[Viewpoint] Peas from different podsWhat is the true nature of the Kim Jong-il regime? Is it barbarity, destructiveness or belligerence? Or all three bundled into one great unruly monster? We may be poles apart in ideology, but we are of the same race and history. Yet why does the North incessantly bully, harass and attack people of the same heritage?
The nation is inarguably run by a rogue regime, and its economy is a disastrous failure. But even considering the blind jealousy of a poor neighbor looking across a fence to see riches, the surprise barrage on our inhabited land is outrageous.
North Korea turned a small fishing town, Yeonpyeong Island, into an instant battlefield with a deadly shower of artillery shells, destroying homes, setting buildings on fire and sending thousands of civilians fleeing for their lives.
It killed two civilians and two marines, injured dozens of others and transformed the entire population of the island into refugees. The attack comes as its closest ally, China, is hosting the Asian Games in Guangzhou.
You’d think we’d be used to it by now. Yet this erratic and hideous regime has once again surprised us. Sixty years ago, North Koreans stormed into our capital with their tanks in the wee hours of a Sunday when most in the South were fast asleep.
They carried out deadly skirmishes by crossing over the maritime border while the South was co-hosting the World Cup finals in 2002. Eight months ago, they fired a torpedo at a naval ship on a routine patrol and killed sailors who were preparing to go to bed, a crime they still deny.
Now for the first time since the Korean War, they have fired 170 artillery rounds and hit South Korean soil. And to think just a few days ago, we watched and cheered both sides when the South Korean women’s football team played against their North Korean counterparts in Guangzhou.
A poem from the 14th-century Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” comes to mind. Cao Pi, son to famous warlord Cao Cao, threatened his brother Cao Zhi over which of the sons would take power after their father’s death. Cao Pi told his brother that his life would be spared if he could instantly come up with a poem on fraternity that didn’t use the word “brother.”
Cao Zhi responded: “Cooking beans on the fire kindled with bean stalks/The beans weep in the pot/Originally born from the selfsame roots/Why so eager to torture each other!”
We, like the beans in the pot, want to weep. Why do they want to torture us when we, coming from the same roots, only wish to live in peace? We gave rice, fertilizer and even cash, only to be rewarded with a barrage of artillery. They repay our charity and compassion by aiming cannons at our inhabited land.
The innocent deaths of a Mount Kumgang tourist, sailors in deadly naval skirmishes near Yeonpyeong, the 46 sailors of the Cheonan, and citizens and marines on Yeonpyeong Island are like beans cooked on a fire fueled by bean stalks. They were valuable lives, suddenly cut short by foolhardy leaders of our same cultural lineage.
The two Koreas signed an armistice in 1953 promising never to fire at one another. It wasn’t a guarantee of perpetual peace, but a commitment to maintain peace.
But what a paradox we find ourselves in watching innocent people killed during peace time. The Kim Jong-il regime frequently reminds the world that the Korean Peninsula is still at war. It enslaves and forces its starving citizens to accept a “military-first” philosophy of governing, then bullies and threatens us on the other side of the border with artillery and nuclear weapons.
We cannot give in. A free soul does not fall prey to fear and kneel at viciousness. If we tremble at their thunder and plead for peace, we would become their slaves. Our generation fought an intense war to protect this land from extortion and oppression.
We, too, must defend our borders on land and sea to stand up to their barbarity. Retreating in the face of a belligerent impostor is no way to maintain peace. We must not demean ourselves by accepting a craven peace to avoid war.
We must be resolute and unwavering when our enemy turns wilder. We must be firmly united and do whatever we can to teach them that their evil designs can never work on this land.
*The writer is a professor of civil ethics education at Seoul National University.
By Park Hyo-jong