Stealth Bombers and Gas Masks: My 2013 Korean War story
A post-apocalyptic world not so dissimilar to Mad Max is what springs to mind when North Korea threatens nuclear war against Seoul. That said, while my eyes bulge at the thought of walking around Seoul with a gas mask over my face, and a giant space suit wrapped around my clothes after a radiation cloud descends on the city, today in Seoul most Koreans are walking their miniature poodles, while others continue pulling back their rice wine.
On March 29th, 2013, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un announced that North and South Korea would again be resuming a period of war (not that a peace treaty has ever been signed between the two Koreas…). The announcement came after North Korea had already made multiple threats to bomb numerous targets in the US and South Korea.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, business is as usual. Samsung employees are still designing smart phones. Kpop boybands are still thrusting in their tight latex pants. I have personally been in the office, training in my new boxing club, and in and out of my regular Korean sauna this week. It is almost as if South Korea hasn’t even noticed the renewed nuclear threats coming daily from Pyongyang. As an Australian long-term resident living in South Korea, I am a little alarmed at how apathetic the local South Koreans are towards the news of an upcoming nuclear war.
Down in the bunkers. On with the gas masks.
Has the international media gone mad? Or is censorship in South Korea so disturbingly good that the government is effectively hiding the real severity of the situation from the residents of South Korea? Regular Koreans do not care about North Korea. In fact, average South Koreans are likely more concerned about the latest Korean drama actress and where to spend their upcoming summer vacations than with the current political “crisis”. The best way to describe the South Korean reaction to North Korea’s threats would be “uber blasé”.
Why is the Korean public so genuinely complacent, while the rest of the world is seemingly sweating buckets at the thought of Kim Jong-Un and his nuclear arsenal?
The Australian media is seemingly having a field day at the moment with North Korean tank/explosive/dictator imagery. I can just picture the old Australian news executives with their chunky grins, conspiring to drop the story that North Korean tanks are now rolling towards the Sydney Opera House. My parents in Australia have been whipped into a frenzy this week, with multiple Australian publications pushing headlines such as “Sudden Evacuation for 7000 Australians”, and brainless online polling questions such as “Do you think North Korea will launch a nuclear attack?”. The Australian media has even gone so far as to suggest that even Australia is a viable target for North Korea, which is an unashamedly manipulative strategy to unsettle the more clueless news consuming Australians. It is more than likely that Kim Jong-Un and his ministry of khaki-uniformed bandits have never even heard of Australia before.
The real questions that need to be asked by the international media have barely been touched;
Is North Korea simply looking for more international aid?
Did Kim Jong-Un simply drink too much Hennessy Cognac this week?
Why was Dennis Rodman in North Korea right before the war was announced? Did Dennis Rodman provoke Kim Jong-Un to declare “wartime” (?)
Is the North Korean government really planning to bomb Austin, Texas? If so, why?
Quotes from Koreans
To gauge the feelings of Koreans around me, I decided to ask them what they thought of North Korea’s threats.
“North Korea is a barking dog. A barking dog never bites anyone…” – my Korean homestay sister.
“My husband sent me a message asking if the hospital was crowded. I said ‘why’? He said the northern province had been bombed by North Korea. I started rushing down the hall frantically. I checked my phone again, and my husband had typed ‘April Fools!!’” – Korean doctor.
“Last year a small hurricane came to Seoul and everyone was terrified and boarded up their windows and hid in their apartments. This year there’s a threat of nuclear war, and everyone is outside enjoying the weather…” – Korean shopkeeper.
“Koreans are immune to these threats of war. Nobody cares.”– Korean lawyer.
The Evacuation Plan
Surprise! There is no evacuation plan for me or my fellow Australians from South Korea. At least, not as far as I know. During my monthly facial massage yesterday, I received a facebook message from a friend in Australia asking about my “evacuation”, which was altogether a surprise for me, not only because I had something black and volcanic smeared across my face and neck, but because I was wholly concerned that I had literally “missed the (evacuation) boat”. Why had the Australian government failed to inform me of my evacuation? Had the Australian government left me behind to die?
As it turns out, other Australians in Seoul (and there are not many of us) had also not been informed of an evacuation and were confused as to what the Australian media was banging on about. And when I dropped into the Australian Embassy this week to pick up my new passport, the embassy employees did not mention anything about an evacuation, nor did they have any signage anywhere informing me of a “Nuclear War Assistance Hotline”. There is clearly a major disconnect between what the global media wants North Korea to do, and what North Korea is actually going to do. Right now, as I type this, no one is barricading their doors and buying canned goods to prepare for a nuclear holocaust. Nobody. But this is the image of South Korea that is being pimped right now by international broadcasters.
But then again, where are these much-hyped underground nuclear bunkers? Where are these frequently-photographed radiation gasmasks? Do they even exist? Even if the threats from North Korea are completely empty, I find it somewhat confusing that the South Korean government has not even equipped its civilians with any basic information related to wartime survival. Do I start digging the underground bunker now, or later? I am in no way conceding that this nuclear threat may be real, but in any event I’d like to mentally prepare myself for the extreme scenario.
The Extreme Scenario
So nobody in Seoul really cares about the statements being made from Pyongyang this week, but theoretically, if they were to ever come to fruition, where would that leave me? Would I swim the East Sea to Japan? Would I even be capable of swimming that far? If not, could I find a kayak to get me across? If digging a hole does not assist my survival in a nuclear war, then will escaping to another East Asian neighbour be the best solution? I hardly want to ponder such seemingly ridiculous nonsense, but this week, I have been receiving that typically hackneyed question from all sorts of people living outside of the Korean Peninsula;
“What will you do if bombs fall on Seoul?”
This is not an easy question to answer. But since all of these American stealth bombers have been flown over from Missouri for training exercises (read: exercise designed to provoke North Korea), it doesn’t seem like a totally inappropriate question to ask.
Missile or no missile, I am still in Seoul, and will remain here over the course of 2013. I have previously studied in Israel and in the US, so I think I know what a media war-bonanza looks like. I personally am not so concerned about the political situation here in Seoul and I am almost convinced that the threats from North Korea are covering up some severe social instability within the North Korean populous. Whether this situation will improve next week or next century, the Korean peninsula will continue to perform a colourful and unpredictable geo-political drama for the rest of the world to monitor. And the North Korean leader who is described accurately by Chinese bloggers as “Fatty Kim” will likely provide an ongoing stream of ridiculous Facebook memes for years and years to come.
Since it is the weekend in South Korea, and with tanks lined up on the North Korean side of the DMZ, I think it is time to turn off the news and have a beer.