A lot of Korean people tell me that it is their hope and belief that the two Koreas will eventually reunify, and I have no reason to doubt them, apart from the obvious fact that the two countries are mortal enemies hellbent on reducing each other to a smoldering pile of ashes.
But seriously, it’s easy to think that the two nations could some day come together again. Christ, they were part of the same country or culture for about five thousand years. It seems silly that they’d let a little thing like ideology, mutual distrust, fear, and a visceral aversion to each other interfere with a jolly good reunion.
And yet, it’s hard to imagine their joining forces without a hitch (most notably the wholesale erasure of the DMZ, which is supposedly one of the most amazingly beautiful nature preserves in the world, apart from the plethora of land mines), or some grumbles and whines from both sides. South Koreans have no illusions about how traumatic a North-South re-marriage would be, and many of them–especially younger people, say, those under forty–aren’t keen on relinquishing their relative economic well-being.
As in the West, life for most middle-class Koreans has been getting both harder and worse for a long time, specifically since the IMF-driven economic crisis that erupted in December, 1997. They’re working longer hours for less money. The cost of food and rent keeps going up everywhere in greater Seoul, where at least a quarter of the country’s population lives. The air in the city is no longer worthy of the name most days and nights of the year; the price of economic progress appears to be pollution.
Not that they’d trade places with their ethnic kinfolk in North Korea. I haven’t read enough about the views of the people there to know how they feel about a possible reunion; although it is the official policy of the successive leaders of both governments to aim for one (each one insisting on the other side’s unconditional surrender, of course; as Elton John would say, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Just ask John Wayne. Good luck getting an answer).
Living here as a foreigner can feel surreal sometimes as I reckon it can for native Koreans as well. It’s a tad unsettling, to say the least, to feel like a pawn in someone else’s chess game, especially when you flew in from a different board.
And yes, while there is some consolation in knowing I could pack up and move back to the United States at any time, my country’s own economic and political dysfunction make it a less than attractive candidate for a long-term date. The way we keep letting our leaders get away with the mass-murder of innocents abroad and the evaporation of the rights our ancestors fought so hard for suggests how fragile and perishable American democracy really is, as I guess it turns out to be everywhere.
“Freedom is not free,” as the saying goes.
And if the leaders who achieve the highest office in the land by hook or by crook keep insisting on violating international law by conducting illegal drone strikes, locking up dissidents, randomly torturing people, and spying on everyone under the new “logic” of “guilty until proven innocent,” even if we are lucky enough through some miracle to avoid the repercussions of another terrorist attack on our shores, or else an unfriendly visit from some disgruntled and vindictive drone manufactured in one of the countries we’ve been using as a punching bag for years or decades, Kim Jong-un will find himself in good company indeed.