Friday, December 17, 2010

North Korea Threatens World's Remaining Unicron Population; US and South Korea Announce Joint Exercises

The Korean peninsula has been in the news on Guam for the past few weeks after a North Korean attack killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians on the island of Yeonpyeong which both nations claim to be on their side of the border.

I have found the coverage of the issue to be frustratingly simple and incomplete, following the predictable narrative of blaming North Korea for naked aggression despite the fact that the South Korean Government has admitted firing first. They claim they were not directed at North Korea, but just part of a training exercise which was simulating a possible attack on North Korea and involved 70,000 troops near the North-South border.

I traveled to South Korea earlier this year on a research trip in order to interview different communities affected by US bases there and also activists working towards the reunification of the Koreas. My entire trip was completely overshadowed by an earlier incident on the Korean peninsula, the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. The South Korean Government was quick to assume it was North Korea, although it was never conclusively proven.


The sinking of the ship became something which allowed the conservative government to crackdown on all sorts of activities that they perceived to be weakening the national security of South Korea. The main targets became social democratic and civil society groups, primarily those who have a core precept that the two Koreas should be someday reunited. For just the week that I was in South Korea, I could see it in the eyes of so many activists, that the sinking, regardless of what the truth behind it was, would be used against them, would be something which Right wing elements could twist into turning the country into a blind nationalistic and militaristic frenzy.

They were right, various reunification groups have been threatened by both Rightist elements and the South Korean Government, and the military has been conducting regular military exercises on the border of the two countries and in direct provocation to them. One of those exercises contributed to the incident at Yeonpyeong.

One of the many frustrations that activists in South Korea regularly repeated was over this Chenoan issue, and how the US government and other around the world were too quick to side with the South Korean government in blaming North Korea. It was almost a blind knee-jerk reaction to support an ally over what might the truth. The US and the current South Korean Government are both in the throes of shifting and increasing their military power on the peninsula and so the idea of North Korea as some hulking, evil danger helps them quite a bit. Even if a report was released stating that North Korea was threatening the world's remaining unicorn population, you would find scathing news articles about it and announced new joint multi-national exercises to take place in the Asia-Pacific region in anticipation of a possible North Korean strike on Fluffy and Bobo, the world’s two last unicorns.

One of the problems with how people in the US and its territories understand the situation in the Korean Peninsula is that it is filtered through the lens of the US, which means that most attempts to understand or comprehend the current and historical situation there are filtered through US national interests and biased towards who are US allies. Despite the fact that the US has a very long history of supporting horrible regimes and toppling democratically elected ones, we still assume that whoever is an ally would always act in self-defense while their enemies must always be the aggressors. For a place such as Guam, which sits on the edge of one of the regions the US sees full of current and future hotspots, this is not an ideal way to see the world.

One joke that I heard more than once in South Korea was about missile testing and the difference between American media treatment of the two Koreas. Each time that North Korea launches a missile, when it (if ever) is successful, it is the end of the world and a threat to world peace. When it fails (which it usually does) it's a sign of North Korea and how pathetic and weak and crazy its leaders are. It dares to challenge and stand apart from the freedom-loving world, yet it can't even launch a mere missile?! The importance however is that, every single step that North Korea takes, the US media is watching and covering it through the lens I just described. The same doesn't go for South Korea, who recently had a failed missile test of their own, but was not reported in the American media in anywhere near the same way. The punchline to this is of course that if the US media is interested in reporting the threats that are out there to "world peace" then it should make a distinction between the well-funded and increasingly growing and modernizing South Korean military, which is constantly supported by the US and its attempts to strategically box in China, and that of a weak, isolated regime like that of North Korea’s.

Although everything we hear out of that region paints North Korea as the belligerent regime and South Korea as a meek victim of its aggression, if we look objectively at the situation, who is more likely to fire the first shot, the most likely to attack the other? One country which seems to sometimes struggle to feed itself, whose parent state wants less costly aggression and posturing, or the other who is flush with foreign military aid and forces, and who is urged at every step to not back down?

South Korea is an ally not to us, but to the one who holds us. To their military and their interests. South Korea is a shield in one hand to the spear-tip that we are in the other. And as I told a Time blogger last month, it is the tip of the spear which is always the first thing to get bloody. So our enemy, as a small island in the midst of superpowers is never any particular country, but always war itself. Should war ever break out in this region, especially involving the masters of both North and South Korea (China and the US), Guam would most likely lose.

1 comment:

achakma said...

I understand that the previous South Korean president supported the reunification of the two Koreas, but this administration has torn all that apart.

I can't help but see parallels in the US role in a divided Korea and our own situation. It seems to me that the people of Korea want to end the conflict. Korean families are in the northa and in the south.

Our Chamorro Archipelago is the same. We are ONE CULTURE, ONE FAMILY. We travel back and forth between our islands for our family and village fiestas.

But when reunification of our islands, of our culture, of our people is discussed at a more public level, the attitude on both sides is always, "No Way!"

What is it that really keeps our families and our islands so divided?

Is there a common thread in these policies?

Is that why the term "Guamanian," was constructed? So that we from each island would see ourselves separate, apart and the "other?"

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