Monday, April 8, 2013

Who's afraid of Kim Jong-Un?

For the past few weeks, the American contingent of our expat community have been receiving terrified messages from the folks back home. Apparently we're rushing to stock up on candles, bottled water and kimchi, and building bunkers under our apartment buildings. Apparently South Korea is absolutely terrified because North Korea is pointing nukes at us and planning to fire them any second.

Terrified Koreans. Photo by Theresa.

Panicking foreigners. Photo by Allie

I decided to take advantage of the hype and used it as this year's April Fool's joke. It seems I managed to trick quite a few of you with my story about an invasion and mass evacuation to Japan. Even though I sprinkled in comments about Kimchi being good for radiation poisoning, and asked you to send me money in order to secure a spot on the bus.

It was too easy. 

But some expats seem to have caught the fear bug that has gripped America. Their parents are suddenly sitting up and paying attention to South Korean news because their babies are here, and, well, you were raised to believe your news. 

Here is a soothing picture of  cherry blossoms.
Well, I've worked for a newspaper. And I studied history. And I like to think my level of paranoia is at the optimum setting; just enough to be suspicious but low enough to function in everyday life. 

Anyway, I watch the news. I also read it, and listen to it. I get my news from many different sources. So let me point out the first thing that stands out, to me. I did a quick little survey the other day. 

Mentions of North Korea on the Front/Home Page
CNN: 11
BBC: 1
Al Jazeera: 2
Korea Times: 2
On top of that, almost every article on CNN uses phrases like "crisis", "moment of explosion", "nuclear disaster", and "fear". If I didn't have better things to do like looking at cherry blossoms or trying to order a single portion of chicken for dinner (it seems to only come in HUGE) then I'd count the usage in each news source, but I'll leave that to the linguists and sociologists. TL;DR: CNN is doing some classic fear-mongering. They did it with Iraq, and now they're doing it with North Korea. But why?

With Iraq, it became pretty obvious why every other word on CNN was 'terror'. Apparently "terror" is American English for "oil". I get so confused with the dialectical differences sometimes. But North Korea has bugger all oil. They have a few more natural resources than South Korea, including fantastically cheap labour that they rent out to South Korea in the Kaesung factory park, but they really don't have much that the US could possibly want. Well, the US media pointed out the fact that Kaesung is basically helping the North Korean economy to survive because everything else has gone to shit. What has NK done? They've stopped production at the factory and are letting the South Korea workers return home. However, very few SK workers have actually done so. Most are staying put and waiting for the hoopla to blow over so they can get back to work. Thanks, CNN.

My thinking is that the US is using typical bullying tactics. First, you find the kid in the playground who no one really likes. He's not trendy, he's very emotionally reactive and he doesn't have many friends, except for maybe two well-meaning guys who are trying themselves to get in with the in-crowd, so they're not really supporting him any more either. So, this kid's an easy target.

You wind him up, pushing his buttons, and get him to make some pretty descriptive threats, mostly to do with oceans of fire. 

the key to this strategy is choosing a target who's mostly harmless.
Yes, NK (or Nork as they're being called by some expats) have tested some missiles. But they're not quite capable of delivering the kind of hellfire Kim Jong-un may be hoping for. And besides, I'm willing to bet they're not suicidal either.

So, basically, I think CNN is pushing a different agenda with this. There's nothing to fear right now. But America does have a huge, expensive army. And they do have an economy that's struggling to recover. And they have people gunning down kindergarteners, going on rampages, and violating our basic human rights by loving someone who happens to have the same wobbly bits as they do. Well, we can't have that! 

The country is divided by the religious extremists, gun nuts and the huge differences in wealth.The American dream is crumbling. 

So what do they do? They find a common enemy who's mostly harmless, wind him up so he makes interesting noises and maybe snaps, swoop in and 'save the day', looking like heroes to their allies and uniting their people in fear of one enemy.

Is the threat real? Well, the two Koreas have been in a state of war for decades, and Nork has been making these threats for as long as that's been happening. But, they never follow through on these threats. If you look at their patterns, when they did attack they did it without warning. Element of surprise and all that. And their threats seem to follow the pattern of anniversary of leader's death, leader's birthday, and election of new president in SK. 

Well, there we go. The US media is just trying to scare people into buying more newspapers, watching their broadcasts and supporting any kind of increased military spending, and North Korea are just planning to let off some fireworks to celebrate Kim Jong-Un's birthday. 

Meanwhile, the people of South Korea are preparing themselves for an invasion by sea.

Haeundae Beach, Busan.

Another joke, by the way. That's actually my friend Amy, doing what everyone else was doing on the beach that day. Not swimming or tanning or playing frisbee. Just staring at the ocean and taking photos of it. 

The threat of war looms constantly on the horizon, but it's so far away that people just aren't thinking about it right now, here in South Korea. They're accustomed to it because it's been going on forever. And if you're really worried, all you need to do is register with your embassy (or follow them on Facebook etc) and you'll get any important updates or info as it comes.

The latest from the US embassy:

"The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that despite current political tensions with North Korea there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea (ROK). The Embassy has not changed its security posture and we have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in, or plan to visit, the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time. The U.S. Embassy takes as its highest priority the welfare of American citizens in Korea. Should the security situation change, the Embassy will issue updated information."

So relax. Have a beer. Put your feet up and let's talk about music, art, gay rights, teaching, life, creation and other interesting things. I'd even be willing to talk about golf. Anything but North Korea. I'm sick of hearing about it. I bet the journalists are bored too. Maybe someone should get some water pistols and take over Mongolia, and then the world. Just to give us something else to talk about. A robbery. A murder. Natural disasters. The bankruptcy of another cherished baked goods chain.

Who's afraid of Kim Jong-Un? Not me.

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