Politics, Community & Society > Death of a dictator

Death of a dictator

By BLYTHE SEINOR
Published: May 9, 2012

My mouth fell open in shock.

Could this be real?

Could North Korean leader, terrifying tyrant, torturer of his people, lover of expensive cognac, James Bond fan, self-declared inventor of the hamburger, Kim Jong Il, actually be… dead?

I was sitting on a bus to Seoul when the news broke.

With one eye glued to the television screen at the front of the bus, I grabbed my phone and found two identical text messages - one from my brother, and one from my boyfriend.

“Kim Jong Il is dead”, the messages read.

It was real.

I spun around to survey the expressions on the faces of my fellow passengers and found their reactions to be almost as shocking as the news itself.

A handful were sleeping, one was gazing out the window, while a couple more had headphones on, listening to music.

Did no one else think the death of North Korea’s ‘Dear Leader’ was news worth waking up for?

Did no one else wonder what kind of effect this would have on peace, stability in the region and the local economy?

I continued to frantically send text messages, as I tried to decipher what news I could from the Korean station.

I arrived in Seoul and walked through one of the main subway stations where I found, to my relief, dozens of elderly Korean men in hats and glasses crowded around a television set.

They shared my interest in this monumental event.

Many of them looked to be well into their 80s, had most likely lived through the Korean war of the 1950s, and had outlived North Korea’s two tyrannical dictators - making this a particularly pertinent piece of news in their lives.

So engrossed they were in the news on the screen that they barely noticed me snapping pictures of them on my camera phone, as young Koreans bustled past with barely a curious glance at the elderly crowd.

War has never been a part of this young generation’s reality.

Even though most young South Korean men participate in two-year mandatory military service, they have never known true military conflict and the hardships endured by their grandparents.

Rather than spending their teenage years in a warzone, young people in South Korea have been raised on a diet of plastic surgery, technology, and K-pop.

They do not know what it is like to go without anything- let alone what it is like to go without food or personal freedom, such is the reality in the North.

The North Korean border might only be an hour’s drive north of Seoul, but as far as the young generation goes, it might as well be on the other side of the world.

However, some educated and worldly young Koreans, such as my friend Hochul Kim, a graduate of Korea’s Seoul National University and a Samsung marketing executive, have been reflective about what impact Kim Jong Il’s death will have on South Korea.

“There will be some tension between the South and the North and it will take some time to figure out what kind of governance will form in the North- hopefully not a military conservative one,” the 28-year old told me.

“(South) Korea needs to take maintain or develop a favourable relationship with the North, without causing any military or political disputes”.

He believes the death of the North Korean leader will not bring additional hope of a fast reunification between the two Koreas, nor does he think Kim Jong Il’s death will lead to an upsurge of war.

“It’s not just a matter between the North and the South- the whole world is watching the Korean peninsular, so there is little chance of a second Korean war”.

While I do share his calm response to the events that have unfolded in the last few days, the constant sound of fighter jets overhead as I write this article is a little unsettling.

Regardless, I have no plans to jump on the next plane home to Australia.

For now I will just follow the news, stock the cupboards with non perishable items, and hope that the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ remains that way.

Published in the Sunshine Coast Daily, December 26, 2011

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