The news rarely reports the comings and goings of ordinary people living regular lives, and yet it’s those people who make up the mass majority of the earth. The farmer in north the northern Thai countryside, the truck driver in Cairo or the gas station attendant in Arizona–they are the fabric of society, subject to the decisions of those who make the headlines. They are the generals and we are soldiers slogging through the mud.
North Korea has been a center of attention for the last several years, known for the poor treatment of its own citizens. But they aren’t the only ones affected by the rule of Kim Jong-un and his predecessors. South Korea has long since lived under major tensions with its northern neighbor, and the future is a scary unknown that could end up with the deaths of many.
So what does all that look like from the perspective of the average person?
I spoke with Sean Binkley, an English teacher who has lived in South Korea for a while now. On top of the day to day observations on the culture and people, he has taken a special effort to research Korea’s rich history, travel around and visit its historical landmarks, to include the famous DMZ (Demilitarized Zone).
While one might assume that South Koreans are constantly living on the knife’s edge, the truth is also not very surprising. Like most other places, they seem to shoulder their weight, normalize their situation and put one foot in front of the other. Binkley says that, “For most of this past year, when I discussed the topic of North Korea with South Koreans they really don’t seem all too bothered by the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang or Washington. The sense of normalcy or lack of concern has remained pretty consistent even after Trump took office and both the US and DPRK began to escalate.”
Can you blame them? Binkley talks about how South Koreans have spent their entire lives hearing “heated rhetoric, threats and provocations from the North. It’s never resulted in a catastrophic conflict even when shots were exchanged and lives were lost.” A Korean teacher once told him that, “…if we spent our time worrying about North Korea, we would never be able to live.” Binkley figures most people just put it out of their minds and carry on.
One begins to wonder at the capacity for human beings to normalize something. If you doubt your capacity to do so, consider this: we have all been under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation since the 40s, and we have normalized even that. Perhaps it’s because sitting around worrying about things you can’t change doesn’t fix anything.
Binkley was told by a taxi driver that if there is a war, it’s the South Koreans who will lose the most. In a half joking/half not, a Korean teacher colleague of his said that she’s watching the Americans–if they start getting worried, then everyone will start getting worried. “It’s funny, because I think most foreigners in Korea have the same attitude. We’ll start panicking when the Koreans we know start panicking,” Binkley said.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.