There is a need to create a culture of panic in the United States and, arguably, everywhere else where the major media conglomerates have established news outlets. This arises from the ebb and flow of world events and our collective need to move on from one event to the next. What was once headline news will not be for long, so a headline blitz is needed to make things feel urgent, relevant and pertinent to our personal lives.
As I have heard from my mother, father, sister, friends, the New York Times, CNN and NPR, North Korea is suddenly big news. They are now something to fear. They are something threatening, mysterious and suddenly worthy of all the news headlines in the western-world. There is an urgent message being told that now is a time to panic and react; now is the time to keep money in the mattress, stock up on water, and prepare an exit strategy from my current residence in South Korea. But, that message is not coming from my co-workers at school or from the Korean news or from my neighbors; it is a message from the media.
The message is coming from thousands of miles away, while, just a mere four hours from the De-militarized Zone (DMZ), life has remained blissfully unaffected. Even when the system of my bank was hacked a few weeks ago, there was not a big public alarm or mass withdrawals. Rather, life carried on as if nothing was happening.
As one person in a country of many, I cannot speak for everyone, but for the most part, it feels as if there is nothing to worry about. In the year and a half since I have arrived here, North Korea has seen the death of Kim Jong-Il and the rise of Kim Jong-Un and all the while there has been no change in how people live their lives. This past December, North Korea launched a long-range rocket One of my co-workers asked me if I "felt nervous" around lunch, and if so, he then said I "shouldn’t worry."
During the past month, the American media has been offering almost day-to-day coverage of North Korea (to what end is not clear). We have daily updates of North Korea photo-shopping images, we hear about the United States conducting stealth-bombing runs over South Korea, the North cutting off the military hotline to the South and the North’s threats to close the Kaesong Industrial Park, a place I am sure DMZ tours still overlook daily.
Despite the news, life continues on normally here in Korea and the feeling of "not worrying" has been a common one among the Korean people I have come to know since I began working in a public elementary school here.
In light of the news from the past two weeks, I asked a few of my co-workers how they felt about the North over lunch. I told them about the inundation of news being devoted to the recent actions of the North Korean government, and I wanted to see if they were more nervous than they were letting on. My co-workers shared similar sentiments that the North would not seriously launch any kind of attack and they should be trusted not to. A friend of mine, who is close to my age, pointed out that Korea has been living with similar threats for a long time and the Korean people are used to it. One co-worker noted that a war on the peninsula would mean a dramatic change to both North and South Korea as we know it and she knows that North Korea would not start such a war because it would "be the end."
Indeed, a look back at the history of North Korea shows that the South is no stranger to threats and action from the North; these latest headlines coming out of the North should not be a cause for panic, nor should we take the latest threats too seriously. If one thing is clear, no one is laughing at North Korea now and we would be foolish to; but it is still more of a threat to create a danger that does not yet exist.
That is how regrettable wars start.
The shadow of war over the Korean Peninsula remains as close as it ever was. People in South Korea are not naïve to what North Korea is capable of, it is simply not a new development. Rather, it is something they have been living with since the 1950s.
For the time being, the threat of war on the Korean peninsula and the threat of bombs over the United States remain threats perpetuated by over-generous media coverage. Life has not changed in Korea over the past month and the North has not intensified their tone; the West simply started paying attention.