The Personal Dimension of the Conflict

Two things have been on my mind today regarding yesterday’s events (Brinkmanship in my backyard):

The first is the fact that there are pundits on television back home calling for some kind of “I say nuke ’em” policy.  The person my link is quoting has absolutely zero credibility in my eyes, but I’m concerned that there are people who either think that he is credible or that the words coming out of his mouth are going to make them rich.  Both reasons for giving that man a soap box to shout from are disgraceful.  Aside from Michael Scheuer’s inclinations toward bombing anywhere that doesn’t fit into his conception of a global order where every country must be dominated either by U.S. personnel or the jurisdiction of the WTO, there are others self-righteously calling for the U.S. to strike first.

This is simply abhorrent.  Forcing escalation will only, obviously, cause escalation.  In order to justify forcing escalation you have to have made the decision that the North will invade regardless.  There’s nothing like preempting those you perceive to be irrational actors by acting irrationally yourself!

These people speak as though there are not people involved.  They act as though the North and the South are merely shapes on a map where a few leaders are involved in a high-stakes game.  They forget that on this peninsula, there are people on the North and the South.  Only this forgetting can allow you to make such absurd calls to arms.

The second thing on my mind has been what one of my students told me this afternoon.  For a few classes a week I get to do one-on-one tutoring with the smartest kid in our school.  I asked him, before we started the lesson, what he thought of the artillery strikes.  His response blew me away.  He said that he was not worried.  He had two very impressive reasons (especially for a 13 year old).

The first reason he gave me: that he knows that most of the people on both sides do not want anybody to die, and that there are just a few people here and there who either forget or don’t understand that.

The second reason: that if the situation comes to him dying, he is alright with it, because he has so far lived his life the best he could.  To this, my jaw dropped.  Not out of awe or confusion at his calculation but because I, too, make the same judgement about death.  I fished for where he may have been influenced to say such a profound thing about life, and he insisted that it was his own idea.  Not only did I find a profound connection to his view on life and death and my own, but I also gained an insight into the way that life continues despite the heightened risks to that very way of life.

Today’s duet of insights provide a valuable lesson: that beneath all of this international posturing, artillery fire, punditry and fear there are people.  There are people going to school, waking up the kids, working at markets, drinking soju, writing blogs; there are people living.

The best thing to do in this situation (on top of pointing out publicly the ridiculousness of placing all of our lives at risk) is to keep on living.  I know this is obvious and perhaps cliche.  We heard all of this when 9/11 happened.  We will always hear the call to just keep on in the light of the most existential of threats.  Cliche or not, I think it’s a good thing to repeat.

Here are two good blog posts on the subject:

Korea: Border Incident from Byron and his backpacks

and Thank you K-pop for the prayers