The NK-SK Affair: A Media Power-Play

Michelle Lee ‘16
Photo Editor
Assistant Opinions Editor

At first, the sensationalism of press over North and South relations by American news agencies took my by surprise. Back home, the “state of crisis”, as it is so commonly labeled here, is a non-issue. My father has flown between Korea and China several times since tensions rose, and the thought of a potential airstrike attack didn’t cross his mind. I was about to ask him if he was scared, and then it hit me – I, too, was affected by media exposure here. Somehow, distance planted greater fear than proximity did.

After all, in the eyes of those on the Korean peninsula, threats of the North’s military action are merely part of a cycle for attention. North-South relations that were once considered so strong in 2008 that talk of reunification was a legitimate topic of debate were severed almost entirely in an attention-seeking fashion during the previous president’s first month in office as well. And they were well aware of the change in South Korean leadership this past December.

Park Geun-Hye is not only the first female president of Korea, but also the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the radical militant dictator who ruled South Korea with an iron fist in the 60s and 70s. Similar to a president acting upon their most important duties within the first months in office, it would be strategic for the political inferior North to impose their demands now. After all, if they don’t make a strong impression in this crucial time, during a stage of political transition that naturally causes the people to question the future, then the North will be quietly neglected no matter what they do, until the next window of opportunity.

Logically, the North likely saw this as their window to impose threats of war, ultimately to exert political power over the U.S. and South Korea. Tensions began to escalate around December of last year, the same month President Park was elected into office. Early last year also marked a vulnerable time period in North Korea – the death of Kim Jong-il. Coupled with questions of whether Kim Jong-eun, the youngest son of Kim Jong-il, could carry out his father’s legacy, the North needed to denounce weakness by holding the gun against South Korea’s head. Or at least try to do so.

And for the average resident of the United States, who may not always have the full picture of international affairs, the metaphoric gun seems more tangible as the enemy is less visible. Though it’s clear most U.S. officials call the North’s bluff on the matter, media often zoom in on small shreds of doubt, turning an otherwise powerless nation into a belligerent communist dictator whose ideals are both radical and real.

This feeds what we refer to as fear into American viewers. They are puzzled when they hear South Korea isn’t phased by the North’s antics. The South is, in turn, confused why such historically cyclical issues are suddenly the hotbed of international affairs.

And whether this fear is legitimate or not is debatable with every situation. But in this case, American viewers have become victims of misinformation. We fear the unknown. And the gap of context that was lost in translation between Korea and America was replaced with the foreboding image of an irrational, unpredictably dangerous threat.

Ideally, it would be nice for the American public to, as the saying goes, keep calm, and carry on. Call their bluff. The city of Seoul will continue to do so, the ports of Busan will continue to do so. Talks will resume, the cycle will continue, and after a while the heat will die down. At least, until 2016.

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