Tag Archives: North Korea


Wednesday’s Link Attack: North Korea Gets Aggressive; 2NE1 Set to Appear on ‘Top Model’; Crayon Pop & Lady Gaga

Prepare for War in 2015, Kim Jong-un Tells Officers
Chosun Ilbo

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has mentioned the possibility of a war breaking out on the Korean peninsula in 2015, it was revealed Tuesday. According to a source, Kim told military commanders earlier this year that an “armed confrontation could take place on the Korean peninsula in 2015″ and ordered them to stock up on strategic supplies and remain combat ready.

The comments were made at about the same time that Kim spoke about improving relations with South Korea during his New Year’s address.

At a loyalty rally in Pyongyang on Feb. 25, Kim also spoke about an “all-out war with the enemy in the name of revolution and final victory.” Last year, Kim told key officials his aim of “reunification through force within three years.”


North Korea Launches Two Midrange Missiles
New York Times

North Korea demonstrated its ballistic missile capabilities by launching two midrange missiles on Wednesday, after the leaders of the United States, Japan and South Korea gathered in the Netherlands to discuss the North’s nuclear threats.

In North Korea’s first tests of midrange projectiles in nearly five years, two Rodong missiles blasted off from mobile launching vehicles from Sukchon, north of Pyongyang, early Wednesday and flew 403 miles before landing in the sea between North Korea and Japan, said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman of the South Korean Defense Ministry.

“By launching them from mobile vehicles which are difficult to monitor and allow North Korea to fire missiles from anywhere it wanted, the country appeared to show off its ability to attempt a surprise attack,” Mr. Kim said. “This is a serious provocation against South Korea and the international community.”

North Korea Displays Defiance on Cheonan Anniversary
Wall Street Journal

North Korea marked the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan by repeating its assertion that it wasn’t involved in the incident and demanding Seoul lift related sanctions.

North Korea said Wednesday that South Korea was “beating the worn-out drum of escalating confrontation” with the issue and was hindering the improvement of bilateral ties.

The comments came hours after North Korea launched two mid-range ballistic missiles into the sea east of the Korean peninsula.

On March 26, 2010, the Cheonan was sunk in the Yellow Sea near the inter-Korean maritime border, leaving 40 dead and six missing, who are presumed dead.

Japan and South Korea: Don’t let history dictate the future
Christian Science Monitor

For South Koreans, Ahn Jung-geun is a “national hero” – the independence activist who in 1909 assassinated the Japanese colonial governor of Korea. He struck at the embodiment of a hated imperial power and sacrificed his life for national independence.

To the Japanese, he is a criminal, the man who killed a seminal figure in their nation’s history, a leading light in the modernization of Japan, a four-time prime minister who ensured Japan’s survival in a hostile world.

Those views reflect the opposing historical perspectives that are deeply tied to Japan’s and South Korea’s national identities – and that stand in the way of a needed warming of ties. As two key democratic powers and US allies in an increasingly tense region, their rapprochement would shore up neighborhood stability and present a united front to an assertive China and unstable North Korea. A new kind of statesmanship is required to heal such entrenched divisions.

Wartime Sex Slaves Ask Abe to See Scars to Prove Japan Abuse

Yi Ok Seon, an 86-year-old survivor of Japan’s wartime use of sex slaves, rolled up her trouser cuff to reveal the scar that she said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should come to South Korea to see.

“I still remember vividly what they did to me,” says Yi, describing how military police slashed her right foot after she tried to escape from an Imperial Army brothel.

Yi, one of a handful of former “comfort women” residing at a shelter near Seoul, says she was abducted in 1942 at age 18 in the southeastern city of Ulsan while running an errand. “Beatings would follow if I resisted the rape,” she said. “I was helpless. When I look at my scars now, I am reminded how lucky I am to have survived those years.”

Leland Yee arrested in corruption case
San Francisco Chronicle

State Sen. Leland Yee was arrested on public corruption charges Wednesday morning in a federal investigation that also targeted Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a notorious former San Francisco gangster, officials said.

The arrest of Yee, who represents San Francisco and a part of San Mateo County and is a candidate for California Secretary of State, came amid searches of his office in Sacramento and his home in San Francisco.

Sources told The Chronicle that the predawn, multiagency raids involving hundreds of federal agents and local cops stemmed from a fatal shooting about five years ago.

FBI spokesman Peter Lee in San Francisco confirmed that Yee and Chow had been arrested. Both are to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon.


Dallas-area delivery woman’s killer set to die
AP via Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A suburban Dallas man convicted of the robbery-slaying of a woman delivering doughnuts and tacos to his home 11 years ago is set for execution in Huntsville.

Attorneys for 29-year-old Anthony Doyle are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his punishment set for Thursday evening.

Evidence showed Hyun Mi Cho (hYUN’-mee-cho) was fatally beaten with a baseball bat when Doyle tried to rob her as she made the food delivery to his parents’ home in Rowlett, east of Dallas.

Her body was found in a trash can in a nearby alley.

Wild party cited as cause of Mountain View house fire
San Francisco Chronicle

A fire that destroyed a Mountain View home this month was set by teenagers that had been hosting parties in the unoccupied house for several weekends, Mountain View police said Tuesday.

Twelve juveniles and two 18-year-old men were arrested on various charges of arson, burglary, car theft, drug possession and drug sale, according to police.

More arrests, investigators said, are expected.


Downtown New Haven deli shut over alleged wage violations
New Haven Register (Connecticut)

A downtown deli was shut down Tuesday by the state Department of Labor after an investigation found alleged wage violations by its owners.

The Labor Department said two people worked at J&B Deli Grocery, 1147 Chapel St., for about 60 hours a week without being paid at least minimum wage or overtime.

The business is operated by John and Cheong Rhee of Hamden. A stop-work order was posted on the store’s door.

The department alleged in a press release that the deli owners were paying workers in cash, were not keeping required payroll records, failed to make legal deductions and could not show proof of carrying workers’ compensation coverage, which is required in Connecticut.


U.S. Warns Seoul Of Exporters’ Concerns About Free Trade Deal — The Ball’s In South Korea’s Court

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Sung Kim, a Korean-American who visited North Korea 13 times for negotiations before his current appointment, likes to warm up relations with influential South Koreans over games of tennis on the spacious grounds of the ambassadorial residence.

It was on one such occasion that he and Korea’s finance minister, Hyun Oh-seok, talked over grave problems surrounding the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 2012 after several years of arduous talks that showed deep, enduring problems on both sides.

Hyun didn’t reveal the outcome of the tennis game but did say he and Sung Kim had “met frequently” to try and arrive at “an effective outcome” to troubles over KORUS. “It may be a natural force to have issues over trade,” he said in response to my question after he gave a luncheon speech at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club on March 25 that omitted any mention of trade problems.

2NE1 to Appear On “America’s Next Top Model”

Exciting news! The fabulous ladies of 2NE1 will be appearing on the final stage of the American reality survival program “America’s Next Top Model” season 21.

“America’s Next Top Model” is filming in Korea for Seoul’s fashion week, and according to broadcast and fashion industry sources, 2NE1 will be appearing on the final stage of the show’s activities in Korea. The final fashion show of the program will take place on April 2 at Banpo, and 2NE1 will be guests at that show. One source sated, “2NE1 was asked to be on the show because they are a representative K-Pop group and they are also well-known to be fashionistas.”

How Crayon Pop Came to Open for Lady Gaga
Chosun Ilbo

Korean girl band Crayon Pop will open an upcoming North American tour by Lady Gaga to promote her third album “Artpop” released in November last year.

The five-member girl band attracted Gaga’s attention when she came across their music video by chance during a break from practice.

Although Gaga initially asked Crayon Pop to open all 29 concerts in the North American tour, they could only agree to one month as they had prior commitment to work on their new album.

Q&A With Actor Hoon Lee
Giant Robot

Don’t diss “Banshee” star Hoon Lee on Twitter, even if you’re just kidding.

Lee had tweeted about an upcoming guest appearance on an episode of “The Black List” and I replied, tongue in cheek, “You’ve been on my black list for years.” I was rewarded with a fan of Lee’s telling me to “Back the fuck up!”

After I assured the tweeter that I was only kidding and that I was writing a profile about him, she gushed, “Mr.Lee is an awesome actor! He takes you into the heart of the character.” She added, “and he’s CUTE as hell!” Others had similar thoughts.

After watching two seasons of Cinemax’s hit show “Banshee,” it’s easy to see why Lee has so many fans. Apart from his ample acting chops, Lee is the most imposing Asian male presence ever in an American series. The man is as muscular as an action figure and can hold the menacing gaze of a panther. Lee’s cut enough to go shirtless, but for “Banshee” he takes it to another level: He squeezes into tight skirts. Job, Lee’s character (pronounced the biblical way), is a cross-dressing hair stylist and genius computer hacker who snaps lines like, “Suck my tit!”

Police Produce Anti-Gang Documentary
Santa Barbara Independent

A documentary meant to dissuade at-risk teens from buying into the false gang life promises of quick cash and eternal loyalty premiered last week at the Edwards Stadium Theater in Santa Maria to a packed house of lawyers, judges, teachers, and city councilmembers, along with community leaders, area residents, and nonprofit groups. The 40-minute film, titled Life Facing Bars, was commissioned by the Santa Maria Police Department and created by Matt Yoon, a 2013 Cal Poly journalism graduate. It’s been uploaded to YouTube, and had attracted more than 25,000 views as of Monday afternoon.

Yoon said he was producing videos for his church last year when he was approached by Lieutenant Daniel Cohen. Interested in the prospect of interviewing ex-gang members — and needing to complete a senior project for his major — Yoon agreed to join forces for the unique crime-prevention venture and was soon headed to Kern Valley State Prison and Santa Barbara County Jail for notably unrestricted access to the facilities and their inmates.

LG Offers Fresh Peek at Its New Smartwatch
Wall Street Journal

LG Electronics has released fresh photographs of the G Watch, in an effort to sustain interest in the device that it hopes will help it make inroads into the steadily expanding market for smartwatches.

The South Korean smartphone maker is co-developing the smartwatch with Google and has said earlier that it expects to launch the device in the second quarter of this year. Google also has another smartwatch in the works dubbed the Moto 360.

While both LG and Google hope their smartwatches will be better than earlier offerings, it remains in question whether the G Watch will have a much bigger appeal than existing devices such as Samsung’s Gear watch and Sony Smartwatch, as it will function as an accessory to smartphones rather than as an independent product.


North Korea Rejects Plans for Future Reunions

So much for reviving the family reunion program between North and South Korea.

The North rejected South Korea’s proposal Thursday to continue the humanitarian program that reconnects families separated by the Korean War from six decades ago, the New York Times reported.

The two Koreas held the reunions, which had stalled since 2010, late last month, but couldn’t ease the strained inter-Korea relations as the North launched short-range missiles into the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan only a day after the reunions while South Korea and the U.S. held annual military drills. The missiles reportedly flew in the area of a Chinese passenger plane departing from Tokyo to Shenyang, China at the same time.


North Korea dismissed South Korea’s request to arrange additional family reunions in the future, saying the “circumstance and mood” aren’t appropriate to hold such discussions.

There isn’t much time left for separated Korean families to meet their long-lost relatives as most of them are now in their 70s, 80s and beyond.

South Koreans President Park Geun-hye said reunions could potentially help ease tensions between the two Koreas during a speech last Saturday.


South Korean Choi Gye-Wol (left) kisses the hand of her North Korean grandson Kim Chol-Bong as her son Kim Young-Nam watches, at a family reunion in North Korea in June 2006. Photo via Al Jazeera America.

North Korea Proposes to Resume Family Reunions

North Korea had a change of heart and agreed on Friday to resume a family reunion program proposed by South Korea, the New York Times reports. The program arranges meetings for the millions of Koreans that have been separated by the Korean War, over 60 years ago.

On Jan 9., South Korean President Park Geun-hye suggested that the reinstatement of the reunion program was an important step in rebuilding trust between the two sides. However, the North Korea rejected the proposal stating that “political mood” was not fitting, condemning the joint military exercises by South Korea and the United States.

However on Friday, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations stated that his country wanted to “mend North-South relations”, while blaming the South for stirring up turmoil recently.

In his New Year’s speech, North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, made it a point to stress that the time has come for South Korea and United States to ease the tension between North Korea.

The agreement to resume the reunion program came just two hours after South Korea rejected Kim’s latest proposal to relieve tensions. The South asked that the North prove their sincerity through “action.”

South Korea quickly welcomed North Korea’s latest act of hospitality, but remained skeptical about the North’s motives. South Korea has pointed to the numerous times in the past where North Korea used its peace offerings to win economic aid without any intention of ending its nuclear program.

Under Park’s leadership, South Korea has lowered their tolerance for the North and have said that North Korea must first make the “efforts” to gain the trust of the South Korea before opening dialogue.

North Korea has left it up to South Korea to choose a date for the family reunions after the upcoming Lunar New Year and the two sides plan to discuss further details in the future.


Danny Lee, North Korean American

The 25-year-old defector from North Korea adjusts to life as an American citizen, but hasn’t forgotten about his friends— or the sunsets—back home.

story by STEVE HAN
photograph by KYUSUNG GONG

When he watches the sun set over Los Angeles at the end of every day, Danny Lee reminisces about the happy days back home. He looks every bit the part of an average young Korean American in Southern California, down to the long bangs that hang over his eyes. But those happy days were few and far between in his native North Korea. Looking back on it now, though, with an ocean separating the 25-year-old from his homeland, he finds himself able to indulge in nostalgia.

“There are times when I miss it,” Lee said, in Korean, to KoreAm Journal over a late lunch at a Manhattan Beach pizzeria. “When I see the sun go down, it reminds me of the times back home when I was outside playing with my friends until it got dark.”

Lee is all smiles as he recalls his past in one of the world’s most secretive countries. “I’m free now, and sometimes, it’s almost human nature to look at past hardship as a distant memory,” he said.

Lee escaped with help from Liberty in North Korea, also known as LiNK, a nonprofit that oversees refugees’ escape and relocation. It may seem odd that Lee chose to come to the U.S.  over South Korea. Of the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees living in northern China, barely more than a hundred have fled to the United States. It’s in the U.S., though, that Lee became something of a star. His dramatic life story has been recounted in a 30-minute documentary produced by LiNK, which ishosting screenings and workshops throughout the country.

The screenings have drawn “awesome” response from “insanely amazing people,” said Hyerim Ko, LiNK’s U.S. settlement coordinator. From 394 screenings across the country so far, LiNK raised over $60,000 from more than 23,000 people, which Ko says is enough money to rescue more than 20 refugees.

While the chance to adapt to a completely different lifestyle in the U.S. may have been attractive to Lee, he surely never imagined all of this.

Lee grew up in a village in Hwaeryong, located along the border that separates North Korea from China. Freedom wasn’t the only thing Lee didn’t have when he was growing up. The hunger was excruciating, he said, so much so that Lee’s mother risked her life to make several trips across the Chinese border to bring food for him and his grandmother. Had the North Korean or Chinese authorities caught her, she would have faced certain death at a concentration camp.

But when his mother went to China one day and didn’t return for five months, Lee decided that he, too, must escape to find her. Leaving his grandmother behind was heartbreaking for him, but he felt as if he had little choice. He could not even reveal to her that he was fleeing.

Lee paid a broker and crossed the border on March 15, 2005, by walking over the frozen Tumen River. The North Korean government tightened its border last year, replacing the border guards with the country’s special units. The effect is already showing. Korean TV news network YTN recently reported that only 1,400 North Korean defectors made it to South Korea in 2012, a significant decrease in comparison to 2,700 from 2011.

In China, Lee found his mother and stayed near Yanbian, a region inhabited by a large number of ethnic Koreans. He got a cleaning job at a restaurant, but lived with the constant fear of getting caught by Chinese police and being sent back to North Korea.

“In a way, living in China was worse,” Lee said. “I had to live in hiding for the entire time, and worked so many hours.”

Then, he found out from people who frequently trekked back and forth from North Korea that his grandmother was dead.

“Learning about my grandmother’s death … was the hardest thing to deal with,” Lee said. “She was the one who raised me. It still haunts me that I couldn’t tell her that I was leaving her, even as I was planning to escape.”

To this day, Lee doesn’t know the exact cause of her death, but he assumed that it was due to starvation. “I don’t know if there’s a grave of my grandmother, but I’m just hoping that some people were so kind as to do that for our family,” he said.

In China, Lee came across representatives of LiNK, which has overseen the escape and relocation of 154 North Korean refugees thus far.

“North Korean refugees realize that we are a non-political, non-religious organization,” said Sokeel Park, LiNK’s director of research and strategy. “We do not expect to be repaid for anything. They realize that we are motivated by humanitarian reasons, and that makes us easier to trust.”

Both Lee and his mother were supposed to be sent to the United States with LiNK’s help. The vast majority of North Koreans defect to South Korea, but some fear the discrimination they may face south of the 38th parallel, according to Ko.  Moreover, some feel that South Korea is too close to North Korea, a place they would like to be as far away from as possible, for their own safety. All of this makes the U.S. a more appealing destination for some defectors, as they perceive the States to be a place that offers “more freedom or more opportunity than South Korea,” she said.

Lee, also, seems to have been fueled by a sense of adventure.

“I only get to live one time,” Lee said. “Escaping North Korea was a life-threatening risk I decided to take, and I figured I might as well take the biggest risk possible by choosing to come to the U.S. I knew coming here would give me the chance to learn a new language and culture. I also liked that I could live in a racially diverse environment.”

But before Lee and his mother could escape, she got caught by the Chinese police. After a long dispute between the Chinese authorities and the U.S. embassy in China, she was sent to South Korea instead.

Lee stuck with his plan to get to the U.S. In 2007, he settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he made ends meet by working at a hamburger restaurant and the storage room of a clothing store.  There was still a difficult cultural adjustment to make as well.

“All of a sudden, I was free,” he said. “I had to consider myself a newborn baby growing up all over again. But this time around, in a capitalist society.” He added, pointing to his pizza, “I didn’t even know what this was before coming to America. I had to learn one thing at a time. I would’ve had a mental breakdown if I tried to process everything at once.”

Lee relocated to Los Angeles after a year because he thought a larger Korean population would make it easier for him to network, navigate U.S. society and find job opportunities.  Last September, Lee became an American citizen, a status which North Korean refugees can apply for after five years of residency.

“Ideally, I want to bring my mother one day, once I’m completely settled here,” said Lee, who speaks with her on the phone regularly, and visits her in South Korea. “I just want to live a life where I can be with my family. And perhaps if an opportunity comes where I can help people in North Korea in some way, I’d be happy to help.”

The opportunity to help other North Koreans came last year when LiNK approached him with an unexpected request. One of LiNK’s missions is its SHIFT Campaign, through which it seeks to take the focus away from the geopolitical machinations and bizarre cultural kitsch of North Korea, and back to the lot of its people. The nonprofit produces documentaries as part of the campaign, and the organization approached Lee about being the subject of a short film about his life.

“There is never any pressure on any of the refugees we work with to engage on the issue or be outspoken,” Park said. “But in the cases where some of our North Korean refugee friends do want to share their experiences for the sake of other North Korean refugees or people still inside the country, we think it’s important to empower them with opportunities to make their voices heard, so that we can help bring more attention and understanding to the perspective of the North Korean people.”

Lee gladly accepted, as he believed it would help to shed light on the lives of average North Koreans. “It was never about me getting media exposure,” he said. “What average North Koreans want more than anything is for the rest of the world to warm towards them. I wanted this film to be a gateway for the audience here to sincerely sympathize with North Koreans.  At the end of the day, that’s what North Koreans want, more than money or food. They just want to be understood.

“At first, it was weird for me to talk in front of the camera,” he said. “It felt awkward. But I realized that I had to look confident and assured, because I wanted to represent my people as those who are seeking freedom and happiness to overcome difficulties.”

Lee is present at some of the screenings to field questions, thrusting the young man into the role of spokesperson.

The most memorable screening so far was one that took place at Boston University, where Lee shared his personal story of his escape and brought many audience members to tears.

“After [the screening at BU], our team was flooded by people wanting to buy merchandise, find out more about our organization, and how to get involved through donations and internship opportunities,” Ko said. “This event was the example of how the power of great organization and collaboration can relay a message to people and really ignite them to act.”

Now, Lee balances his time between those activities and his personal goals: earning his GED, and becoming either a nurse or an accountant. And indulging in the occasional slice of pizza in Manhattan Beach with a reporter.

“I’m one of very few people who came here from North Korea,” Lee said. “I’m here having fun and living a happy life, but people over there are still living miserably. It makes me feel bad sometimes to be so happy. So I want to do whatever I can to help them.”

South Korea: over 20,000
Germany: over 1,300
UK: over 600
USA: over 400
Canada: over 300
Japan: over 100
France: over 70
Holland: over 30
Belgium: over 30
Australia: over 20

These numbers do not include refugees who gained permanent residence of the respective countries and those counted as undocumented.

This article was published in the July 2013 issue of KoreAmSubscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the July issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

Koreans Fleeing P'yongyang

Planning for Peace

This article was originally published in the June 2010 issue.

It’s been 60 YEARS since the start of the KOREAN WAR, which left families and a nation painfully divided. While a great deal of time has since been devoted to crisis scenarios involving the heavily armed peninsula, isn’t it time to plan for a longer-term reality: REUNIFICATION?


The tragedy of the Korean War is well known. My own family fled North Korea in 1947, leaving everything behind, from a village in which we had lived since the 16th century. No one has been back to our hometown since then. Our story is not unique: whether they fled the North or lived through the war, almost every Korean family has been affected over the years.

The bitter, costly and bloody war between North and South Korea was an attempt to unify the peninsula by force. Sixty years later, the two sides remain locked in a bitter and tense relationship marked more by confrontation than by reconciliation.

And the recent sinking of South Korean naval vessel Cheonan off the west coast of Korea on March 26 has only raised tensions. With evidence pointing to a North Korean torpedo as the cause (the North has flatly denied the charge), some may wonder whether it even makes sense to talk about the two countries coming together when they seem so poised to destroy each other.
The truth is, unification is more likely to occur from a collapse of the North Korean ruling regime, rather than from a war or sudden invasion.

Indeed, these issues are perhaps more pertinent now than in the past because there is some indication that we may be approaching a major change in North Korea. There is almost no doubt that if the North collapses, the South Korean government will willingly undertake both political unification and the economic burden of revitalizing the northern half of the peninsula. The option of not unifying—and leaving the northern territory to China, Russia or Japan—is unfathomable. I doubt very much whether even the younger generations of South Koreans, who may not value unification highly or who worry about the costs of integrating the two countries, would simply stand by while others claim the land.

Although we would be wise to remain quite cautious in our predictions, Pyongyang is under far greater stress now than when current leader Kim Jong-il took power in 1994. Back then, North Korea had not yet experienced the devastating famine of the late 1990s, had only begun its intense confrontation with the outside world over its nuclear program, and the economy had not yet begun its steep slide into chaos.

In contrast, what we do know about the reclusive nation today is that its leadership faces serious challenges, in addition to the economic malaise and external pressure that it has hitherto managed to survive. These include botched currency reforms that prompted unprecedented public protest and a government apology, questions about Kim Jong-il’s declining health, his on-again-off-again visit to China and doubts about whether his son, Kim Jong-eun, can take and hold power.

If it is indeed true that Pyongyang was behind the Cheonan sinking, it is the most serious North Korean attack since the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner, and impossible to ignore. Yet major South Korean or U.S. military action is highly unlikely, given the risks of escalation to all-out war. The costs of a war on the peninsula would be astronomical, so without an imminent and existential threat to the South, the Lee Myung-bak government will not risk starting one.

Instead, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has suggested that Seoul may take the issue to the United Nations Security Council. Marginally strengthened economic sanctions and deeper isolation of North Korea would be the likely result, as would further postponement of six-party nuclear disarmament talks.

There are dozens of other rumors flying about, including preparations for a third North Korean nuclear test. Some North Korea watchers believe that the regime is quite stable, and that even if Kim Jong-il were to pass away soon, the regime would maintain its domestic grip, its self-imposed international isolation, and its low-intensity belligerence to the outside world as members of Pyongyang’s leadership brandish their nationalist credentials.

I believe that such a “status quo” option is unsustainable for the North, and that the past year of the country’s provocations indicates serious instability within the elite there. There are so many factors coming to head in the near future that makes it appear that some type of change—for better or for worse—is possible. Various governments as well appear to be giving more attention to the possibility that the North Korean regime might collapse sometime soon.

However, whether unification occurs tomorrow or whether it does not occur until decades from now, actually integrating the two Koreas will be a formidably difficult task. Although traditionally viewed in military terms, collapse and the subsequent unification of the peninsula will, in fact, raise a wide variety of issues, from environmental degradation, legal and judicial issues, and reform of the educational system, to issues of public health and social dislocation. Such issues will affect not only South Korea, but also surrounding countries as well. While a great deal of planning has been devoted to near-term crisis scenarios, in the case of severe instability in the region, there has been very little preparation for these longer-term economic, political and human security issues.

Perhaps it would be better to explore the experience of reconciliation in countries that have gone through bitter civil or ethnic wars, or in which there are great disparities of wealth and education among the people: South Africa, Iraq or the former Yugoslavia. It is true that Korea has no ethnic or racial divisions, but regional sentiments in Korea are quite strong, and culturally, the populations of the two Koreas have diverged sharply in the past 60 years.

We also know from the experience of the few refugees who have fled to the South that they tend to face discrimination because of their accents, and have a tremendously difficult time adjusting to the pace and complexity of modern South Korean life.

Given the decades of propaganda and isolation in the North, and the enormous disparities between north and south in terms of wealth, globalization and development, both sides will face tremendous social and cultural hurdles in unifying.

For the long term, these are the issues the Korean people will have to face. While we may not achieve unification any time soon, planning for such a possibility is an important and necessary task. The sooner we begin, the better prepared we will be.

Certainly, there will be holes in our planning, gaps in our dreams. After all, nations can heal, but some things are gone forever. When Google Earth made available a look at North Korea, I sat and watched my father enter the coordinates and search for his ancestral mountain, his village—his first “visit” to his home in 60 years. The mountain remains; the village has vanished. Slowly, tears rolled down his face and seared their way into my own soul.

DAVID C. KANG is professor of International Relations and Business, and director of the Korean Studies Institute, at the University of Southern California. Along with Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he has embarked on a research project titled, “The Korea Project: Planning for the Long-Term,” to address the issues raised in this column. For more information visit http://college.usc.edu/ksi/the_korea_project/.

Images via the Bettmann Collection/Corbis


Our War Heritage

This article was originally published in the June 2010 issue.

In honor of the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War (1950-1953), the children and grandchildren of survivors recall precious family stories.

Compiled by JULIE HA and KAI MA

Before my father passed away, he shared with me his pride in dodging two drafts. One was during Japan’s occupation over Korea to fight in the Pacific War, and the second was to fight in the Korean War. Instead, my father and uncle bought a U.S. military cargo truck off the black market and transported food and emergency supplies to families that were hiding in the mountains. As the youngest of 10 children growing up in the United States, with parents who couldn’t speak English, I didn’t know my father very well. But I realize now where my anti-war spirit and resistance comes from.
- Christine Ahn, 37
Oakland, California

My father always talked about there not being enough to eat, eating watery soup made with grass, and his mother combing the rice paddies for fallen grains. He once spoke of having lied about his age (being in his early teens) and taking part-time work dragging supplies up the mountains for the U.S. Army. My stepfather was in Korea as a GI, and would get teary eyed at dinner after some wine with memories of what he had seen, but he always focused on moments of beauty. Although he always began with, “Korea was a mess…” I can’t remember how many times he described discovering Seoul court musicians in a house on top of a hill in Busan, doing what they knew best: playing their instruments amidst the chaos of war.
- Soo Sun Choe, 36
Honolulu, Hawaii

My dad—Bong Sik Kim, who was 17 at the time of the war—told me of how he was captured by North Korean troops and forced to walk northbound with his hands tied behind his back (to be forcefully enlisted into the North Korean Army). Luckily, the night was dark due to the new moon and he tumbled down a rice paddy while the North Korean soldiers were not watching. He remained quiet for the next hour until the troops were gone. As he was heading south, he ran into another North Korean officer who suspected desertion and was going to execute my father with his pistol on the spot. Luckily, my father recognized the officer as one of his high school teachers and called out his name. The teacher recognized my father and let him go. My father is now 77 years old and is a proud grandfather of many. He is retired and is dedicated to church and loves golfing with his sons.
- John S. Kim, M.D., 47
Cerritos, California

Eating and finishing dinner was a nightly encounter of opposing forces. My brother and I, who didn’t want to finish our vegetables, didn’t see why the leftovers posed such a problem for my dad, who always reminded us that there were poor kids in Africa, starving to death. Sometimes he would elaborate and tell us that he was once one of those poor kids, escaping from North Korea with his two sisters, four brothers and our grandmother. Jumeok bap. That’s all he had to eat. A ball of rice, as much as he could collect in his tiny, 5- year old fist.
- Randi Jeung, 27
Honolulu, Hawaii

My dad told me a story about American planes repeatedly dropping bombs all over Korea when he was a child. He remembers seeing dead and injured people along the roads. What makes this story interesting for me is that during all the chaos of the bombings, my dad also remembers looking up into the sky and noticing what he called “shiny, beautiful planes.” He said he dreamed of one day riding in a plane high in the sky. What I deeply admire is how my dad managed to keep alive his sense of wonder and joy, amid the sadness, violence and hardship of his life in Korea and later, in America.
- Regina Hong Apigo, 39
Sherman Oaks, California

My grandfather passed away during the war, so my grandmother was left alone to raise three children: my father and his two younger sisters, aged 3 to 6 at the time. A single mom, she, along with some relatives, fled their village one day. When they got to a swollen river, they saw many baby girls who were left behind by families. They were crying along the riverbank. My grandmother’s relatives urged her to leave behind her two daughters and just take her son. She was horrified at the thought, and instead, took all three children down the long way around the river so they could stay together, even though this path was more dangerous. My grandmother’s love for her children, and her determination and resilience, have affected me very deeply. This year she is celebrating her 90th birthday.
- Lee Ann Kim, 39
San Diego, California

My mother was 2. She was carried on her mother’s back while escaping south from North Korea. My father was 4. He lost his younger brother through malnutrition and had to watch his parents bury him along the side of the road. My father later lost his parents and grew up in an orphanage. My maternal grandfather died never having seen his siblings in North Korea again.
- Connie Park, 29
Chicago, Illinois

My father-in-law grew up in North Korea, but during the war, a few of his family [members] escaped to South Korea. He remembers the hunger. He would tell us that his dad would look towards North Korea and miss his family.
- Jamie Lee, 34
Diamond Bar, California

My mother was 8 when the war started. Fleeing the fighting, my mother and her family trekked all over the peninsula, from Seoul to Jeju to Busan. In between the running, there wasn’t much to entertain the kids with. So my mother would collect little silver bullets or bullet casings that she’d find on the ground. She didn’t know what they were and thought they were pretty—until a neighbor told her that the bullets could explode. So she threw them away.
Anna M. Park, 40
- Los Angeles, California

When North Korean forces took over Seoul, the majority of South Koreans, including my mother’s family, fled to Busan, the southernmost point that hadn’t yet been taken. This was about six months after the war broke out. My mom told me she and her family took a train to Daegu that lasted 10 days because of the frequent stops they had to make to give trains carrying war supplies right of way. Today it takes less than two hours. It was especially hard because her father had just suffered a stroke, but there were no doctors around. They finally found an herbal medicine doctor that treated him and helped him survive the strenuous trip. After a few months in Daegu, the family moved to Busan, where they settled for nearly two years. Undaunted by the war, my mother continued her grammar school education there. “We studied in the mountains in makeshift classrooms, using long, wooden benches as chairs and tree branches to hang boards,” she told me. “We were pretty intent on continuing to learn despite the chaos.” To this day, I’m amazed at this “life goes on” attitude, despite an ongoing war. This is a testament to the indomitable spirit and strength of all war survivors, including my mother.
- Namju Cho, 38
Los Angeles, California

My mother’s family had been well-off before the war, but they were forced to give up everything and relocate once the conflict began. She occasionally described sad memories of what it was like growing up poor, but more often than not, she would tell me stories of her childhood that were full of humor and mischief. For example, she told me that as a child, she and her friends would often beg American GIs for chewing gum. Each child would chew on a single wad of gum for days, sticking the gum on her bedpost at night and then chewing again in the morning. Every couple of days, all of her friends would swap the gum they were chewing so that each person could taste a different flavor. Of course, all the flavor had already been drained by then, but they didn’t care. They were just happy to be chewing something that didn’t taste like rice.
- Yul Kwon, 35
Arlington, Virginia

It was at my grandmother’s funeral that I learned I had Chinese relatives. My father’s family got separated during the war, and my uncle fled to China while everybody else went south. He lived out the rest of his days as a Korean Chinese, and his widow came to my grandmother’s funeral. As I drove her around LA, conversing as best I could with the year of Mandarin I’d taken in college, I felt the war as a very live thing, finding unexpected ways to alter my notions of family and identity.
- Eugene Yi, 33
Brooklyn, New York

Image courtesy of Peter Y. Maeng