SEOUL, Korea (MindaNews/23 May) — If one views the flag of the Republic of Korea which is called the taegeukgi, one is immediately drawn to the yin and yang design in two colors at the very center of the flag. The red half is supposed to represent “the proactive cosmic forces of the yang” while the blue one represents “the responsive cosmic forces of the yin”. Together, the two forces “embody the concepts of continual movement, balance and harmony that characterize the sphere of infinity”.
Balance and harmony. All communities and societies throughout the world have deep longings for these. Korea – a peninsula that has been a witness to countless wars through centuries – is where the people seek to have balance and harmony in their lives. A war raged in the 1950s between the North and the South; that war continues to divide the country. Sixty years later, most Korean people dream of a reunification that will allow families and relatives to have regular contacts once again.
This dream was beginning to be fulfilled in the last few years when the leaders of the North and the South managed to reach some level of agreement in terms of collaborative efforts. A few families were able to reunite; some investments from the South were beginning to enter the North even as the South brought more relief aid to those in the North suffering from hunger and malnutrition. But these baby steps towards reunification abruptly stopped just in the last few months with the sinking of South Korea’s Navy frigate – the Cheonan – last March 26, 2010, killing 46 sailors.
A Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group (JIG) – which included 24 foreign experts from the USA, Britain, Australia and Sweden – was set up to investigate the matter. On 20 May, 2010, the Group announced its findings: the culprit was a North Korean submarine which attacked the Cheonan. Yoon Duk-yong, a professor emeritus at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, who served as co-head of the Group was quoted in the papers as saying: “The Cheonan was split apart and went down to a shockwave and bubble effect produced by an underwater torpedo explosion. Based on all such relevant facts and classified analysis, we have reached the clear conclusion that the Cheonan sank on March 26, as the result of an external underwater explosion caused by a torpedo made in North Korea.”
Immediately, Pyongyang’s National Defense Commission, headed by the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il dismissed the allegation as “sheer fabrication”. It also warned that punitive measures over the incident would be met with “touch measures including an all-out war”. The Commission offered to dispatch a delegation of North Korean investigators to Seoul to look into the findings of the JIG to check its veracity. The statement called President Lee Myung-back of the Republic of Korea as a “traitor” and indicated that if would respond with a “merciless strong physical blow” if South Korea makes even a minor act of aggression.
On Friday, 21 May 2010, President Lee Myung-bak convened a meeting of the National Security Council to “discuss stern countermeasures against North Korea” as well as plan how Seoul will take Pyongyang to the U.N. Security Council for “diplomatic and military sanctions.” The NSC is also set to mobilize joint international response. President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have expressed full support for South Korea in seeking a joint international response to this crisis. On Monday, 24, May 2010, President Lee plans to speak to the nation calling for the Koreans to unite in view of this crisis.
But even as the crisis situation has reached this level of intense diplomatic engagements, the everyday reality for most of the Seoul residents has not drastically changed. As the weather remains quite pleasant (at mostly 19 degrees Celsius), the people are out to enjoy the sunny weather especially in the areas of Seoul which are near the mountains. Hundreds of people are out hiking especially last Friday which was the celebrated by the Buddhists as the Buddha’s birthday. Thousands of multi-colored lanterns could be seen hanging across trees to signify this happy celebration. In the two Buddhist shrines we visited that day, there were religious rites, concerts and other activities where the people shared food, music, laughter and goodwill to guests.
Elsewhere in the major tourist spots – the National Museum, the Changdeokgung Palace, the Cheonggyecheon Steam (the six-kilometer stream that snakes through the very heart of Seoul), the War Memorial, etc. – thousands of Koreans and tourists enjoyed the sights. The subways, markets and malls were filled with people enjoying the three-day week-end holiday.
A case of ignoring what is a fact of life in Korea, namely, the constant threat of war? A situation of live-and-let-live given Korea’s long history of conflicts? A resignation to a world reality where elsewhere there are worse violent situations from Bangkok to Baghdad?
However, in the rare moments when I shared a meal with Koreans, one can sense their deep concern about the recent developments. And, deep down, one discerns their deep longing for balance and harmony with their brothers and sisters up north.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)