Idea of reunification divides Korea

“I will be back after 10 days,” he said. “I’ll bring lots of candies, and if I am lucky, I will get you some chocolates too. So be a good girl.”

“I’ll miss you,” she said. “Come back fast.” This six-year-old girl didn’t know that these 10 days would be the longest 10 days of her life.

Her brother was working for the American army as a mail carrier, and he would travel all over Korea, including what is now known as North Korea, to deliver letters.

On the day of her brother’s promised return, her dream was completely shattered.

He would not reappear even after the sunset, after a day, the next 10 days after, or even on her wedding day. Not even when she gave birth to her children, or even when her children gave birth to her grandchildren.

She doesn’t know what happened to her brother—all she knows is that he left to deliver mail and became trapped behind a line drawn by the USSR and the USA that divided North and South Korea in 1945.

She is now older and much weaker. She still waits, no longer a six-year-old, but an 80-year-old, hopeful for her brother’s return.

Although there have been 21 Korean reunions held for separated families since 2000, she has never heard a single piece of news about her brother.

Now, the recent news about President Moon and South Korean CEOs’ visit to North Korea has been exciting her.

She said, “I can’t even remember his face anymore, and I know that I don’t have much time to wait for him.” My grandma tearfully added, “If I die before Korea gets unified, Kyumin, you have to find my brother for me and tell him that I missed him.”

However, I don’t know when that day will come. Both South Korea and North Korea grew so distant from each other in the past 73 years.

We have already learned how to live without each other. We already know how to hate each other. We already know the potential danger of reunification — the devastation of the Korean economy. We already know that we can never become “brothers” again. We already know that North Korea is our enemy.

My Dad, at the age of 40, said, “When I was in the army 20 years ago, my boss would label the shooting targets as palgaini, a negative term used to refer to all communists. He used to tell us that if you don’t shoot the North Koreans, they will come and shoot your mother, wife, and daughter.”  

North Koreans are often viewed as an economically poor “enemies” who will take away our country. For instance, the Asan Institute for Policy study claimed that 57.7 percent of South Koreans believe that there will be a war between the South and North in the future.

The recent improvements in the relationship between North and South Korea and their potential reunification have been more of a concern than joy to the young generation. The majority of the population, those age 30 and below, are greatly opposed to the idea of reunification.

In 2017, while 25.5 percent of the population, at the age of 20 to 29, had no strong opposition to reunification, 84.4 percent of the same age group opposed the idea of economic aid for North Korea.

A friend, who is back home in Korea, said in anger, “It would be my generation’s responsibility to rebuild the Korean economy and, let me tell you, I didn’t spend numerous sleepless nights to feed some random strangers’ a**es. My life will be spent helping the ‘North Korean’ economy and I would never be able to flourish at my full potential — after all, even I have only one life and there are so many seats in this world. There will be much more people to compete against for colleges, jobs, and money.”

Eleven months of school along with 16 hours a day academic sessions is more than enough to drive anyone insane. The enormous stress caused by academic pressures and unemployment have taught us how to view everyone as an enemy before as a friend, brother, and family. To the overwhelmed youth, reunification will only add more “enemies” to compete against in an overwhelming competitive market.

It is not the ideology nor the disconnected ethnic heritage that is the “biggest enemy” of the unification — it is the difference in the two nation’s economies.

However, when we set our bias aside and analyze the reunification objectively, it is potentially much more lucrative and bright than we imagine it to be. We will experience a great increase in population, labor, resources, trade, and opportunities. North Korea has $6 trillion worth of natural resources, many of which are used in electronics. Furthermore, reunification can be a solution to South Korea’s recent decreasing trend in the working age population.

After reunification, if North Korea were willing to agree on certain terms, particularly on improving human rights, the sanctions put on trade by UNSC could be revoked and North Korea would be able to catch up with South Korea GDP very quickly.

However, people can argue forever about the potential outcome but it would merely be a prediction of the reality.

We must not think that we can predict the future — just like how my grandma couldn’t predict hers. We must make decisions that can benefit everyone. We must keep “what ifs” and worries aside. We must forget the economic differences. We must remember that we were born as brothers and sisters. We must listen to our inner voices. We must trust each other. We must walk together as a nation.

Only then can the true “spring” will come to Korea and to the 80-year-old girl who is still waiting for her brother to return home with candies and chocolates.

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