Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North-South Korean Border Bombing September 2010

I recently traveled to the tranquil, river-delineated border between North and South Korea. More often than not, my travels take me in search of praiseworthy drink and amenable grub, and this journey was no different.

Very little is known about North Korea's next leader.
It was a beautiful, blue-skied, quiet, uneventful day on the thickly armored 38th parallel. Quite unlike today, the 23rd of November, 2010, when bombs rained on a South Korean island.

But let us not forget that just like the last time something like this happened, the unnecessary yet mostly comfortable stalemate between the increasingly distant Korean brethren will continue for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the Japanese media is freaking out, much to North Korea's delight. The South, on the other hand, is predictably beside itself with restraint. The Chinese are patiently awaiting a request for comment.

Once again, let us remember that, first and foremost, a war is not about to break out.

The North would never wish for such an outcome. They know that they would lose handily inside of two or three days (read O'Hanlon and Mochizuki, 2003 for more on this).

And the South won't retaliate with anything resembling real force because they know that downtown Seoul would crumble inside of 180 minutes if the North felt that the end was near.

In other words, your sons and daughters serving in the military on the Korean peninsula, Korean or non, are in very little danger--especially when compared (fairly or otherwise) with the other hot-zones of the world. [Our thoughts and hearts go out to the family of the South Korean soldier that was killed by the most recent North Korean provocation.]

The North Korean dictatorial family is in the midst of a leadership baton-pass, and an international scuffle or two helps to shore up the military credentials of the most recent successor from the Kim family.

Daedonggang Beer with
N. Korea in the background.
Jong-un Kim (should be translated as Jeong-eun in English, by the way) is currently being ushered through the ranks of the People's Party so that he is well-positioned if and when his father's health forces him to step aside.

During my recent visit to the border--calmer times which will soon return, then lapse, then return once again--I enjoyed a couple bottles of North Korean beer not even half of a mile from the country where it was produced. And to my surprise, and delight, the beer was definitely worth a second sip.

It was an odd feeling to drink a "Daedonggang" (also spelled Taedonggang) beer while being able to actually see a small, nearly inactive, village where the people had likely never even seen the beverage that I was enjoying. Not that they would be able to afford it if they had. Soju is reportedly far cheaper and domestically preferable anyway, no matter how appetizing the local beer is.

From my vantage point, the North Korean landscape was bizarrely naked. Very little of the lush vegetation waving to the south was present just across the thin river to the north, and the skeletal, gulag-esque buildings were nearly the only insinuations of life available to the southernly eye. All the better to spot people who are trying to escape, apparently. The lifeless shade of brown of the crops to the north contrasted unfavorably with their irrigated neighbors just across the river to the southwest.

It was perhaps a miracle that the beer I was enjoying was as good as it was. Maybe I just benefited from a good batch. At any rate, a blind tasting would likely find three out of four South Korean beer fans choosing it over the local swill.

Let's hope the fresh-blooded North Korean leadership understands that North Korea's future can be secured by a deescalation of tensions and the emergence of a North Korean economy that doesn't depend on or extort outside goodwill. While "Daedonggang" beer isn't going to win any rice lager awards, it may just be a hint of where the time-locked half of the Korean Peninsula could go.


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