Hope and Fear for the Two Koreas

by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer

In 1969 I was stationed in South Korea as a member of the Second Infantry Division. My duties carried me within sight of North Korea, and always within easy range of enemy artillery. I was occasionally assigned to armed patrol duties along the Im Jin River, just a proverbial stone’s throw from the border with a nation with which we were technically still at war.  North Korean patrols frequently ventured into our area, and sometimes killed our soldiers. The day before my arrival, eight American soldiers were killed there, but their deaths got minimal news coverage, since the Viet Nam War was raging and overshadowed our “little war.”

As the years passed, more and more violent incidents marked the relationship between the two Koreas.  Some of these were brazen and violent, and could easily have precipitated a major war. The North Koreans were reckless enough to sink a South Korean navy ship, and to rain artillery shells down on a populated South Korean island. Numerous other incidents occurred as well, keeping US and South Korean forces constantly at the ready for a second Korean War. The North Koreans seemed to be insane in their provocations.
Internally, the North Korean government deliberately starved to death an estimated one million of it people in rural areas in order to shift scarce food supplies to its military.  Starving North Koreans attempting to escape were shot dead by the North Korean army.

As you can see, it is difficult to overstate the cruelty and warlike nature of the North Korean regime. 
Can that ever change? Perhaps.
The news commentaries linked at the end of this piece, report that there are indications that a major power shake-up has recently occurred in communist North Korea, which might, hopefully, presage genuinely friendly relations between the two Koreas, North and South.
As has been the case so many times in the past, it could all end in a big disappointment, but there is reason for at least preliminary and cautious optimism.
Some months ago, the North Korean government executed Jang Song Thaek, an uncle by marriage of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un.  Jang was so powerful in the government that two other North Korean officials were accused of being more loyal to him than to Kim, and were reportedly executed, as well.
This is an indication that there may be a longstanding power struggle between various factions in the north. Might there be a “peace faction” in Pyong Yang (the North Korean capital city)?
As in all absolute dictatorships, the top man must continually guard against those who envy his power.  The common practice seems to be to keep the inner circle continually off balance, preventing them from conspiring against the leader. Killing one or two of them now and then is an effective tactic, but risky. Josef Stalin eliminated so many of his cronies that eventually, the survivors realized that they had to eliminate Stalin in order to save their own lives.
Saddam Hussein, during his dictatorship of Iraq, reportedly never slept more than two hours at a time, was continually on the move, and used look-alikes as bait for would-be assassins. Hussein also had his two sons-in-law executed for disloyalty.  Saddam had made himself temporarily safe, but also a prisoner of his own fears. We all know how that ended.
If the North Korean dictator has been removed from effective power, or even has been openly challenged or diminished, there is both hope and fear for the South.  
The hope is that those newly in power will realize that their country will collapse under its present economic system, unless they can establish truly friendly relations with the South. If only to save their own skins, such men, being practical survivors, may seek to join forces with South Korea, and eventually to reunify the severed nation. Indeed, this would be the best of all outcomes for all concerned, except of course for the psychopathic and murderous regime in the North.
The fear is that a few military generals in the North might decide to launch open warfare against the South and its US ally. This is not an unrealistic fear, given the continual brinksmanship of North Korea over the past decades. While such a war would destroy the North, it would also destroy much of the South, and possibly draw the communist Chinese into the conflict, not only against South Korea, but also against Taiwan. Bear in mind that the Chinese have recently been rattling their sabers in the South China Sea and confronting the US Navy in dangerous ways.
Based on this, the North Koreans may be willing to bet their survival on being able to intimidate their enemies into backing away. The prospects for peace and unity on the Korean peninsula have never been greater in our lifetime. The danger has never been greater since the Korean War.
Of one thing we can be certain.  If anyone can wreck the prospects for peace, it is Barack Hussein Obama.  South Korea would be wise to keep him out of this process as much as possible.


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