Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Koreas

I don't understand anything about the two Koreas. Sure, I know a bit about the history, I was born on the Southern side somewhere, I've seen a few films and documentaries and have a pretty good handle on its delicious food. But I don't understand it.

Korea is one of those smaller Asian nations that throughout history has had a tendency to be swallowed up and taken over by various larger Asian nations, such as Japan. The Japanese influence in Korea is probably the most lasting of these, and you can see traces of it in their food and some crossovers with names. But don't tell this to a truly Korean or a truly Japanese person, because they will likely both want to kill you.

Korea's history of outside oppression seemingly caused a fracture between the North and the South, where, in a strange reversal of most Southern-Northern rivalries, the North opted for a conservative government based on a highly agrarian economy and the South opted for a more liberal government based on a highly Western based free market economy. Traditionally, the South sides opt for the conservative model, but since Asia is technically the other end of the world, we can expect it to work the other way around.

South Korea has embraced its Western stance to the point of knowing pop culture better than they know their Northern neighbours who share the same continent with them. Their hearts and their minds are a whole world away in North America, despite the fact that they are generally 10 years behind. They say that if you go to Seoul, you will see more white people on billboards than exotic Asians. That's kind of sad, but it's definitely a mark of where their loyalty lies.

North Korea has embraced a Cold War communist era stance where everyone who is not them is the enemy and everything that goes wrong in their society is conveniently not their fault, but the fault of the enemy who is constantly at the gates of the Northern Korean Republic. This would generally be ok. Most people would let go of the fact that the state is run on a paranoid system of blame and propaganda, if it weren't for the fact that (a) they're killing their own people by making them live in a destitute state where they're cut off from the rest of the world and (b) we think that they have nukes.

Since the North is generally ignored in the global marketplace and has only ever had worldwide press when they were part of the infamous Bush-era named Axis of Evil, it's getting attention in the only way that it knows how: by beating on its Southern counterpart.

When the two Koreas fought in a war that divided the country to what we see today, it never actually signed an armistice, so technically, it's still at war. There are bases lined up near the frontiers where propaganda still plays over loud speakers and anyone who tries to cross the line from one to the other is shot dead. As such, the armies on both sides are ready to go to war again if they have to. And it looks like they're headed in that direction, with the North running out of options.

The North has no real economy to speak of and plays such a minor role within the global marketplace that it has to do something to make it relevant and generate some form of revenue for itself. So it's doing that in the worst possible way: by causing trouble and making an international incident. It's going to provoke, attack and goad the rest of the world into fighting it. Why? Because war is a major economic engine and it will help boost their productivity, distract their people from the deplorable conditions in which they currently live, give the current regime something to do and make sure that the world knows that they're alive and kicking, even if it's just kicking everyone in the shins.

And then if the world wants to take the high road and ignore them? There's always the good old-fashioned threat of a nuclear warhead for that.

You see, I don't understand anything about this. I don't understand why a country which has been beat up for so long under the thumbs of everyone else within their continent over hundreds of years, would want to fight themselves. I don't understand why the shared history of oppression didn't bring these two sides together. Haven't the people suffered enough? Aren't they tired of always having to fight all of the time? Wouldn't they be stronger together if they reunited and created a strong country that took care of its people and reminded their people to be proud for having survived cultural genocide?

You'd think so. You'd hope so.

At least I do.

But I don't really understand.

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