Dreaming of a Unified Korea?
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  • The Professor

    I defer to your judgment on this issue as you have visited both of the Koreas while I have not been to either. And I have no doubt that if we saw the collapse of the North Korean regime in the next few years, many South Koreans would pull together to work on reunification despite the extraordinary difficulties that will follow. Yet… I think the Unification Ministry has a point in being worried about shifting attitudes among the younger generation and I am not sure your comparison to Germany holds up under scrutiny. Almost sixty years have passed since the end of the Korean war and it has been split for over sixty-five. Only the elderly can now remember a united Korea, and one brutally occupied by Japan at that. Germany by the late 1980s, on the other hand, had been split for less than forty-five years and a sizable group of middle-aged and elderly Germans remembered well when their country was united. In addition, Germany was one of the Great Powers of Europe and the world, and both sides possessed not insignificant political clout in Europe in their respective ideological spheres throughout the mid-20th century. Those cultural memories, coupled with a strong nationalistic past, did much to help ease the reunification process along in Germany. Most Germans were eager to see their country reunite since the vast majority had either grown up under a united Germany or had been raised by parents who passed along those stories and experiences to them.

    Compared to Germany in 1990, an additional generation has grown up in the divided Koreas, and memory of a time when the peninsula was united grows fainter and fainter each year. The cultural differences continue to increase and the vast technological gap between the North and South will pit the younger “digital” generation of the South against Northern peers who will probably seem antiquated and even primitive if trends continue along the same lines in both countries. Increasingly many South Koreans will logically wonder why reunification with a country that is has become so alien in culture, history, technology, and memory is a goal of the government. And increasingly, the younger generation who question reunification will inherit the government and come of age to power. As you said, the gap between the two countries is already far wider than it was in Germany. Time is not on the side of the Unification Ministry and it is unlikely that any propaganda they busy themselves producing is going to stop the inevitable slide towards embracing the status quo of a divided Korea. Formally ending the war and ceasing hostilities is a worthwhile goal. But, after that has been achieved, what long-term strategic and economic gains will ultimately benefit South Korea by reuniting with the North? I cannot see those gains being worth the pain, stress, and domestic turmoil that unification will produce. I imagine many South Koreans are beginning to feel the same way.

  • Walter Sobchak

    They should want re-unification out of humanitarian concerns. The Northerners are being starved again.

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