Or as another Open Saloner called it, some years ago, “The semi-annual national unity game of chicken”; that is the ostentatious round of saber-rattling which has been played by North Korea every six months or so since … since the armistice which divided the Norks from the Sorks about the time that I was born. I wrote in 2013;
“The Norks do this every six months, usually when they want to squeeze some concessions out of the outside world. It’s like an overgrown toddler throwing an international temper tantrum. Likely, all of his generals (or uncles, even the generals who are not his uncles) have to go along and make the usual noises and poses for the cameras, in spite of the fact that for all their resplendent ribbon-salad displays – they have not fought an all-out, balls-to-the wall war since 1954. Which war was nearly sixty years and three wars ago, as Americans are counting it, which means that their equipment must be getting pretty worn-out as well as their tactical schemes and field practice for using them – outside the boundaries of a pretty tightly-controlled war game which will allow no margin for making the Kim dynasty’s pet soldiers look bad in any way, shape or form … while they might have been able to buy some new stuff on the international black market – which hints that those drug sales by their diplomatic staff must really be paying off, big-time, and they might actually be able to hit what they might be aiming at, on a good day, depending on what they have purchased, and if their vendors didn’t rob them blind, and if the Chinese actually gave them some of the good stuff … I do believe they can hit Seoul on a good day with their artillery, and kidnap lonely strangers off the beachfront towns in Japan in the wee hours, and possibly come close to hitting Japan with something high-explosive … whacking the continental United States with a ballistic missile is a bit of a chancy prospect.”
I have not had all that much reason to change what I wrote then, even if Kim “Little Fatty” has upped the level of threats and fiery rhetoric on the last few weeks and days. It actually stinks of desperation rather than strength, but threats and fiery rhetoric always worked before – so why not dial it all up to eleven? Mark you, I have no particular insight into North Korea, other than what might be gleaned here and there among various mil-and-international-affairs blogs star-scattered here and there in the internet, and memories of a year spent at AIG Yongsan in 1994. I did, however, spend my off-duty hours at a succession of free-lance voice jobs, which meant that I went bopping all around the city of Seoul, on public transport, mostly … doing work and meeting people in the business of doing audio production. One of those jobs was a regular one, at Korea Broadcasting, doing editing and after-broadcast critique on the English simulcast translation of the 9 PM evening news. Which I suppose would have been analogous to popping over to the BBC every third evening, to assist in a foreign-language simulcast of their major evening newscast. No kidding – Korea Broadcasting was this huge, palatial establishment just off the Yoiido, with a half-acre sized newsroom – rank after rank of tables and chairs and computers. This was the only job I ever got through anyone being impressed with my degree in English, I’ll have you know.
Anyway, I came away from the whole experience with a fondness for Korea and Koreans; tough, jolly, exuberant people, almost the snappiest dressers on the face of the earth. Some observers call them the Irish of Asia, which is a fair comparison. I also came away with memories of Seoul as a thriving, modern and prosperous, first-world city – something which my father, who served a year in Korea some four decades before my service there – would hardly have believed. But it was all there; I saw it every day that I went out on a voice-job, and took the subway to the relevant production studio, or the bus to KBS which passed over one of the spans across the Han River, and past a tall golden-glass skyscraper. This prosperity, these developments were real – and hard-won by the South Koreans, after decades of abysmal poverty and deprivation, and a government which it must be admitted, had some pretty authoritarian tendencies at various points.
Not a patch on the authoritarian tendencies, the poverty and deprivation suffered by the North Koreans, on their side of the 38th Parallel, though. I don’t think the contrast can be made any starker than by that satellite photograph showing the two countries at night from space: South Korea a blaze of lights, and North Korea a black void with a few flickers. North Korea – which was apparently the richest and most developed part of the Korean peninsula pre-1950 – has basically gone backwards from there, into something like the early 19th century. Or into a kind of country-sized concentration camp with a weirdly perverted and official obsession with the ruling family, rather like the Bushido and Emperor-obsessed Japan militarists of the early 20th century.
So – whither the Norks? Bluster or real threat? A threat to Seoul, of course – that has been their money card every time before. But I wonder if the more substantial threat for the South Koreans might be the utter collapse of the Kim regime, and the North itself. That might cast the responsibility for their starving, brutalized, and socially/politically retarded cousins onto them … and the feeling seems to be – they don’t want that. Yes, the South Korean politicians mouth words about reunification, make all the right noises when they can be cornered … but – they can’t help but know about how German reunification of East and West played out. And China – who have long held the leash on their psychotic little pet of North Korea – probably don’t want a unified Korea any more than the South Koreans do. Just like the South, they probably don’t relish the prospect of coping with a totally collapsed North, either. So what will the Chinese do, as Kim ‘Little Fatty’ appears to go more and more off the rails and they run out of time and patience? The most sensible face-saving suggestion that I have read suggests engineering a retirement of some sort for ‘Little Fatty’ and his immediate family (a comfortable exile, or something more … permanent) and replacement by the most amenable and/or competent of his generals, with orders to behave himself and to quietly rehabilitate North Korea as a well-run buffer state. But at this point – who can say for certain? Discuss.