Nothing funny about the tunnels

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Nothing funny about the tunnels


Last weekend, I visited Cheorwon in Gangwon. It started off as a nice excursion, but my heart was heavy on the way back. It wasn’t because of the sizzling weather. Witnessing the actual site of the division between the two countries was grave. You may think I am overly emotional. It’s been a while since the topic of national division has come up for most citizens, other than those who are politically active or whose families are in the North. We have grown accustomed to the nuclear threats of Kim Jong-un, and a North Korean anchor’s declaration of turning Seoul into a “sea of flames” became a joke. Frankly, I was one of those who were laughing.

Cheorwon is the site of the second underground tunnel. I have a habit of interpreting a war in the context of “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” and I thought of the battle of the Later Han. Gongsun Zan, a warlord in Lioadong, collapsed because he failed to block the underground tunnel that Yuan Shao, a rivaling warlord, had dug under the fortress. In the Battle of Guandu, Yuan Shao dug tunnels into Cao Cao’s fort, and later, Cao Cao also used the same tactic in another battle.

Underground tunnels are a hostile and intense tactic used since the ancient times. North Korea began to dig the Cheorwon Underground Tunnel in 1972, when the atmosphere for peace was building up after the July 4 Inter-Korean Joint Statement. The underground tunnel poignantly illustrates the harsh reality of living on the other side of the border from North Korea, which habitually says one thing and means another.

“There may be death, but there will be no failure,” says a sign at the main entrance to the 6th Army Division defending the Cheorwon region. The saying seemed far more heroic and serious than when it was used by sportsmen. Young soldiers boasted that the 6th Division had the first victory during the 1950-53 Korean War, presented water from the Amrok River to President Syngman Rhee and killed the most number of enemies. To the sons of the South Korea, the North was a real enemy.

A few days ago, I was discussing the North Korean issue with a Chinese friend who does business in China, Korea and the United States. When he recently went to the U.S., his American friends were concerned about the risk of doing business in Korea. Then, when he came to Korea, the Yoon Chang-jung scandal was the hottest topic, and he soon forgot about the North Korean threat. “Koreans ignore what North Korea is up to, and Chinese people are indifferent. Only Americans are anxious,” he said. It was hard to find any tension in our conversation.

In Cheorwon, I couldn’t help but have a wry smile at the absurdity of the peninsula. North Korea attacks behind our back, and South Korean politicians pretend to be serious but offer no solutions. People joke about North Korea while young soldiers are defending the demarcation line intensely. When will this black comedy be over?

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sunny

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