For more than three years, friends and family alike urged me to be careful while I am in South Korea because of the threat in the North. Last year in 2017, there was so much panic and concern that a colleague of mine even left the country. Any time North Korea or Kim Jong Un was mentioned to my students, they would respond mockingly by imitating Kim Jong Un’s mannerisms or call him a fat pig or something else offensive. But on Friday, April 27, 2018, my 5th-grade students and I watched leaders, Kim Jon Un and Moon Jae In shake hands at the DMZ on a live stream in the classroom. They applauded, I was taken aback, and I realized that I was lucky enough to be in Korea during such a historic moment.
I waited a few days before putting out my thoughts about what this could mean. I’ve observed all the comments online and in the public and most are skeptical or cautious. I feel somewhat optimistic. The last time a summit like this was held was 11 years ago, but the environment was very different. This time the North actually seems to be open and welcoming to the idea of really keeping peace on the peninsula. It was astonishing to believe that Kim Jong Un, who had been so demonized was smiling and embracing the South Korean leader and to me, it looked genuine. Like they were both so excited to have the moment. I don’t think that any South Korean was really worried about violence breaking out, but I also don’t think many expected to see a truce so suddenly.
Some say it was all propaganda, the way everything was so coordinated. That is honestly the way Koreans do everything. Just look at how they serve their traditional tea or give any kind of award. Just like with the Olympics, everything was obviously well thought out and there was a lot of planning done on both sides which does give the impression that there has been a lot of communication between the two Koreas. Afterall, 65 years is a long time to be at war, the reconciliation should be well documented, why not? Much of the criticism stems from the belief that the sanctions pressed on North Korea are really hurting the nation and this is all just a way to get money but isn’t that what the strategy was intended to do?
When the leaders shook hands and embraced, I thought, “Well done, Korea. You did it”. Later, I started seeing everyone praise Donald Trump. The memes were great. “Typical Americans, always looking to grab the credit for something good happening. This is a win for Korea”. Today, I read in the news that President Moon Jae In thinks that Trump should receive a Nobel Prize for setting the pace basically and being the force that got everyone working on this issue. Previous governments like the Obama administration were being strategically patient, while the previously Conservative governments of Korea were also taking a hard stance not choosing to talk to the North before them first abanding their nuclear programme. This new government lead by President Moon is much more liberal and was willing to engage with the North more openly. This seemed to work. Of course, I also think that Russia, China, and Japan also had some part to play. Nonetheless, peace has been achieved.
Things to think about:
- Should Trump be able to take a large piece of credit for this achievement? Should our opinions of Trump as a global leader change?
- Can we trust that the North and South can maintain this peace treaty?
- What will the future really look like for the Korean peninsula?
- How will the human rights violations of the Kim regime be addressed?
Did I miss something? or would you like to add something? Comment below or shoot me a message.