North Korea is rapidly developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that will, one day soon, be capable of hitting the continental United States.
There is talk in certain quarters that the North may use this potential to force the U.S. to choose between Seoul and San Francisco, and if pressed, the Trump administration, or the one that succeeds it, will bow to Pyongyang’s demands.
It is really not clear whether this is actually what the North wants, or whether the United States would risk its global standing with all its other allies in such a dramatic way.
There is a chance that the U.S. could be bullied, but Pyongyang would be unlikely to bet on it, as such threats would probably provoke a war in which its entire elite would die.
Let’s just for a moment suppose that happens: would South Koreans willingly submit to the North? And would the South Korean people kowtow to the new rulers?
Every South Korean male in his twenties is required to do at least two years of military service. While in the military, they learn lots of nasty things about North Korea – propaganda, but with plenty of truth to it.
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL?
If you ask the average South Korean what they think about North Korea – as survey professionals frequently do – most exhibit a lack of awareness or interest in things like Songun (military-first), the Moranbong band, or hydrogen bombs.
But most South Koreans in surveys have very little sympathy or love for the regime in Pyongyang. In this year’s Unification Perception Survey, over 40% are suspicious or downright hostile to North Korea. There is some bias in the surveys, but even so, the numbers appear pretty compelling and also pretty consistent over the last decade.
For much of the last ten years, a majority of South Koreans have thought of the North Korean government as a potential partner in dialogue, but such views are not exclusive to the political left, and are held by a wide range of people who do not want to see war and believe in the importance of negotiation.
At the same time, a majority of South Koreans also support South Korea potentially going nuclear, and surveys have found consistent and growing support for this. A majority of people who voice support for President Moon also support the idea of South Korea going nuclear.
Many such people also want to negotiate and work with North Korea. These views are not necessarily contradictory.
Most South Koreans in surveys have very little sympathy or love for the regime in Pyongyang
NATION AND DESTINY
It is possible to want unification, to believe in the special destiny and greatness of your ethnicity and its history, and to also like traveling abroad, potentially marrying a foreigner, and even potentially accepting foreigners as citizens. Not all ethnonationalism is necessarily aggressive or genocidal.
By the same token, many South Koreans, yet again as data indicates, do not think of non-South Koreans as equal members of their tribe.
Chinese Koreans, North Korean refugees, and overseas compatriots from other parts of the world are often discriminated against, considered others best avoided, to be wary of, or be outright hostile toward. Just like in most places in the world, discrimination and prejudice are alive and well.
Ethnonationalism is the mainstay of history textbooks, it is a very big part of how South Koreans see themselves, but the emphasis here should be placed on South Koreans, not just Koreans. Many South Koreans do not think of non-South Koreans as being fully a part of their nation.
South Korea is a rich country, if highly unequal. South Koreans, like people across the world, want to make money and live comfortable lives.
North Korea is the epitome of economic failure, a benighted feudal monarchy, and is widely known to have presided over a huge human catastrophe, the famine of the 1990s.
At the same time, North Korea is popularly reviled. It is not part of the same country (South Korea), and it is increasingly a foreign land that is thought to have very little in common with the South. North Korean refugees are unfairly seen as scroungers by many, and the North Korean government as a menace and nuisance.
WANT PEACE? PREPARE FOR WAR
This is not to say that South Koreans are looking forward to fighting a war with the North. This is not 1914: people are not tripping over themselves at the imaged prospect of sticking it to the Hun.
There are plenty of old people who remember very well how nasty the last war was. The many massacres of civilians, the countless young dead. There are also plenty of young and middle-aged men who had difficult experiences in the military – going to the army is not everbody’s idea of fun in any society.
Ethnonationalism is the mainstay of history textbooks, it is a very big part of how South Koreans see themselves
Most South Koreans do not want to have to go back to the artillery batteries or see their sons go back and actually have to walk over the bodies of dead comrades-in-arms in their advance forward, as a well-known South Korean war song from 1950 put it.
Like people everywhere in most democracies, most South Koreans find the daily grind of policy debates and political fights very dull. Many prefer also not to sit around talking about weapons procurement, military strategy or diplomacy.
They’d much rather have a drink, get coffee, have a date, hit the gym, or pretty much do anything more fun than surf the internet or channel jump in search of news about the latest Trump tweet or another Chinese foreign ministry press conference about the importance of dialogue.
Does this make them ready to surrender to the Korean People’s Army?
Maybe many South Koreans are akin to a frog sitting in warm water on a stove, blissfully unaware of the potential nuclear holocaust that is just around the corner. Most people faced with uncertainty in a complex topic (international politics) usually just switch off. We have government bureaucracies to handle that anyway, the argument goes, so why worry? There is nothing we can do about it anyway.
A war would be devastating, and would probably involve, at a minimum, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is to be avoided at all costs, with the possible exception of avoiding the Kim dynasty enthroned in the Blue House.
That is a line that most of the South Korean public would not willingly cross. Indeed, that is the very reason a majority support South Korea going nuclear.
But having lived with the near perpetual threat of war since 1953, people are less easily excited or worried by the prospect than many outside observers.
The water is nowhere near boiling yet, and most would prefer to live their lives. If and when a war does appear an imminent prospect, do not expect South Koreans to go quietly though into a dark night – they will surely rage against the dying of the light.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 1237 words of this article.
Featured Image: Korea_Fans_Cheers_Team_Korea_20140627_04 by KOREA.NET - Official page of the Republic of Korea on 2014-06-27 05:04:17