By Jay Kim
North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the ensuing military confrontation between South and North Korea made us realize once again that the Korean War, which occurred 60 years ago, still continues.
After half a century, the people of South Korea are again fearful of the possibility of a war, and are reminded of how important internal solidarity is in a crisis.
Some South Koreans, led by the leaders of the minority parties (their potential candidates for the next presidential election), have stated that South Korea should stop its military drills right away. This means that ordinary citizens cannot help being divided in their opinions.
On the one hand, they are fed up with the attacks by the North that killed innocent civilians; on the other hand, they are afraid of more drastic retaliation by North Korea if they are provoked by South Korea’s military drills.
When the stock market is not stable and the country is in a state of unrest, the leaders of the minority parties have demanded that the President stop the drills and apologize to the people. I have no words for this.
It should be expected at this point that China would strongly take North Korea’s side once again. They claim that South Korea should cease their military drills, because they may lead to another South and North Korea conflict.
Being asked to show restraint is simply too much, especially since North Korea shelled the island indiscriminately and without warning. Russia, who had previously criticized North Korea’s atrocities, have reversed their attitude and have joined China on North Korea’s side, proposing to petition the U.N. Security Council to stop the live-fire drill in Yeonpyeong.
Fortunately, this was denied by the U.S., the U.K. and France. How can something like this happen? I have constantly pushed for the removal of the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council; without this power, Russia and China’s power would be greatly diminished.
With international support of their right as a sovereign nation to hold defensive military drills within their territory to protect their people, South Korea successfully finished the 94-minute drill. It was a suspenseful but piquant 94 minutes; everybody could breathe easily after the drill finished without complications.
North Korea announced that this provocation was not worth a response, and the stock market stabilized as foreign investors bought the stocks that South Koreans had sold out of fear for the future. About 1,350 residents of Yeonpyeong were happy to be able to return home.
Many experts opined on North Korea’s change of attitude; it was suggested that this was a tactic to receive food from South Korea and help speed up the hereditary power transfer from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son, Jong-un, via direct talks with the U.S.
After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which claimed 3,000 innocent lives, American anger reached untold levels; however, this anger was soon channeled into patriotism. U.S. flags were raised throughout the nation with black ribbons attached, and “We Love America” posters were seen all around.
Nobody protested against the government for their failure to stop the attacks; in fact, almost 80 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had been behind the attacks, and supported the invasion of Iraq, which was still a year and a half away.
The public opinion in South Korea after the shelling of Yeonpyeong was very similar to that of Americans after 9/11, especially among young people who lined up to volunteer in the Marine Corps.
The citizens of South Korea have united: 87 percent of people are united against North Korea, and public opinion is strongly in favor of retaliation against North Korea’s atrocity. The patience of South Koreans has run out.
It is clear that South Korea is in a serious crisis now, and with the successful finish of the military drill, now is the time to unite. North Korea must be aware that their hit and run tactics, which they’ve used to divide opinions in South Korea, are no longer effective against a united South. It’s now certain that pro-North Korean groups have less and less ground to stand upon.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).