On Nov. 22, while I was on break, my mom came to my room at night and said North Korea was shelling South Korea. Naturally this was a big deal for the both of us because our family is in South Korea. We stayed up all night watching a major South Korean news outlet cover the story live.
In the aftermath of the artillery exchange, aside from significant property damage, two South Korean civilians and two South Korean marines were killed. And many South Koreans were left wondering why the government response was light. While North Korea fired almost 200 artillery rounds at the small island, South Korean artillery based on the island fired 80 shells against North Korean artillery positions.
If you’ve ever wondered why South Korean response to North Korean provocations always seemed conservative before this event, around a quarter of the South Korean population lives near the capital city Seoul which is only 30 miles away from the Korean demilitarized zone.
Also, South Korea is more developed than North Korea. For comparison the CIA world fact book lists South Korea’s GDP per capita at $28,100 while North Korea is at $1,800. The United States is at around $48,000.
In this situation, all out war would mean that South Korea has everything to lose while North Koreans have nothing to lose. This puts war as a highly undesirable scenario for South Koreans and as such, for much of the last two decades the country was ran under liberal policies designed to appease the North Korean government in order to prevent a war.
But the sinking of a South Korean corvette earlier this year and now an artillery attack that harmed civilians leaves everyone wondering. Why?.
I’ve never understood the Sunshine Policy that South Korea adopted as their policy toward North Korea. The end result was nuclear weapons testing and military clashes.
It’s like dealing with a spoiled child. If a child starts whining or crying, a parent is inclined to give into the child’s needs. The child will calm down once his or her needs are met and then whines again when they want something else. The cycle doesn’t end.
This is nothing more than what North Korea is doing. The conservative government figures South Korea caught on and did away with the Sunshine Policy two years ago. The government also tightened aid sent to the North. Consequently, there have been two military incidences this year.
South Koreans now demand a firmer military response to anything like this that happens again, but the ultimate question will be what a firm military response should be. Therein lies the problem: The North Korean government is so unpredictable any response should be carefully calculated to prevent an escalating situation.
In my opinion, as much as I dislike the North Korean regime, war is never an option in this case. South Korea simply has too much to lose. It took 50 years of South Koreans dealing with oppressive regimes of their own and nothing short of a miracle to bring themselves from poverty to affluence. If they wanted a war it probably should have been done a long time ago.
However, North Korea needs to be put in its place; and any military provocation should mount an immediate and harsh response. Something to show North Korea that South Koreans aren’t intimidated by their provocations.
Of course, this needs to be done carefully, as I stated earlier. If you started pinching me and I punched you, wouldn’t you be inclined to do something even worse? What the North might do is unpredictable.
I will admit though that there’s probably a whole lot that the North Korean government could do to change their current situation.
The average North Korean citizen isn’t stupid and most of them probably realize that things are pretty bad for them. I read North Korean defector stories time to time, all of them share a common theme: to escape poverty.
I mean if you were a North Korean who was angry at the government but couldn’t convey it — and let’s say Kim Jong Il one day said, “I’m sorry for running our country to the ground. Things will change for the better.” What do you think could happen?
Change isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
In the meantime the only thing South Koreans should do is keep a firm stance in the eyes of a jealous and impoverished country.