Chances are you’ve been hearing a bit more about the Korean Peninsula in the news lately. Both the Fox News’ and the CNNs of the world have apparently taken the already huge story of the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and seized the opportunity for some nice ratings-boosting fear mongering. The underlying concerns aren’t entirely unwarranted, of course, but I figured I’d use this post to discuss the actual mood on the ground here.
As with all conflicts, an understanding of history is essential here.
– The Korean War unofficially ended in 1953 with an Armistice maintaining the split of the Korean Peninsula into two nations, popularly referred to as North and South Korea. The war never officially ended, and is technically an ongoing concern.
– Both nations have have seen their share of military dictatorships and autocratic rule.
– South Korea stabilized after it’s first relatively legitimate democratic elections in 1987, eventually becoming the thriving democracy it is today.
– North Korea was ruled from its formation after World War II in 1948 until 1994 by dictator Kim Il Sung. After he died that year, power passed to his son, Kim Jong Il, who had been preparing for rule for at least a decade.
– Under Kim Jong Il’s rule, a new wrinkle was added to the hostility between the two nations- nuclear weapons.
– On December 19th, Kim Jong Il passed away after 14 years of rule, according to the North Korean media due to “overwork”, which most medical professionals have another term for: “cancer.”
– His youngest son, Kim Jong Un, will succeed him at the tender age of 28, after only a couple of years at best of preparation.
What I find strangest about all of this is that neither Kim Jong Un’s picture or even his name have apparently ever been published in the North Korean media up until now, according to CNN, a curious practice for a country that is as packed with pictures of its leaders as a Catholic church is with saints and Madonnas.
The only picture anyone has of him is from a private school, which he purportedly attended in Switzerland in 1998 under an assumed name. Analysts seem fairly sure that kid is the new dictator, but no actual proof exists that that is the case. Maybe Kim Jong Un is fairly quiet, mildly cheeky fan of Toni Kukoc, and maybe that’s some other random Korean kid who’s roughly the same age. Nobody’s sure.***
Regardless, the common people here in South Korea don’t appear to be all that worried about it. When Kim Il Sung died in ’94, a panic set in and many South Koreans hoarded food and prepared for the worst. The mood couldn’t be more different now, and while the country and her allies are certainly keeping a wary eye on the developments up North, nobody expects anything drastic to happen any time soon.
The upshot of it all is that while it’s an undeniably interesting time to be in this part of the world, there’s no reason to be overly concerned. I’ll make sure to touch back on the subject again as/if interesting new developments emerge, and on an entirely different, completely unrelated note, Merry Christmas all, and to all a Happy New Year!
***Special super-quick update. As you all probably know, pictures of Kim Jong Un are now available. It’s still curious that there were none available before this week, and if he and the kid they were touting as him are the same person, I’m willing to bet his basketball skills have deteriorated a bit…