[VIEWPOINT]Loving the North as a mother loves her sonI recall reading with much amusement a short column in this paper some time ago depicting South Korea as a divorcee from her violent and turbulent ex, North Korea. The new man in her life was “Elvis and Hollywood” America, which made things a little complicated for the lovey-dovey threesome. While marveling at the writer’s wit, I couldn’t help feeling that all the pieces fit, yet something about the entire puzzle was amiss.
Several months later, it suddenly dawned on me what was wrong with the picture. Two (or was it 20) mutterings from Pyeongyang about nuclear progress, the same number of growls from Washington warning of the consequences, lots of candlelight rallies and one inauguration of a new Korean president later, I realized that the difference in how I see the picture and how it was depicted by the non-Korean writer is exactly the reason South Koreans and Americans have found it increasingly harder to see eye to eye on North Korea.
From my perspective the relationship between the North and the South is not that of estranged husband and wife, but of son and mother in a traditional, conventional and sometimes intentional Korean way of life. Here is the truth that is so obvious to a Korean, but subtle for a non-Korean. In Korea, the relationship between husband and wife can never be compared to the tie between son and mother. That obsessive, stubborn tie makes up a whole D.H. Lawrence novel in Britain. It makes up a whole nation in Korea.
Wives sometimes divorce husbands but mothers never disown sons ― at least not in Korea. Why, oh why, do South Koreans seem to like North Korea more than America when Pyeongyang is so obviously evil? Why would a mother sometimes hinder a police officer who has come to arrest her serial-killer son hiding upstairs? It ain’t Elvis swiveling his pelvis at the mother’s door. It’s the cops. And the boy upstairs is the only one she’s got, no matter what he’s done or they say he’s trying to do.
It might be hard for the U.S. government and public to understand why South Korea isn’t taking a harder line on the unpredictable and potentially and increasingly dangerous North Korea, instead of baking him sunshine cookies and furtively handing him allowances that he probably spends on arms. She should cooperate with the United States, most would say.
The South Korean public is not sure if it understands what the United States, supposedly its strongest ally and supporter, is asking it to do. Does it really want us to “pluck hair from the nostril of a sleeping lion?” In the minds of most South Koreans, taking a harder line would only push North Korea off the brink. All these years, North Korea has always been careful to come back from the edge at the last minute. Despite what may be good and reasonable intentions on the United States’ part, pressure is not the smartest way to deal with Koreans. Pressure will not help the starving majority in the North. It will only make things worse for them.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower once said. Why do we tolerate and even pity those who wreaked havoc on the entire Korean Peninsula half a century ago, leaving 2.4 million soldiers and countless more civilians dead? We know what it is to be hungry and not fed, to be cold and not clothed. We also know that even a despotic government is still the government of its people as long as the people accept it. The surest, if not the quickest, way to get rid of a bad government is to feed and clothe the people until they are ready to stand up to it.
North Korea is desperate, Americans say, and one never knows what desperate people can do. North Korea is desperate, South Koreans would say, but it is still our dear son.
* The writer is a contributor to the JoongAng Daily.
by Lim Ji Su
More in Columns
Who’s laughing now?
Fighting Chinese patriotism
The curse of the presidency
You must talk science
[20th Anniversary] A new form of globalism is on the rise