Get­ting ac­cus­tomed to the brink of war

For Kore­ans in Hal­i­fax, the con­flict be­tween Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong-un seems a world away.


It seems like it’s im­pos­si­ble lately to go a day with­out hear­ing about the ris­ing ten­sions be­tween North Korea and the United States. The two na­tions’ equally dra­matic lead­ers, Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong-un, have turned the world’s at­ten­tion to­ward their po­lit­i­cal game of who-will-strike-who with a bal­lis­tic mis­sile first, and ev­ery­one is watch­ing. Well, not ev­ery­one. South Kore­ans liv­ing in Hal­i­fax don’t seem to be too wor­ried about the con­flict.

“It does not af­fect me at all or make me wor- ry about my fam­ily or my coun­try. I al­ways treat these in­ci­dents [with North Korea] like rou­tine events since it hap­pens [all the] time,” says Won Shin, a South Korean stu­dent study­ing ac­count­ing at Dal­housie Univer­sity. “My opin­ion is that there will be no war be­tween North Korea, South Korea and the United States,” he says. “North Korea knows that they are go­ing to lose and the dic­ta­tor does not want to lose his coun­try.”

South Kore­ans have been ac­cus­tomed to the pre­car­i­ous­ness of North Korea and its lead- ers for the last 60 years, and so for them—and me—life con­tin­ues as usual.

Since mov­ing from Hal­i­fax to Seoul, South Korea—only 30 kilo­me­ters away from the bor­der of North Korea—friends and fam­ily back home con­stantly ask me about “the sit­u­a­tion” with North Korea, and scold me for choos­ing to live in a city so close to such an “un­sta­ble” and “dan­ger­ous” coun­try.

I al­ways get asked the same thing, time af­ter time: “Aren’t you scared of North Korea?”

My an­swer is no, I’m not. I have no rea­son to be. I’ve come to re­al­ize South Kore­ans don’t seem too con­cerned—if at all—about North Korea, and so I shouldn’t be ei­ther.

Cov­er­age of the con­flict in South Korea isn’t as sen­sa­tion­al­ized as it is in the West, and I can count on one hand the num­ber of times I’ve dis­cussed North Korea with South Kore­ans.

At the mo­ment, South Korea is more fo­cused on the up­com­ing Olympic Games than on North Korea and its odd leader’s wild an­tics, be­cause that’s just it—they’re an­tics. Kim Jong-un needs to ap­pear un­pre­dictable in the me­dia in or­der to make other coun­tries think twice about at­tack­ing North Korea. While the North Korean mil­i­tary is 1.2 mil­lion strong, its ar­tillery is no match for more ad­vanced coun­tries like South Korea, let alone the United States.

Kim would un­equiv­o­cally cause his own coun­try’s demise if he de­clared war on South Korea, be­cause of its al­liance with the United States. How­ever, with Don­ald Trump now in the mix, there’s cer­tainly more cause for con­cern.

“Of course, this new con­flict scares me, but not as much as you’d ex­pect,” says Dal­housie me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing stu­dent John Jong Gwan Lee. “This provo­ca­tion is per­va­sive in our so­ci­ety, [but] it does not im­pact” South Kore­ans.

Both Jong Gwan Lee and Won Shin say the threat of North Korea will have no im­pact on their de­ci­sion to ei­ther stay in Canada or go back to South Korea af­ter they grad­u­ate.

Shin, though, is hope­ful some­day there will be re­uni­fi­ca­tion with­out war­fare.

“We as a coun­try and global en­tity should find a peace­ful way and bet­ter way to ap­proach these prob­lems,” he says. “My hope is that North Korea’s dic­ta­tor­ship ends and cit­i­zens in North Korea will fi­nally have [hu­man rights] and know more about the world.”


South Kore­ans in Hal­i­fax like Won Shin (right) and John Jong Gwan Lee (left) say they’re used to saber-rat­tling, but it’s a new ex­pe­ri­ence for Sara Con­nors (cen­tre).

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