the Gauntlet

The Koreas display symptoms of tension

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No true winners rose from the ashes of the 1950s Korean clash, where the north and south managed to carve a physical and political line across the peninsula. The line, decorated with land mines, soldiers and watchtowers, is guarded carefully. This line is the demilitarized zone in the war that is still technically (because a peace treaty was never signed) going on. Tension has been present since the Russo-Japanese War and never actually left the peninsula.

Recent military exercises from both sides of the peninsula appear to be a symptom of this tension. Four people were killed by such symptoms on Nov. 23, 2010. Perhaps Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, wanted to assert his new found authority as a general. Regardless of this, recent memory recalls a sunken South Korean vessel with remnants of an alleged North Korean torpedo found aboard. In the near future, more and more symptoms will appear and war may break out on the Korean peninsula. This isn't entirely a surprise, however, because the Koreans have been at odds since the 1950s.

After 1955, South Korea healed rapidly and managed to emulate the capitalistic economic model of the United States exceedingly well, host the Olympics and put multi-coloured LED lights in a variety of funky things. Meanwhile the North, with fascist tendencies, has achieved nuclear fission, launched a rocket, dug tunnels under South Korea and developed a fascinating secrecy about the true goings on within the country.

From the western perspective, South Korea has become a romantic destination for young North Americans to travel to, become disoriented, teach English and drink copious quantities of alcohol in, while the North is generally closed to the public. So what does it mean to Canadians if there is a war on the peninsula? If we cannot do business or drink with the North, should we cheer for the South? One can never have enough drinking buddies. However, the situation is a little more complex than cheering for a friend in a bar fight.

Traditionally, we Westerners have sided with the South Koreans. Our primary military ally is America and when America likes somebody, we like them too. When America doesn't like somebody, we don't either. When conflict arises in the Koreas, America willingly provides injections of personnel, airplanes, tanks and guns to South Korea. During the last large inoculation, between 1950 and 1953, Canada kicked in some medicine too. The war was expensive, depressing and lots of people died. Expensive as it was, it was not as expensive as wiping the disease of totalitarianism out entirely. This process was regarded not important enough to complete and we've let the sore fester and throb for the last 57 years. All of a sudden the symptoms are returning. We are now in the position of making a decision. We have to decide whether or not to return and complete our unfinished task, or do nothing at all. Our apathy feeds the disease. By doing absolutely nothing we have let the infection grow. We didn't feel the need to finish the job, we didn't help the people of the North, we didn't write enough letters, we let the North investigate the possibilities of nuclear weapons and now people are actually dying.

What should we do? We should finish what we started on the Korean peninsula. The worse North Korea's illness gets, the less time and attention we have to take care of our own health.