07. July 2006 · Comments Off on KoreaTown · Categories: Fun and Games, General, N. Korea, Pajama Game, War

About the first thing I ever noticed about Korea— during the bus ride from Osan AB to the Yongsan Garrison bus terminal in Seoul— was that it didn’t look a thing in like M*A*S*H… even allowing for the whole show being unconvincingly filmed in the wilds of California, on a set built out in a valley between very obviously chaparral-covered hills … and hills that were dark sage-green, and gently rounded— not the steep and bright green hills, painstakingly terraced that I could see from the bus. And also nothing like the distant mountains visible all the way round Seoul on clear morning, chipped and jagged, like something cut from jade-green glass, just like the mountains in ancient oriental prints. Seoul, cut through by the wide silvered loops of the Han river did rather resemble Los Angeles, in that it went on seemingly forever, flowing around hills and tracts of parkland, a jumble of high, low and medium-rise buildings and which offered pretty much everything a reasonably cosmopolitan person could want. Myself, I loved the retail and wholesale fabric market, near to Tongdemun Stadium… not much harked back to what Korea had been half a century before, unless it was the porters who carried enormous burdens on their backs up and down the tall staircase of the fabric market building. No, South Korea had moved on, since the days of M*A*S*H.

So, NPR did an interview this week with the two apparatchiks who came out strongly in favor of blowing up the Nork’s Two-dong (or whatever name it has that is a natural fodder for more sophomoric jokes than mine) long-range missile on the launch-pad as some sort of crushing pre-emptive strike to send a serious message to the Norks about what happens when you threaten America. They were quite airily confident not only of our ability to do this, neatly and effectively (which is actually a rather comforting thought) but seemingly quite careless of the risks to South Korea if we had done so— which is not. And since the gentlemen in question are of the party that currently seems to be getting off 24-7 by condemning George Bush being pre-emptive, unilateral, careless of world opinion, and barging straight on to the main point of actually blowing up stuff, rather than sitting around and talking about it until everyone has gone mad with boredom, and issuing a strongly worded memorandum… well, it had the charm of the unusual. I wondered if somewhere, there is a Rovish political consultant, thinking agent provocateurish thoughts. (And if either of the gentlemen concerned were acquainted with the old saying about sending a message and using Western Union— probably not, since it has to be explained carefully to anyone over the age of 50-ish— none of this awareness showed in the interview.)

Well, never mind— they just struck me as being quite chipper about “doing something!” and quite horribly casual about possible Nork reprisals. No veteran who has ever served a tour in South Korea can be entirely insouciant about that— not with knowing how close Seoul is to the range of Nork artillery fire, how close to the DMZ, and how bat-shit insane the self-isolated regime to the immediate north has demonstrated itself to be, in all sorts of large and small ways. Well-meaning and intelligent people usually do not advise intentionally pissing off a deranged street-person holding a hand-grenade with the pin missing. I have probably just horribly maligned all deranged street-persons with access to personal explosives here… but what can you honestly say about a mini-nation who kidnapped Japanese citizens in order to force them to train spies, and South Korean movie actors to force them to make movies, confiscates the Chinese trains which are shipping them relief supplies, fields a diplomatic corps which deals in drugs and counterfeit money in order to make their budget, honors the family of the founding leader in a manner usually confused in the outside world by worship of a deity— and that would be the outside world of circa 1st century Rome.. except assume that someone with a Pythonesque turn of mind has made this all up.

Alas, North Korea is all too real; a small nation with delusions of adequacy about being a military power despite not having fought a serious, balls-out, all hands on deck war since the 1950ies… and them with the aid of the Chinese, who must seriously be having doubts about now. Yes, North Korea is their dog in this dispute; a small, hyper-active, bug-eyed, noisy and incontinent dog, of the kind that make people itch to kick into the next dimension, and I so wonder if the Chinese are getting pretty testy with their bad-tempered, and vicious little pet. When desperate refugee Nork citizens are taken pity upon by the stereotypically hard-off Chinese peasants along the China-Nork border, you really have to wonder about how things are, in the last rigidly Stalinist armpit of the world. Especially when young refugees from the North are clearly recognizable in the South, because (thanks to the juche and economic independence, all-around socialist superior spirit and the resulting endemic malnourishment) they are very obviously shorter, thinner, and weedier looking. And I do not forget for a moment, that these are still the same human stock— the same jolly, tough and resourceful people who on the south of the DMZ, worked themselves out of a Third World, war-torn, desperately poor UN-dependent basket-case that they were in the mid 1950ies. South Koreans built a shining and modern city out of the wreck that it was when my father passed through there at the end of the Korean War.

What their kin have built out of the North may be a country-sized concentration camp, and every dreadful story that has managed to leak out, against brutal control, will likely prove to both the gospel truth, and the least portion of the horrors. So, there you go. North Korean may have the Bomb, and more distressing still, be able and willing to sell it to anyone with the wherewithal. And the assumption has always been that Seoul is in range of whatever violently explosive munitions they have. So, what really can you do, knowing what is at risk? Do you openly provoke the violently insane, and one with a proven track record of being totally immune to shame, or wait until they melt down entirely? I read a comment last week (Can’t remember who— Angie at “Dark Blogules” maybe… who said that her enjoyment of old episodes of M*A*S*H had been forever ruined by the various characters’ blathering about how useless, pointless and aimless the “war” was… when it had been in retrospect a successful effort protect the South Korea— now a vibrant, successful and interesting place, from becoming the dysfunctional horror of North Korea.

Interesting times, people, interesting times. Discuss.

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