One typical rainy autumn day in Vienna, Mrs. Wagner, my ninth grade history teacher, asked several minutes before class started, “Did you hear about what happened to Kim Jong-il? What do you think is going to happen now to North Korea?” Her voice was a blend of curiosity and a bit of veiled excitement. I believed that the death of Kim Jong-il would lead to a sudden and miraculous reunification in the Korean peninsula; that naive fable I had constructed quickly collapsed with the ridicule I faced when I replied with, “No later than 2012.”
Five years later, when I reached the age of adulthood and the doors to true freedom opened, I was also greeted with a bittersweet notice for enlistment. The war has dragged on for almost 70 years now. The Korean War has refused to die, and lives on like a parasite. It is the vestige of the power struggle between two superpowers, using fear and death as a host, constantly laying and hatching eggs of insecurity. The cause of the war has been slowly lost with time, and the border of necessity and survival too has become obscure. The excessive conscription employed by both the North and the South, with South Korea boasting a conscription rate of 89% in 2014, seems to be an excuse to maintain the status quo: a dictatorship on one side and a wealthy social class of generals on the other. However, still, the armistice is a mutating monster, which now and then shows us a side that is better left untouched.
Later that day in school, I walked up the physics classroom. He frowned. “The hydrogen bomb is a more complicated issue than a normal atomic bomb. The mechanism is not so trivial. It is a thermonuclear weapon.” By the time he had begun, I was already hurriedly writing notes. Who else would be able to teach me about nuclear weapons better than the man who had done his doctoral work on thermal bodies?
With the sixth nuclear test conducted by North Korea, the situation has become even trickier in a spiel of destructive rope balancing. North Korea is aiming to follow the steps of Pakistan and the recent successes in ballistic missile technologies caught many experts off guard. It seems to be just a matter of time before North Korea completes its nuclear arsenal, ready to threaten a large portion of the globe.
“What do you think of the recent nuclear test?” I asked my friend while taking a bite at the local pizzeria near the KAIST main campus. “I know that war is not going to happen. People have been asking for years back home whether I’m worried. But it is a war from which there is nothing to gain,” my friend replied while reaching for an additional piece of pepperoni pizza on the green plastic plate. A constant state of war numbs one’s senses.
What noble purpose does war serve, if its consequences — the maniacal freight train — leaves so much death and destruction in its way? What do the lives of the people in an armistice look like, those lives in constant and subconscious fear — a fear that is not imminent but ever so present somewhere deep under the skin, like a toxin that resurfaces now and then? A careless step would lead to the demise of thousands, if not millions. Will it be like the books I have read about war? Will it be as grotesque and inhuman as the writers described it to be?
It is not just the Korean War. War has always loomed around the corner in parts of the World. The greatest advocate of death does not die out; on the contrary, war has advanced, just like men. What was once contained to neighbouring nations grew to wars between continents and now the whole globe can be dragged into a single conflict. War, the merry reunion of men. It really has become an obligation and responsibility to avoid destroying each other until there is no one left. Some wounds are too deep and too lethal to overcome.
“If the Universe keeps on expanding, does that mean we die eventually? Is there any way we can stop it?” “No,” he replied amused by my question, back inside the physics classroom. “But, that is sad though,” I replied. He remarked, “When the Sun turns into a red giant five billion years later and explodes, the Earth will be gone and so will South Korea. Are we going to start grieving now?”
“But if you die, that is it. It’s over,” I said.