Seoul, photo by Christine Lines, © 2011
My husband and I were planning to go to Seoul today like we so often do. We woke up late, lazily took a shower, talked about where we would hang out. Carrying a bowl of chocolate Korean cereal to the living room, I flipped on the T.V. and immediately saw the headline.
Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on Dec. 17, but it looks like they waited until this Monday morning to announce it to the world. Korean news channels like KBS and SBS are covering it all, the ROK military and government officials are on alert, but the South Korean president is urging citizens to go about their daily lives. It’s 1:50 P.M. now and I still haven’t heard anything from the U.S. military over here, but I imagine they will soon follow suit. So far, it doesn’t look like North Korea is ramping up their military.
We’re staying put at home today for reasons I can’t explain. I’ve got Korean T.V. news and live streaming American news online in the background while I type this. I’m not worried about North Korea doing anything nuts today; they’ve declared a 10-day mourning period. But after that? Only time will tell. Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, has been prepared to take over for some time now. He’s young (20-something) and inexperienced, but has been allowed to study abroad and have exposure to the world, so I can only hope he’s not going to be as crazy and closed-minded as his father.
No one will celebrate in South Korea. This won’t be like when Osama bin Laden died and Americans went out into the streets to celebrate. Many South Koreans will be quiet, maybe not even talk about it. It just doesn’t cross their minds on a daily basis that North Korea is right at their door, that they’ve had artillery within firing range of Seoul since the cease fire (Seoul is one of the world’s megacities, most of the South Korean population lives there); they would go mad if they thought about it all the time. And even if anyone were to make a big scene out of it, no news channels would broadcast it here. It’d be deemed disrespectful, and more importantly, provoking. South Koreans as a whole are non-confrontational, and no one here wants war.
It surprises me how many people don’t know much about what’s going on between North and South Korea, so let me break it down like this. The Koreas are still at war. There was no peace treaty, only a cease fire. To this day, some families are still separated between the two sides, only allowed to see each other through a fence when Kim Jong Il is in a generous mood, so really just once a year or so.
Kim Jong-Il was a diabolical bastard, a malicious tyrant, a modern-day Stalin. Broadcasts out of North Korea look like a scene from the Olympics in China, but behind the lens, it’s essentially a Cold War gulag, a WWII concentration camp that spans the entire country. Millions are starved, forced into harsh labor, tortured, raped, killed. Any aid that goes to the country goes straight to Kim and his top officials. Even adolescent North Korean girls are given to his officials as wives. Escape into China is a suicide mission; if you aren’t shot by North Korean soldiers, Chinese soldiers will try, and even if you make it past all of them, Chinese citizens are paid for turning in North Koreans and Chinese police will patrol in front of embassies to catch and return you to North Korea for execution.
People often ask why there’s never an uprising, especially now that movements like the “Arab Spring” and Occupy Wallstreet seem to erupt around the world. When the government has a tendency to execute an entire family for the dissent of just one family member, especially for attempted or successful escape, people typically prefer complacency. And when people are taught their leader is a god, required to have pictures of him and his father in every room, and to go against “Ju-chae” (basically the religion of Communism) is sin, you can imagine the brainwashing throughout the country. North Koreans are taught that their country is a paradise, that the rest of the world is a diseased hell filled with cruelty and corruption like capitalism, and there’s no communication with the outside world except what some underground dissenters manage to get through the internet.
Japan has just expressed their “condolences.” South Korea will probably do the same. I’m eager to see Obama’s reaction to all this. I hope he makes an address soon.
Photo © Christine Lines 2011
Blog post © Christine Lines 12.19.11