Dennis Rodman, Diplomat -The Worm Turns

DMZHaving ranted about my disappointed expectations in Seoul yesterday I want to get back on track today. Our visit to Korea has had some interesting synchronicity. North Korea has been hogging the news cycle, even in the US, recently. Last week, Dennis Rodman, jumped into the headlines by appearing with Kim Jong-Un and proclaimed his love for the pudgy little dictator and delivered the message that all the North Korean leader wanted was to have President Obama “give him a call.” Who would have guessed that “The Worm” would be the catalyst for resolution on the Korean peninsula? How I Learned to Love Kim Jong-Un and the Bomb. It’s a catchy title for his autobiography, eh?

Rodman notwithstanding, there has been a serious focus on the two Korean states in recent weeks. I haven’t kept up on NK’s rocket technology since the failed launch in 2010, but crazy as he might be the little dictator might end up blowing us all to smithereens. In December NK apparently launched a successful long-range rocket and three weeks ago they conducted another provocative nuclear test. This week a major US/South Korean joint military exercise is underway, and Wednesday Kim Jong-Un declared his “right” and intention to deliver a preemptive nuclear strike in the event NK deems itself vulnerable to a US strike.

I awoke this morning in Seoul to news that the UN with China’s concurrence has increased sanctions against the rogue nation for the fourth time, sanctions that tighten commerce in technology, materials that contribute to nuclear development, military goods, and surprisingly luxury goods like yachts, race cars and jewelry. Somebody must know something about the little prince’s taste in luxury. We know that his actress wife is addicted to high fashion and expensive jewelry, but it’s surprising that the UN considers this restriction significant enough to include it in the sanctions.

Yesterday we visited the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), the line of demarcation at the 38th Parallel that has divided the two parts of the peninsula since 1948. The DMZ itself is a crazy-quilt of razor wire, guard towers, peace monuments, observation posts, tunnels, an industrial enterprise zone, new but unused rail facilities, and tourist sites – an area of hope, despair and military posturing. I found it fascinating and depressing to know that both Korea’s, the US and China devote such immense resources in money and manpower to the continuation of this 70 year old conflict. The experience reminded that Korea, Northern Ireland, Gaza, Yugoslavia, and Vietnam – all countries that were artificially divided over politics, war or religion that effectively divided cultures, families, and resources eventually came undone in armed conflict. I don’t know what will happen on the Korean peninsula. The division has now affected three generations on both sides and the affect on the north has now included physical and cognitive deterioration due to malnutrition. Defectors from the north have not been embraced by the south and it seems almost unanimous that integration of the two Korea’s would present monumental problems if it ever came to pass. Looking at the consequences and problems of integrating the two Germanys and the situation in Korea it is doubtful that unification could be successful. If there is any question about this you only have to read Barbara Demick’s book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.

In any event, this short visit to Seoul and the DMZ has been interesting and worth the trouble. The value of international travel is not a function of traveler comforts. Good transportation and quality hotels can ease the pain but getting to know the people and the culture are the benefits even if they don’t live up to one’s expectations.

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