Kids think the darndest things. In South Korea, they have the Unification Ministry scratching its head trying to figure out why the younger generation doesn’t want to reunify with the North. The WaPo has the story:
Younger South Koreans are increasingly second-guessing a national goal. They don’t think an eventual unification with North Korea will restore order and salve old wounds; they think it will turn a prosperous country into a chaotic one. More than half of those in their teens and 20s don’t even think unification is necessary — though they’re taught to believe as much starting in fifth grade.
For those who remember the Korean War and its aftermath, the Korean Peninsula’s split is untenable. “I will never accept it as a permanent condition,” President Lee Myung-bak, whose brother and sister were killed in the war, said last week in an address to the U.S. Congress.
But with more young South Koreans growing dubious about reunification, the government is trying to force an attitude adjustment. In recent weeks, it has launched an online-only sitcom and sponsored a network reality show with pro-unification themes.
It is understandable that young people would feel reluctant to unite with a country which they have only experienced as a menace that occasionally lobs mortars at them. But the government is probably worrying more than it has to. The kids are all right.Back in the 1980s, young Germans used to be skeptical about reuniting with an East Germany that they had never known, but when the Wall fell, young people were the first to welcome East Berliners to the other side.German unification proved to be difficult, expensive and at times emotionally fraught on both sides. (I remember a popular German joke of the time: Why do the Chinese smile all the time? Because their Wall is still standing.) But the deep national commitment to unification was never seriously challenged and while differences and tender feelings linger, Germany today is clearly a single country.Nationalism for the last 200 years has been the strongest single force in world politics. The desire of people who share a cultural and linguistic history to associate together in one state has overthrown monarchs, started wars, led to massacres and ethnic cleansing — and provided a framework for the development of peaceful and prosperous democratic states all over the world.Anybody who knows Korea (and I’ve been to both the North and the South) knows that nationalism is a strong force on the peninsula. It would have to be; if Koreans didn’t have a deep sense of identity and a deep commitment to Korean culture, they would likely have been absorbed by larger neighbors as many other groups have been. Smaller nationalities near big countries like the Vietnamese and Koreans in Asia, the Poles in Europe, Palestinians in the Middle East or the Cubans in North America develop feisty nationalistic identities — or they disappear.The right event at the right time can change public opinion drastically. If North Korea’s dictatorship were to collapse and cease being a national security threat overnight, South Koreans of all ages would almost rally to the project of creating a single state for the Korean people.The Unification Ministry should relax — though no doubt bureaucrats who otherwise have a hard time explaining what exactly it is that they do 9 to 5 when unification remains a distant project enjoy a “crisis” of the unification project which gives them something to do.The job of unification, whenever it comes, won’t be easy; the gap between North Korea and South Korea is much wider than the gap between East and West Germany. But Koreans are a tough people with a difficult history and it would not be wise to bet against them.