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.