We had an air-raid drill the other day; apparently it took many foreigners by surprise -- well -- scared the living daylights out of them. I had seen the flags so I knew what was going on. During the drill you’re supposed to stop driving and go into one of the air raid shelters, but in practice most people don’t do much of anything.
I really want to edit my post on “fear” to talk about the different contours of fear here and in the U.S. but that will take me a while. So I’ll just put some impressions up about reactions to this whole North Korea scare.
My father-in-law, from the generation that lived through the Korean War, freaked out and asked us if we had stocked supplies or booked plane tickets. We had not. I did check the embassy’s evacuation plan, so I know where I need to run in case something happens, but I’m not really worried. For my in-laws and, I suspect, other members of that generation, the specter of war with North Korea is very real and very scary. I remember some years back (96? 97?) we were here for a visit and there was a big plane Korean Air crash (Guam) at the same time that there was another submarine incident on the East coast of Korea. The crash dominated the news; most people were pretty upset about it (everyone died), but there wasn’t much reaction at the sub incident. My in-laws were the opposite; they didn’t blink an eye at the plane crash but they lectured me every day about how I should grab my passport and run to the embassy if anything should happen with North Korea.
I also got several freaked out emails from people at home asking me what is going on here and if I was scared.
But all the other (younger) Koreas I talk to are blase. They don’t seem to think that Kim Jong Il will attack them -- “fellow Koreans” -- they see him as taking a stand to get more power and to protect himself. Some even express some admiration for him, in the sense that Korea, a place with few natural resources or real importance, has been elevated to such a place of importance in the world.
What does seem to worry people is that because of the nuclear threat, Korea’s fate is at the hands of so many other powers. If anything, it seems to me that young people here are more worried about the power of the U.S. and how the U.S. will react. The threat of U.S. power and dominance is more real to them.
Then again, compared to how things were in the late 90s, when there were a lot of demonstrations for unification, young people seem more apathetic now. There is also a lot of dissatisfaction with President Roh. I’m not sure who is more hated, Roh or Bush. Probably Roh.
What I want to do in my fear rewrite is to talk about the irony of this -- here I am a stone’s throw from the DMZ and “axis of evil” but I feel pretty safe. I send my kid to the playground by himself and in general, don’t live in fear. (There’s a control aspect to this -- can’t do much about the nuclear weapons, but can train my kids to behave in certain ways.) But the atmosphere of the U.S., on the other hand, feels very fearful. If I were to send Aiden to the bathroom by himself in Target someone might call Social Services. Who knows where the next school shootings or terrorist attacks will be. Even the Amish aren’t safe unless Harrison Ford is around! Although my friends over there imagine me here in some barrack-style military zone, my knee-jerk impression of the U.S. is a place full of guns, drugs, and child molesters; a place where I need to be vigilant about the safety of my children.