In the early hours of Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump attracted world headlines when he declared, in his own inimitable way, that Kim Jong Un had to stop threatening the United States.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told assembled reporters from his New Jersey golf club. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
But only a few hours later, North Korea upped the ante. In a state media report, the DPRK’s Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) announced it was “carefully examining” plans for a missile strike on the U.S. territory of Guam.
Another statement, released not long after, claimed that any American attack on the DPRK would lead to a “just all-out war,” and that North Korea would turn South Korea’s capital, Seoul, into a “sea of fire.”
Such bombastic proclamations from North Korea, especially when they garner worldwide coverage, typically provoke concerns about South Korea.
And for good reason: if a war were to break out, Seoul would be directly in the firing line of an estimated 15,000 North Korean cannons and artillery – not to mention the devastation that would be wrought by Pyongyang’s ample supply of biological and chemical weapons. Questions are usually asked of Seoulites: are you afraid? What’s the mood like over there?
So what do residents and visitors think about North Korea’s threats – and Donald Trump’s unique approach to peace on the Korean peninsula?
To find out, NK News hit Seoul’s central Gwanghwamun Plaza.
Gabriel Loureiro, a 32-year-old IT analyst, said he “sometimes” worries about North Korea’s threatening behavior to the rest of the world.
“But in the end I think it’s just politics, they’re just trying to get the power of negotiation, try to get to talk to the U.S. in terms of agreement,” he added. “It’s a very sensitive situation because every small wrong step could lead to war. So yeah, I’m worried.”
Trump’s approach to North Korea had not given Gabriel any comfort, either, and he didn’t want pressure on Pyongyang to lead to a war.
“I think it’s better to find other ways to put pressure – sanctions or whatever he can find to have this problem solved without a war,” he said.
Gabriel’s concerns were shared by Song Ju-bong, a 68-year-old man who complained that the younger generation of South Koreans don’t pay as much attention as they should to goings-on north of the DMZ.
“The younger generation who hasn’t experienced war wouldn’t understand,” he said. “That’s why some of the older people who have gone through the war are so angry.”
“Nothing matters once you die,” he pointed out.
Young people, he said, were largely to blame for the more conciliatory policies recently elected President Moon Jae-in has been pursuing toward the North.
“If he gives in to what the younger generation says they like or agree with, we might end up losing South Korea altogether,” he said.
Luckily, Mr. Song doesn’t see Kim Jong Un lasting much longer.
“If North Korea continues its threats, Kim Jong Un will be uprooted.”
Mr. Song may be overly cynical about the apathy younger South Koreans feel about North Korea’s bombast, but one group of 17-year-olds weren’t exactly quaking in their boots about Pyongyang’s threatening behavior.
“I don’t feel anything from it in my real life because I only knew about it on the news,” one said. “We haven’t actually experienced it in person and so we don’t feel anything significant.”
Support for Moon Jae-in’s approach to the North, which has so far involved proposing military and humanitarian talks, as well as calling for DPRK participation in next year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and new economic cooperation between the Koreas, was popular, however.
“President Moon’s characteristic of gentle and soft policy would work,” one said.
Much of their ire, instead, was pointed towards President Trump, whose policies, they said, “could worsen the situation.”
“It’s because it’s too oppressive and biased,” one added.
The dislike of Trump was a view shared by Caroline Blinder, a 50-year-old lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and her family, who were visiting Seoul on vacation.
“I think he is being belligerent,” Blinder said. “I’m not sure if he is doing that because it is smart or because someone told him to. I just think he is an idiot who doesn’t think before he speaks.”
Her daughter agreed, but was also keen to point out North Korea’s poor record on human rights.
“They are using the image of America as a threat in order to enforce the dictatorship,” she said. “He is essentially strengthening the position of the dictatorship by perpetuating this image of him being this insane aggressive leader.”
One older South Korean woman, who ran off to join her friends before she could be identified, had a simpler plan for defusing tensions on the peninsula.
“This is not a children’s game you know,” she said. “I want Trump and Kim Jong Un to act like adults. I want them to snap out of it.”
Reporting by Christina Lee, Oliver Hotham, and Vincent Choi
All photos credit to NK News
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