Two weeks ago, North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. This is not the first time nuclear claims have emerged from the dictatorship, which has a tense relationship with neighboring South Korea and The United States. The Houstonian sat down with assistant mass communication professor Kiwon Seo, Ph.D, a South Korea native to talk about his take on the current events.
H: I don’t think many people realize how incredibly close North and South Korea are to each other.
S: There is no road between the two borders, but it’s about an hour and a half driving distance.
H: What was it like living in South Korea with North Korea so close?
S: Because the Korean War ended about 60 years ago, my parents lived through that war when they were young as kids, but for me, I was born 20 years after the war. It was just part of our life. From an outsider’s perspective it’s very dangerous, it’s a crazed place. But from an insider’s perspective, it’s kind of a daily routine.
H: Did you ever feel threatened or unsafe when you lived in South Korea?
S: It’s a very different story for males because males must go to the military. We must spend at least two years there, so for me, I felt tremendous threats and imminent danger because of my training and military life. After getting out of the military, we go back. We get back to our daily lives. Even though we read those stories all the time, life is always busy and we must do many things. This kind of case, this nuclear bomb case, it’s very unique so people feel a very high level of fear and anger.
H: What was your reaction when you heard about it?
S: Even though I’m in America, my family is there. My friends are there. It’s a kind of a mixed feeling. In one respect I felt very scared of that threat to my family and relatives, but at the same time, I think this has been the fourth trial of a nuclear bomb so this reaction is a little bit different than my first reaction. On one hand I felt very similar reactions that I felt when I heard about the first trial, but on the other hand this has happened a number of times. I felt more about other things like tensions between North Korea, South Korea, The U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
H: As Americans, we’re so far away that we often tend to brush off North Korea and not take them seriously. Is it the same way in South Korea?
S: No, because we’re so close. We use the same language. We have the same historical ground, heritage, the same traditions. Even though we have been separated for 60 years, we still have some common understanding about our history. People I think are more engaged with the topic and more involved. They think this type of event is more serious, but at the same time, they have been exposed to this stuff for 60 years so they’re accustomed to it. People are trying to figure out why did North Korea do this at this moment. These kinds of dynamic international relationships make people interpret this event differently.
H: How would you compare the lives of the average citizens in South Korea to those in North Korea?
S: One clear thing that people are angry at North Korea for is their dictatorship and making people miserable. Their people live in a very poor conditions, many of them do not eat sufficiently, they are suffering from malnutrition and poor economic systems, everything. They are one of the poorest countries.