There are traces of North Korea stained across its southern brother. It’s not a looming, ominous cloud – more of a hushed fog, a sympathetic and shameful silence. The streets and metro stations are littered with colorful signs and monitors with smiling animations instructing you how to properly apply one of the nearby biohazard masks. Because, you know, someone might launch a biological gas attack.
Of course, it’s always a nameless threat. In America, we’re quick to label. It’s not enough to know that a threat exists, we have to categorize and subcategorize until we’re over stimulated into sedation. That’s why we ping pong terrorism so liberally. If you’re against America – however that’s interpreted – you’re a terrorist. If you don’t call the terrorists terrorists, you’re a terrorist. Our infatuation with terrorism may have been its most rollicking success.
But in South Korea, a more somber atmosphere persists. People don’t need to say who or what the threat is – not because it’s too intimidating or dangerous. Because it’s not necessary. Because it’s a little more complicated.
In relatively recent memory, north and south Koreans were not so distinct. They were brothers, sharing the same historical genes, with slightly different expressions of them. They were just Koreans. Their relationship is that of a broken family, their separation perpetuated by stubborn refusal and splintered communication. But unlike America’s relationship with terrorism, Koreans have a border, and as such there are cracks in it, rivulets where hope seeps in and expands. In a peninsula maimed by centuries of subjugation, compassion prevails.
Where the specter of terrorism is one of fear and menace, the specter of North Korea is marked by regret and longing. It serves no purpose to vilify a brother when they’re lost. Not when you want them home.