"Why Korean Unification Is Not a Selfish Wish" by Eunice Yoona Lee
Joint 1st Prize, High School Category, Essay Contest 2014
February 4, 2015
Eunice Yoona Lee, age 17, is a student at Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies, in South Korea. "My dream is to become a writer who is always alert to social ills and speaks up for those in need of help. As I was born in New York and came to Korea at the age of seven, one of my goals is to merge the experiences I had in my two mother countries and promote cultural connection through the written word."
"Do you believe humanity is moving towards harmony?"
When asked a question of such kind, a South Korean would answer with uneasy ambivalence—while electronic gadgets and Youtube-famous musicians may attest prosperity in the lower half of the peninsula, the state of division between the north and south still remains a shadow looming over the shoulders of every Korean. Smoke continues to emanate from nuclear weapons plants above the 38th parallel, and endless reports of diplomatic tension and near-border skirmishes show that the two Koreas are not moving anywhere near peace.
War, nuclear weapons, and separation are some of the nightmares that I share with 70 million other citizens on the Korean peninsula. As a South Korean whose two great-uncles were abducted forever to the north during the Korean War, I wish that within this century, the two halves of my motherland would be unified and tension among my people would be eradicated once and for all.
But this would be a selfish wish if it served the interest of but one tiny peninsula in Asia. Considering the nature of today's major global issues, regional conflicts like that in Korea must be solved foremost in order for humanity's progress toward world peace, global partnership, and moral integrity to be continued without hindrance—Korea must return to its unified state, not just for the good of its own citizens but for a better future of the world.
Korean unification would mean immense progress toward world peace. With the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953, North and South Korea are technically at war, and are two halves of the only divided nation remaining today. Two separate governments have been constructed over the past 60 years, but in precarious rivalry, as though one would erect skyscrapers atop a dormant volcano. If the two Koreas were to unite within this century, a long struggle for peace and stability would end in victory. Moreover, with terrorism as one of the world's biggest issues today, taking down the North Korean government through peaceful unification would be equal to disbanding a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda or the Taliban. North Korea is putting world peace at stake—most fatally through nuclear proliferation. The North Korean government has exposed its neighboring countries to danger with three nuclear experiments so far, and in response to the United Nations Security Council's charges on human rights, threatened on 19 November, 2014 that it would conduct its fourth. As long as this peninsula is divided in two, and as long as one half continues to launch terrorist campaigns, the danger of another Korean War, or so to speak, the danger of a Third World War, remains and hinders other improvements that can be best made in a peaceful environment. The best way to eradicate such a threat to world peace is to achieve a nonviolent unification between North and South Korea, and to thus crack the issues surrounding the region's nuclear proliferation and war. If North and South Korea are unified within this century, the international society may expect a huge leap in preserving global security, and will be absolved of one of its most lamentable sins in modern history—the separation of a people through war.
Unification of the two Koreas would also mean a great advance in global partnership. Solving the tension between North and South Korea would be like loosening one of the most complicated knots in the thread of world history. The Cold War, contrary to popular belief, has not ended in the true sense and will not until Korea is unified; most of the tension surrounding North and South Korea today traces back to rivalries during the Cold War and the proxy conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. The bloc formed by the former Soviet Union, China, and North Korea persists to this day and vies with the United States and South Korea for power. For instance, China is responsible for 60 percent of North Korea's total trade volume, and supports the nation with food and energy supplies; the United States, sitting on the other end of the seesaw, backs up South Korea by leading sanctions against North Korea and via its armed forces in Seoul. At times of conflict, each half of Korea calls for the help of its ally, and a tiny spark of fire at the 38th parallel is amplified into a conflagration burning across two large portions of the world. One of the many regional conflicts susceptible to an immense chain reaction, such continuation of Cold War-style rivalry obstructs the cooperation among today's world superpowers, fixes the Korean peninsula in a state of tension, and stymies humanity's efforts toward pluralism by dividing East Asia and the Pacific into two ideological quarters. If Korea is unified within the century, the area will no longer serve as a battleground between the former "red"and "blue," but will rather stand as a symbol of cooperation and autonomy. Unification will also provide a chance to utilize various assets that have been out of reach for many decades simply due to this ideology conflict. The current G2 nations would coalesce to strive for more long-term objectives, such as sustainable growth throughout the Pacific area, rather than compete over political or military influence within a small peninsula. Unification would terminate the Cold War once and for all and proclaim a new era of pluralism where international relations are no longer run by obsolete rules set decades and decades ago.
Most importantly, the joining of the two Koreas can bring forth a large improvement in humankind's moral integrity. Democratization in North Korea, liberation from the current North Korean regime's oppression, and reunion of separated families across the north and south, would altogether end the international society's long battle against human rights violations in the Korean peninsula. Human rights issues in North Korea are not merely a regional problem; acknowledging the gravity of the situation and the international society's responsibility to improve it, the United Nations have installed a separate body within the Human Rights Council named the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korea is one of the few remaining nations in which individuals are not only deprived of the most basic political freedom, but are exposed to abuse and violence committed by the government; therefore, by freeing North Korean citizens and putting them back under a regime that observes the fundamental values of democracy and freedom, one of the greatest hurdles in the history of human rights can be surmounted.
To elaborate upon the issue of moral integrity, I would like to share the story of my grandmother and my two abducted great-uncles in the north. When she saw two of her older brothers being taken away forever at the hands of North Korean troops, my grandmother was only 10 years old. At an age when a child should explore the wonders of the world, my grandmother witnessed the atrocities of war. And at an age when a child should experience family love, my grandmother suffered the loss of her two dear siblings. Once in several years, in times of peace (which is very rare), North and South Korean governments hold reunion events in which separated families could search for their lost siblings and children. My grandmother has signed up for each and every one of these events, yet to this day, she has not met a single chance to meet her two brothers. She does not know if they are living in Pyongyang or Kaesong, married or with children, or even worse, if they are dead or alive.
Unification is desperately needed in Korea today, because such pain is universal. The pain my grandmother has gone through is suffered by a myriad other people in different parts of the world. Children in the Gaza Strip witness their homes being shelled in the middle of the night; mothers in Syria shed tears as their sons are killed off in the battlefield. It is the moral duty of humanity to seek the antidote to this pain. And in order to do so, humankind must first close up one very deep wound that has existed for so many decades that it has festered.
Korean unification is not a selfish wish. It is not a greedy demand from a nation of electronic gadgets and Youtube-famous stars. It is a supplication from those who have beheld the hideous face of war, a heartfelt request from those who lead perilous lives atop a volcano named division; it is a plea to altogether cease the agony that is repeated in other parts of the world. It is the hope that the weightiest of humanity's issues, world peace, global partnership, and moral integrity, would be tackled bit by bit, peninsula by little peninsula—so that one day, when anyone is asked, "Do you believe humanity is moving towards harmony?," the answer would not be one of uneasy ambivalence, but a nod of hope.