A Tale of Two Koreas: A Native-Korean's Perspective

An Editorial By Garrett Shiflet

            The year was 1945, and the Second World War came to a vaporizing nuclear close. After 6 years, of the worst atrocities orchestrated in human history ranging from the Rape of Nanking to the Holocaust and the ferocious unrelenting total war that left Europe in ruins, the world breathed the air of peace. The Allied powers victorious, went to dividing up the spoils. Thousands of miles needed to be occupied and be restructured entirely and it at this moment another war began: The Cold War. Like Hegelian Dialectics, there is a thesis, its antithesis (its opposite) which battle it out until it achieves synthesis (equilibrium) to an idea. Bolshevik Communism and Western Capitalism had destroyed Fascism together yet now they stared down at each other at a place like at Berlin, opposites to each other. The enemy was crushed, now the enemy of the enemy was no more, a wartime friendship turned sour. It is from this that in 1945, the occupation of a small Asian peninsula, conquered by the Japanese, received a rather unfortunate deal when it was divided along the infamous 38th parallel. American Capitalism to the South, Soviet Communism to the North. And just like in Berlin Wall, the tensions on either side surmounted as now Koreans were divided and fed ideologies.

            Then in 1950, the situation hit its boiling point. The occupation period was over yet now the Soviets with new Communist Chinese allies backed up the North Korean Communist regime of Kim Il-Sung and to the South a democratic South Korea laid defenseless without American soldiers, with Soviet military weapons the first proxy war of the Cold War began. Often called “The Forgotten War”, the Korean War was bitter conflict, often overshadowed by its brutal brother the Vietnam War, though it still is one of most important wars in American and global history. North Korea obtained near domination  of Korea until America deployed and routed them and drove them literally past North Korea and into China, which lead to some American military controversy. The Chinese fought back and in 3 years the war ground to a halt, a stalemate roughly back along the 38th parallel. And so, it has been for decades. A ceasefire but never a treaty, two Koreas at constant vigilance.

            Now in the year 2018, the first glimpse of hope for a synthesis to this debacle may be in reach. The turbulent first term of President Trump has brought the Korea peninsula back in the spotlight as now two nations on the brink of war since 1953, have a chance and the possibility to change. The opportunity to let the division end. Though it is a hard and arduous task, North Korea has been under a quasi-despotic Communist regime with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, now the third of his line, ruling with an iron fist with a cult of personality comparable to Hitler or Stalin. Yet as the North rescinded to hermit status, South Korea blooms and thrives as a capitalist tech power with a strong democracy. The two are thesis and antithesis clearly, yet at some point is it possible they could reach synthesis? Can there be a unified Korea?

            Well, a Lake-Sumter student thought it might just be possible or at the very least the end goal. Jin Woo “Jay”, is a South Korean native and exchange student who was raised in South Korea coming to America to go to school, recently going to UCF through LSSC’s popular Direct-Connect program. When asked about the whole situation he had an insight to say:

            “There are some people who take the recent events as a positive sign that two Koreas will be unified, and we don’t have to worry about the war anymore. But at the same time many people are skeptical that North Korea is just acting and Kim Jung-Un is faking it. But I’m just glad North Korea is communicating with South Korea”

            But here is where it gets more interesting, did you know that all South Korean males are required to join the military? Well yes, they do. Under laws of compulsory conscription, South Korean youths must be drafted and serve as the threat of war with the North is constant and persistent. Its under this that many like Jay may also just want not to be strapped on into military fatigues and ready for a war of attrition with North Korea, its not a pleasant thought. So even Jay laughed, “Maybe it won’t be mandatory, hopefully, or my service shortened”.

            “With that, young men can focus on their study and be more productive, the War Department can loosen spending, more work opportunities, foreigners will invest more in Korea now not afraid to lose it all due to a war. And families, separated by the war…So I support reunification”

            But what of the war? The bloodshed, can that wound heal?

“Since the war was taken in our grandparent’s lives, the young generation doesn’t have that direct influence from North Korea. Though there is still a lot of anger and hatred still, 빨갱이 is an insulting word for communist. The word 빨갱이 came from the color red. You know red is a symbol of Communism.”

빨갱이- Pronunciation: ppalgaeng-i

빨갱이, of course being a lot like America’s derogatory terms for Communist like “Commies” or “Reds”. In fact, we had two “Red Scares” and the famous catchphrase “Better dead than Red” was used to show off American patriotism as an affront to Communism. The Cold War has morphed our language, just as it has Korea as now the two speak different dialects of Korean with some completely different words.

And now, the precipice of synthesis is upon Korea, and like many like Jay and most Americans peace is all we want. No one wants to be dragged in the war, especially someone like Jay who will have to soon return to Korea for his mandatory service and if tensions were to go back would be one of the first to fight. The time of diplomacy and to reach out and talk is paramount, for all of Korea and its inhabitants and the world. The tale of North and South Korea must draw to a peaceful close, it is a vestige of a decades long feud that ended in 1991, we must right this wrong and push for a peace. Maybe reunification may take decades, or maybe never but peace if anything is a step in the right direction.

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