Isabelle Jung

The National Unification Advisory Council, New York Chapter, organizes a discussion with  young Korean-Americans about the foreseeable reunification of the Korean peninsula.

The Korean War reaches its 70th anniversary this year, adding yet another veil onto the layers of covers over the issue from the attention of the country.

The Korean-Americans today rarely think about the Korean reunification, as was obvious they had never before been expected to scrutinize the almost silly and fantastical idea of the two Koreas finally making amends and unifying again. 

Was it possible? Whose job is it? Why does it concern us? The young teens discussed the nuances of Korean Reunification and how we would go about making the first step forward. 

It was an established agreement that the idea of reunification would only be possible when publicity and media attention were brought into the conversation. This was something that could be achieved with the younger audience through social media means. For many of the young generation today, social media acts as the primary source for news coverage and political updates. 

Many people cannot look at Korea beyond its rich celebrity pop-culture and K-dramas, and many people cannot understand the nuances of Korean society and politics. Korean politics is very confusing at times, and can feel like a maelstrom of different representatives from five different political parties, all with different goals and views on representation and paths for regulation. Even Korean pop culture is closely intertwined with Korean politics, and both often work together at political events. One major example would be Red Velvet, a female K-pop girl group, going to North Korea to perform in front of President Kim Jung-un.

Korean social uprisings are also not generally considered by Americans compared to other countries’ conflicts, because Korea is a smaller peninsula geographically. When looked at from a general perspective, China and India are the Asian powerhouses.

As a Korean-American who values the silent conflicts that erupt in Korea, I am frustrated with how the media is really only vocal about the issues in other countries. Korea is looked at only for entertainment and pretty faces. 

The National Unification Advisory Council on August 15th, 2020, was celebrating the 75th anniversary since the beginning of advocating for North and South Korean reunification. It has taken 75 years, during a world pandemic, for a small community all over America coming together to essentially educate ourselves about something we hadn’t ever considered. 

In classrooms today, Korean history isn’t usually taught, and when teachers lecture about the Korean war, it is almost universally referred to as the “forgotten war”. Although it is a given that Korean history doesn’t have a major place in American curriculums because it isn’t part of the American history, Chinese history is analyzed from dynastic eras to the present, and students learn about Japanese shoguns and samurais. Never once in my career as a student have I learned about the Korean dynastic era or the nuances of Korean culture. Kids are desensitized and are made to look at Korea, through superficial textbooks, as an inferior country. Even the controversial brother country, North Korea, isn’t talked about in textbooks, and only goes as far to say they broke off from South Korea because of a governmental disagreement and war. It isn’t taught the extent of how the separation affected the citizens of both Koreas. Nothing is known beyond what the media tells us:North Korea is under severe authoritarian rule and citizens suffer, and South Korea is thriving from the idol industry and cute Korean fashion and aesthetics.

Despite the lack of education about the history of Korea, the generally agreed-upon consensus is that North and South Korea should reunify. Using what we already know about America and the natural understanding of living in a diverse society, American situational analogies can be used to imagine the possibilities and experiment with ideas about what could work with the Koreas as well. The American Civil War between the northern and southern parts of America was dealt with within America and had no foreign interference. In contrast to the Korean war, America and Russia were closely interwoven within the ideological war between North and South Korea and were always looked at both as weak countries that needed extra backbones to solve their problems. This time, the reunification will be something North and South Korea deals with diplomatically together. 

If North and South Korea were to merge, questions like what the state would become and who has major representation, and if South Korea would still be a Democratic Republic had to be addressed. It was compared between America’s two-system, one nation, federal and state system — once North and South Korea reunite, Korea will also be run by a two-system government because of the starkly different perspective on how a country should be run, and would end in a compromise. 

The Koreans, despite sharing the same ethnicity, will likely experience a culture shock when reunification occurs. It is to be expected that once North Koreans start to integrate into a “normal” society that their ingrained idea of South Koreans would likely stunt their progression in becoming one again as a society. It would be hard to suddenly be asked to be exposed to another part of the world that was only painted through smuggled footage and distant sounds of music. 

It was discussed amongst the adults about whether financially supporting the reunification would be worth it. South Korea’s economic standing is 13th in the world and North Korea’s economic standing was the bottom of the list. Suddenly trying to support the movement would be much more than just a great investment on South Korea’s part. Taking into consideration that North Korea has archaic technology and communication, rebuilding North Korea would be almost like making a new nation.

Even with all these intricate obstacles, reunification is something people of Korea have been behind-the-scenes fighting and preparing for. There are benefits like the Trans Asia Rail Network that can finish construction once North Korea and South Korea reunite, connecting Korea with Europe with a railroad, making traveling and shipping much more efficient. Korea’s presence would grow from technological advancement. 

In my own childhood, I have also felt the difference between North and South Koreans with my peers. It was looked down upon, even between young children, to be the descendants of North Korean escapees. To them, it was an abhorrent idea, even as they remained ignorant of their classmate who was a North Korean descendant herself. Knowing that there are more children hiding something they should be proud of, ethically makes you cringe in retrospect. The reunification would make people look at Koreans from a different angle, and you would also notice the social difference Koreans feel within society. 

What happens now? Talking about something that could be seen as another community event in New York could be indiscernible to anyone from a global scale. We should walk forward together, to light the lanterns of our forgotten brothers and sisters in the North, and guide them to the sea where the rest are waiting.