“Are you worried?” asked P.E. Teacher #1 as we walk down the hallway after finishing lunch. I was just telling him how my friends have sent some worried emails to me regarding North Korea’s recent attack on South Korea.
“Worried? No. Are you worried?” I respond.
Hesmiles and says, “A little.”
It’s been three days since North Korea fired artillery over their border and into a community on Yeonpyeong Island, killing two marines and two civilians. On TV, it looks like a nation in panic. In Daegu, everyone seemed nonplussed. But that’s just how it seemed.
I like to think I know a lot about world events and world history, but it takes a situation like this to realize how much I don’t know. The facts I’ve learned could get me through a few rounds of Jeopardy, but it’s the human element — how do people here really feel — that I’m totally clueless on.
So I decided to ask.
For example, right after the attack, I asked one Korean friend why there was such an uproar over this attack that killed four when the North Koreans sank a navy ship in March that cost 46 sailors their lives and I didn’t hear about such a strong reaction. My friend responded that while North Korea has attacked military targets several times since the Korean War, this is the first time civilians have come under fire. And, just a few days previous to this latest attack, North Korea announced they had a modern nuclear factory with about 2,000 centrifuges.
I follow P,E. Teacher #1 up to a teacher’s lounge where I’m joined by three more teachers, including P.E. Teacher #2, who usually translates some of the harder words and phrases for the other teachers (including myself).
“But the North wouldn’t attack again, right? I mean, South Korea would fight back double and they’d risk losing their power. Right?” I asked the teachers.
“That is our sense [thought/feeling],” P.E. Teacher #2 said.
Then P.E. Teacher #1 continued, “But the North Korea are horrible. If we attack, both Koreas may be gone.”
He was alluding to the North’s nuclear weapons. And P.E. Teacher #2 says many people believe if South Korea and the United States attacked North Korea, there would be a World War that would drag China and Russia to the North’s aid. One of the most surprising things I heard was some South Korean’s real fear of nuclear destruction.
As we discussed the topic further, the paradoxical nature of the South Korean situation became more clear. More than one Korean has told me, “South Korea loves North Korea and South Korea hates North Korea.”
While most South Koreans are averse to escalating this conflict to the point of war, they are also widely critical of President Lee Myung-bak’s response to the attack.
“North Korea fired 160 shells,” P.E. Teacher #1 told me. “But South Korea only 80.”
It’s that paradox again.
“South Korea does not want war to break out,” said P.E. Teacher #2. “But we do want revenge.”
Click on the Incident Map above to go to the Guardian’s original map.
UPDATE: New York Times does a great story about this.