 38th parallel line and succeeded in reaching the capital of South Korea. Out of those guerillas, only one, Kim Sin-jo was caught alive and this incident caused a huge sensation in South Korean society. Not many years ago, the movie ‘Silmido,’ which dealt with the training ground for Unit 684, was released. Unit 684 was the South Korean special forces group that was formed by the government at that time in order to attempt an assassination of Kim Il-sung. Those two incidents reflect the tension, conflict and edgy mood between the North and South.
The Era of Dialogue
However, in the 1980s, the relationship between the two countries changed as the heads of the two nations started to open up their minds, accept their rivals as people and not merely as ‘the enemy.’ The idea of a North-South Korean Summit was starting to gain momentum. As a result, the perspective of North Koreans also started to change among South Koreans. Schools started to mention the word ‘reunification,’ and emphasis was placed on the fact that North and South Koreans share the same ethnical background.
On June 13th, 2000, a three day Inter-Korean Summit was held in Pyongyang. It was the first official meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met with Kim Dae-jung, the President of South Korea at that time. President Kim pushed hard ease the tensions between the two nations, showing generosity and offering help to the North, who were suffering from hunger. This policy was called the ‘Sunshine policy.’ In 2000, former president Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on this matter.
Current Situation of North Korea
News about North Koreans who suffer from hunger and tough lives is something that we often hear in the news these days. It seems as though the situation in North is progressively getting worse as time goes by. The price of rice is skyrocketing because of shortages. Food scarcity is becoming a serious problem and more and more people are dying because of hunger and malnutrition. The number of soldiers who desert their barracks is increasing as they can no longer bare the painful training and hunger. Heinous crimes are taking over North Korean society as the result of this dreadful environment that the people are living in.
Even when a large number of people are dying of hunger, some people in the same country are living in a completely different world. According to inside sources of North Korea, an extremely small portion of people possess more than a million dollars and 3% of the population has 100,000 to 200,000 dollars as their private possessions. The polarization between rich and poor is becoming more and more serious. The gap between the rich and poor has grown much larger since the government of the North carried out a currency reform in November of 2009. Because of this reformation, the middle class collapsed and the economic system was shaken. The society is still suffering through the after effects of this reformation.
Kim Jong-un is being groomed as the next North Korean leader, who will continue Kim Jong-il’s regime. He is the third son of Kim Jong-il, assumed to be born in 1983 or early 1984. Because of his young age, he is inexperienced and therefore does not have the full support from the present power structure. The reason why Kim Jong-il is pushing him to be the next leader and continue his family’s reign, even though he is not fully ready, is because of his relationship with his older sons.
The oldest son, Kim Jong-nam has fallen out of his favor ever since he secretly tried to visit Japan’s Disneyland in May of 2010. The second son, Kim Jong-chul, was born by the same mother of Kim Jong-un, Ko Young-hee. Even though they have the same parents, Jong-un and Jong-chul apparently have different characteristics, with Jong-chul being kind and pacifist, and Jong-un being aggressive and stubborn. Kim Jong-il chose Kim Jong-un because he has similar characteristics to himself, and he is presently training his son by taking him to the important events of the North. Kim Jong-un is trying to follow the steps of his father, by accompanying him and learning from them.
As one of the last countries that still follow the concrete form of communism in the world, North Korea does not have many allies on their side. This isolation deepened when the North Korean government announced that they had successfully conducted a nuclear test for the first time on October 9, 2006. It is well-known that the North uses the threat of nuclear weapons as a bargaining tool for diplomatic discussions. It is widely believed among the international society that the North is using the nuclear development program to bargain for what they need, since they have shortages in food and aid.
Recent Circumstances of North and South
Anti-North Korean sentiment has been growing larger ever since the sinking of the Cheonan on March 26th, 2010, which killed 46 Navy officers. The North denied that they were behind this incident, but they are still the prime suspects of this attack. On November 23rd, 2010, the bombardment of Yeonpyeongdo took place making the South take further notice. The tension between the two countries escalated, and the news spread worldwide. It was surely a critical situation for both countries. Cyber warfare escalated between the South and North, reflecting this tension.
The relationship between the two Koreas rapidly changes with each passing minute. It is something that is very difficult to predict. As I am writing this article, the North and South Korea have agreed to hold talks. The North has been more open to talks with the South recently, as they have been somewhat pushed into a corner, faced with a lack of support internationally. The talk is to focus on the recent firing incident and to diffuse tensions over nuclear weapons.
So, What Now?
Our generation has often been referred to as the generation of indifference. People say that compared to the youth from the 1970s and 1980s, which fought aggressively to earn the freedom of democracy and justice for all, we seek for what is best for us, concerned only about what is directly related to us. This accusation might be partially true, but some of it may be also false. When the incident in Yeonpyeongdo happened, the nation was stricken by the shock of danger that threatens our safety. Our generation was not an exception.
Even though we grew up knowing that North Koreans share the same blood line as us, we did not pay much of attention to them. But after the incident happened, our generation started to be more concerned about the issue of security related to the North. We saw our friends in the army placed under a state of emergency, and people in Yeonpyeongdo had their ordinary lives ruined by the North Korean attack. We suddenly became concerned about our safety. The news about the increasing number of young men who are applying to the Marine Corps, in spite of the recently dangerous environment, reflects the concern and interest of today’s youth to keeping our country safe.
Statistics show that six out of ten people are now on alert about the North and view them as the enemy. Many people are now criticising the former government’s Sunshine Policy, saying that this only has resulted in raising a baby tiger. They say that this only helped to support the North’s nuclear development program, which resulted in threatening peace on the Korean peninsula, so a hard-line policy is the way go to deal with the North. The reason why this argument is gaining support from the general public is because of the recent incidents that occured between the North and South. However, this kind of biased way of looking at the subject matter can also be dangerous.
An unbending way of dealing with the North can bring more of tension to North and South Korea. There are 88,000 seperated family members who lives apart because of the division of Korea. Even though the reunions of separated families is an important matter that should not be ignored, it can be difficult to make it happen when the relationship between the North and South worsens. As well, being overly harsh on North can cause many more side effects, such as threatening the overall safety of Korea.
As the generation that is going to be leading the country in the future, the way we view the world and circumstances is important on deciding matters for out country. Although we have experienced the madness of the North Korean government, we should not forget the fact that we are compatriots, who live on the same peninsula.