- North Korea is getting a bit uppity with its weaponry. On Monday, North Korea tested something nuclear underground. On Tuesday, they launched some short-range missiles. On Wednesday, it was reported that a previously closed factory had reopened and was making weapons-grade plutonium again. The international community was all, "Oh bugger! I think North Korea is up to something!" and threatened to actually enforce the Proliferation Security Initiative, which would allow the US and other members to search and seize North Korean ships and ships entering North Korea territory. After dragging its heels for six years, South Korea finally joined the Proliferation Security Initiative on Wednesday, prompting Kim Jong-Il to respond, "Please, I will cut you," announce that North Korea was no longer bound by the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War and threaten to invade South Korea if they so much as LOOKED at our cargo ships, Chiiiiiiiiiina, South Korea is touching me! Make it stop!
The situation is obviously tense, especially since North Korea has that bomb and Seoul is really close to the DMZ, but ultimately, unless the Dear Leader has actually gone off his rocker, North Korea isn't going to attack. South Korea would crush the North like bug. South Korea has a large, modern standing army and international support, while North Korea is struggling to feed its people. My friend Tony visited North Korea last year and he said the juxtaposition at the DMZ was staggering. On one size you have the ripped, six-foot South Korean soldiers holding the latest in weapons and on the other side you have the North Koreans who, while definitely being a bit more crazy about the eyes, are a foot shorter and holding weapons that are a few decades old. Plus, the political climate has changed since the last time North Korea attacked and this time, Russia and China (probably) aren't going to back them. And this is what North Korea does. They make threats to garner international aid, and while these are definitely bigger threats, in all honesty, this is probably more of the same. So yeah, an attack is most likely not coming and unless there is an actual attack, I'm not leaving. I'll just plan on not taking the DMZ tour any time soon. In general, this latest posturing is barely making the South Korean news because...
- Last Saturday, Roh Moo-Hyun, the former president of Korea, killed himself by jumping off a cliff. He was under investigation for corruption and bribery. If the North Koreans aren't making much of an impact on the South Koreans, it's because they're all too preoccupied with Roh's death. It's a big damn deal. There has been an huge outpouring of grief over this man's death. I have never wanted to be able to read the newspapers more than I do right now because I don't understand WHY his death is so important, but I can tell that it obviously is. One Korean blogger compared it to JFK's death. (ETA: Ask A Korean has a great retrospective of Roh's life and his importance here.)
Roh's death has even affected my kiddos. I've had several groups of students try to explain what happened. Just for the record, watching a 5th grader try to explain suicide in broken English (with motions) is disturbing. (It went like this: “Roh Moo-Hyun mountain hiking. He fall. HE DIE!) On the other hand, listening to them explain corruption is hilarious. (A 5th grader told me that Roh was being investigated because he got a very expensive watch.)
Mourners for Roh Moo-hyun (노무현) near Gangnam Station in Seoul the night before his funeral. Each gu set up a memorial for people come and pay their respects to the former president. The line at Gangnam was five people deep and stretched at least a block.