[FORUM]Our ‘nuclear romanticism’

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[FORUM]Our ‘nuclear romanticism’

I am not personally acquainted with the novelist Kim Jin-myung. We attended the same university but I only know him as a friend of a friend. I do like his novels, though. They have a strong nationalistic color but they are fun. I am of the opinion that the first virtue of a novel is that it be fun. Although the domestic publishing industry has been going through its worst recession ever recently, Kim Jin-myung’s “The Third Scenario” has sold more than 100,000 copies.
I was in Berlin when I read “Mugunghwa Flowers Have Blossomed,” the novel sold millions and propelled the writer to stardom 10 years ago. I was working as a correspondent and asked a friend in Seoul to send me the book so that I could read it as soon as possible. The book became a sensation even among the Korean community in Berlin. The book was also much talked about in Vienna, where I often went on business trips, related to the North Korean nuclear issue. This was a time when there were rumors about North Korea’s plan to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” and that the United States was prepared to bomb Yeongbyeon.
I remember what Lee See-young, then the Korean ambassador to Austria, said about the book. “The book’s fun but it might give people the wrong ideas about nuclear weapons.” More than 10 years later, his words have become a reality. According to a survey conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo to celebrate its 39th anniversary, more than half of the South Korean population replied that we, too, should possess nuclear weapons. It is as if people think that possessing nuclear weapons makes a country a superpower. Kim Jin-myung is not the only reason we have fallen into this “nuclear romanticism,” but he did play a considerable role in it.
In any case, “mugunghwa,” the codename for a nuclear arsenal in the novel, shouldn’t blossom in Korea. The day we develop nuclear weapons, we become an outsider in the international community. We will find ourselves in the same situation as North Korea. Imagine what would happen if we, a country that lives by exporting goods, should come under economic sanctions. It would be incomparably worse than the financial crisis in 1997. Moreover, neighboring Japan would not sit still. It has the technology and fuel to immediately develop thousands of nuclear weapons. We would have a nuclear power as our neighbor in an instant. Taiwan would change its mind also. This is the scenario that the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency are worried about the most and that is why they are determined to stop nuclear proliferation.
It was in this context that South Korea’s recent nuclear controversy grew. Some complained that media in Japan and other countries were making a big deal out of nothing. For once, the governing party and the opposition are uniting their voices in claiming that the IAEA is conducting unfair investigations. There are demands that research and support for peaceful nuclear use must go on. These are all reasonable claims.
But to clamor for nuclear sovereignty while the IAEA’s inspections are still going on is a dumb thing to do. That would only aggravate the suspicions that the United States and the international community already harbor about this government. Instead, we should think about why our nuclear development is becoming an issue now.
To say that 0.2 grams of enriched uranium is too small an amount to be taken seriously in connection with nuclear weapons is extremely naive. Iran, the country that the United States might attack next after Iraq, had only one-tenth the amount of enriched uranium that we had. And yet they are making all that fuss.
Another thing to consider is that if either South or North Korea has nuclear arms, it would mean there would be no reunification, as we wish for. This is especially for those nuclear romanticists who think that it is great that we would get to share North Korea’s nuclear weapons if we are reunited.

* The writer is a deputy managing editor in charge of culture news of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Yoo Jae-sik

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