Trust and Peace in Korea

Moon jae in and Kim Jong un big vox

After the stories we get, all too infrequently, out of North Korea – after the prison camps, the cult of “Dear Leader” that citizens are initiated into at birth – after the famine and the fear that the slightest misstep could bring imprisonment with torture and hard labor or even death – after all that and more, if you were a citizen of South Korea how would you feel about the possibility of ending Korea’s decades-long separation? Do you trust your new President with his goofy, light-hearted smile to stand up to a man who learned how to rule from his father Kim Jung-il a man who ruled by emotional whim, sometimes acting beneficent and sometimes vicious, paranoid and cruel. Kim Jong-un seems to govern in that same bipolar style. Would you want to cozy up to a guy who just threatened to bomb half the known world out of existence?

Do we hope that the spirit of Dennis Rodman is motivating Kim Jong-un to find his “Hangover” happy place as an adopted American frat boy? Does he hope to share Western pleasures with his people? Does he want sanctions lifted and an economy that can flourish as a serious leader of dependent people might? Will North Korea become more like South Korea or vice versa? Did the welcome his delegation received at the Olympics warm the cockles of his previously impervious heart? Does he wish to rebrand his nation from the “Hermit Kingdom” to something new? Perhaps seeing how far out ahead South Korea has managed to go in terms of modernity, technology, and prosperity he either wants to haul South Korea back to a harsher, simpler lifestyle or get some of that prosperity for his own nation. North Korea has always seemed to eschew modernity and critique the depravity of developed nations, America in particular, as being soft, self-indulgent and greedy. Perhaps this has just been a way to rationalize the advantages of starvation and strife.

No – if I were a South Korean citizen I would be quite leery of any abrupt attempt to reconcile North and South Korea. I would want to know exactly how such a relationship would function. Would a certain degree of détente still apply? Would Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in form some kind of coalition government? Would it just be a matter of loosening control along the DMZ? Both leaders seem to want the American military presence in South Korea to go away but if I were a South Korean I think I would say, “not so fast.” What is bringing on this new impulse to reunite the Korean people given the danger inherent in such move? What does South Korea have to gain from this reunion beyond squishy nostalgia for a past that would, perhaps, be difficult to recapture.

Was the collapse at the North Korean nuclear test site worse than we thought, making some move towards reconciliation a distraction to appease Kim Jong-un’s own people? What happened when the “Dear Leader” went to China on that slow train? Was he ordered to go hat in hand? Or did he go on his own to discuss his next moves with President Xi Jinping? The problem with secrecy is that it makes people wonder why such secrecy is necessary. What is being hidden? In this case we have had glimpses that what is being hidden is so terrible that it would raise outcries around the world if the truth of it were known. It gives me shivers to think that the South Koreans would want anything at all to do with this young man who knows how to smile so beguilingly while ordering death for dissenters or imagined dissenters.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is a liberal, he leans to the left. He even was imprisoned once in South Korea for activism. He wants to stimulate the South Korean economy and generate jobs. Corporate families like Samsung have disproportionate privilege and influence in South Korea. He would like to spread this power out, allow more businesses to share the wealth. And he would like to see a reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. He would like, as we would, to end the threat of nuclear war, which would certainly have negative effects on South Korea which might be subject to nuclear fallout or find itself in the margin of error of foreign retaliation. Kim Jong-un could be playing South Korea and Trump by meaning what he says but not telling everything. Nations that keep secrets can do that. Could he agree to not use nukes but never bring up bio-weapons if negotiations did not go there. Does he have a sincere desire to rejoin the world or is this all a power ploy? Hard to be a “player” and then expect public opinion to turn around on a dime and accept you when you suddenly act all sincere; hard not to suspect this could be a trick. Is President Moon Jae-in seeing what he wants to see? Is he correct to open his country up to a man who could still be a monster? I would not want to be the President of South Korea who has to make this decision. But if he is right he will be remembered fondly forever.

And then we put Trump into this mix which already has so much potential for duplicity. Trump wants a Nobel Peace prize. He has his people chanting “Nobel, Nobel” at his rallies. Peace is a good thing. None of us is happy when a possibly unstable leader of a secretive nation is threatening to nuke us all. We can sympathize with the people in a divided nation who wish to make their country whole again. Perhaps two unstable men can produce a stable and peaceful outcome much as two negatives can make a positive. It shouldn’t matter who brings peace as long as the peace is real. I am having difficulty accepting that such a flawed President as ours could leave us any legacy that will not have to be overturned as soon as we come to our senses. Part of me loves peace so much it will even accept 45 as the prince of peace, but part of me wishes that this was happening in any other administration. I will get over myself. Peace is peace and each little bit of it that is negotiated in this contentious world of ours is valuable. But can we expect one cruel leader, one hopeful liberal, and one old-reprobate-white- supremacist-con man to produce a truly trustworthy and lasting peace. It is a tough stew to swallow.

This is a view from the cheap seats.

“April is the Cruelest Month”

Usually when
anyone quotes the line that says “April is the cruelest month” they are
referring to the line from T S Eliot’s poem The
. But, this April has more to answer for than unpredictable
weather. This April has taken terrible tolls on the world’s children and
whenever children die you can be sure that there was a terrible toll taken on
the parents also, and that toll will be paid out over a lifetime.
In Northern
California we had the 10 children who died when a FedEx truck crossed a highway
median and crashed into a bus. Now I know they were teenagers and they would not be
happy with me calling them children, but to their parents they will always be
their children. It is a great sadness to lose children at any age, but once
they are graduating from high school and they have made it past the dangers of
childhood; for a parent to lose this young person, carefully reared and sent
off on a bus to tour a college campus, seems especially sad.
In Nigeria,
230 girls disappeared from a village school days ago and no one knows where
they are. The number has fallen to 190 because the art students, it was found,
were not taken. This happened in a border region of Nigeria where violence is
the rule of the day. Although these parents surely miss their daughters they do
not hold out much hope that they will ever see them again. How can a mass
kidnapping of young women happen in the 21st century? Well, not
every nation has arrived in the 21st century yet, and apparently
this is not the magic number I like to think it is. Don’t even try to imagine
the things that could be done to these young girls. I prefer to assume they
will be treated well until they are old enough to marry, but I can hold to
this belief only if I allow myself to be delusional.
And now we
have this stupid ferry captain and whatever idiot decided on the placement of
the cargo in this ferry boat in South Korea that overturned and drowned the
majority of teens on board, who were headed for a week of spring break on a
destination island not far off shore. This captain let someone (the third mate)
take the helm of the ship. Once the cargo shifted (after a sharp turn) he told
the teens to stay in their rooms (he now says he later told them to abandon
ship) while he grabbed a lifeboat and escaped. He said the other lifeboats could
not be lowered because of the extreme tilt of the ship. Well he has to live
with his guilt, but my thoughts are with the parents who will no longer live
with their beloved children, will never attend their graduations or play with
the grandchildren they might have had.
I suppose
this cannot be considered some purposely malign behavior of the universe, some
cosmic slap, but it has certainly been a very cruel and sad April. Parents, the
world is grieving with you, and while it is true that we probably will not
grieve as long as you will because other woes will claim our attention, I hope
you can feel the sympathies sent to you by the people of the entire world.
It’s not enough, but it’s all we can do.
By Nancy Brisson