Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Teens Respond to North Korea

Last week's attack by North Korea on Yeonpyeong Island may be breaking down a long-standing generational divide and getting more South Koreans behind the idea of war, according to this Washington Post story.

Older Koreans, especially those who fought in the Korean War or had a living memory of it, were vastly more inclined to view North Korea as a hostile enemy to be confronted. Young people, particularly those in their 20s who came of age during the sunshine policy, had no interest in a conflict and were just as inclined to disbelieve their own political leaders as to blame North Korea.

But North Korea's Nov. 23 attack on Yeonpyeong island, which killed two civilians and two soldiers, may be narrowing that divide.

I talked with several teenagers over the past week and found a range of fear and dismissal. One Posung High School student wrote in an email, "Nobody cares about this in Korea. They just ran out of rice.  We have skirmishes like this annually. Don't worry about it. It will just be an interesting experience to see...Actually, I was furious rather than scared. I don't like this easy going Korean government policy. They just talk loud and actions little."

Other high schoolers joked about whether a life time devoted to studying will come to nothing if there's a war, and one college student worried aloud whether evacuation routes from Seoul should be marked in case... 

That "in case" feeling occurred to me well before the latest flare up.  North Korea is amazingly close to Seoul. A 50-minute bus ride from one of the trendiest night life districts will put you in rolling hills within eyeshot of the nearest North Korean city. 

Sometimes -- while crossing eight lanes of traffic on a pedestrian bridge surrounded by towering apartments or while taking in the sprawling view from a hillside in Seoul -- a feeling of precariousness will take me by surprise.  So much unfinished business hangs in the air.

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