As North Korea grows more bellicose by the day, its neighbour and sworn enemy to the south is trying to keep cool. However, South Korea’s government has warned that it would strike back with force should North Korea try to launch an attack. Three of our Observers in Seoul, below, talk about what it’s like to live under the threat of war.
Nearly every day for over a week now, North Korea has made a string of announcements that make it appear to be dead set on attacking South Korea and the United States. First, on March 22, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to attack American military bases in Japan and on the Pacific island of Guam in retaliation for joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. Then, on March 27, it cut off all remaining military hotlines with South Korea. On Tuesday, North Korea announced plans to restart its nuclear reactor. And on Thursday, South Korea’s foreign minister said that the North had moved a mid-range missile to its east coast, though he played down concerns that it could target the US mainland. The United States has responded by moving missile defence shields to Guam.
However, it has yet to be seen whether North Korea’s threats have any weight to them, or are just empty rhetoric, as many analysts suspect. The Obama administration has said there is no evidence that Jong-un is mobilizing troops for any imminent attack.
“If war breaks out, I would go fight”
Steven Sungyong Heo recently finished his mandatory military service, much of which he spent doing relief work in Africa. He lives in Seoul.
If a war breaks out with North Korea, I will definitely sign up to go and fight. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it does seem more likely than ever before, and that’s a strange prospect for my generation, which, unlike my parents’ generation, has never seen war. I’m 28 – just a year younger than Kim Jong-un.It’s scary for me to think that a young man with practically no experience is at the head of North Korea. Many people, myself included, worry that his youth could make him more impulsive than his predecessors. It seems like all his bombastic statements may well be made in an effort to appear strong to the much older soldiers that surround him, generals who worked with his father and grandfather."North Korea's warmongering rhetoric might be scary to people hearing it for the first time, but we've heard it since we were children"It’s hard for us to figure out what North Korea really plans to do, amid all of its over-the-top propaganda. My friends and I can’t help but joke about this – it would be scary to people hearing this warmongering rhetoric for the first time, but we’ve heard it since we were children. For years we’ve seen North Korean television’s anchorwoman – always the same one – say the same things, with the same expressions, in the same intonation. So it’s hard to imagine these words becoming reality. However, I do wish our government would institute training so that people know what to do and where to go should a major attack ever take place.
Korean Central Television's star anchor. Screen grab from this video.
Story written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure (@gjfaure).
“It’s a psychological game”
Paul Kiho Kang is an engineering professor in Seoul.
When Kim Jong-un came to power, I was hopeful that he would be less of a dictator than his father. After all, he was educated in Switzerland, so I thought his way of thinking might be a little more reasonable. However, it quickly became clear that this made no difference.These recent threats worry me, of course, but they do not surprise me. Every time the government changes in South Korea – which it recently has – the North makes a show of force to intimidate the new leaders. It’s a psychological game. However, our current government, in my opinion, is responding much more intelligently than past ones. It is unwavering, making it clear that we are sick of this nonsense and won’t take it, but it is also flexible, as it is staying open to negotiations.I think it is quite possible that North Korea will attack an island in the East Sea, but not mainland South Korea and even less the United States. That would be suicide. We South Koreans really hope that Kim Jong Un isn’t that crazy.
“They have attacked us in the past, so it’s not like all their threats are empty”
Kim Mi Na is an economics student who lives in Seoul.
I try not to think about all this, but I am a bit worried. I think North Korea is absolutely capable of launching an attack against us. We were at war fifty years ago, and they have launched small attacks against us several times since, so it’s not like all their threats are empty. If war erupts now, however, I fear it will be much more serious than in the past, as nuclear weapons could be involved.I’m not satisfied with the way my government is handling this situation. They say they’re taking this threat very seriously, but so far, they don’t seem to have any concrete solutions to prevent an attack from taking place.