By Howard Hwang, 14, Marshall HS
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Illustration by Alia Aidyralieva, 17, Bravo Medical Magnet

When my mother first told me during dinner about the reunification of North and South Korea, I almost choked on my rice.

The war between North and South Korea from 1950-1953 split the country in half, because of political views. North Korea is Communist, and the South is Democratic.

Reunification is important because it would lead to a peaceful Korea. It could reunite families that have been separated for 50 years.

I was so excited to hear the news that I called my dad, who works as a professor in Korea. When he picked up the phone, he said there was a mix of emotions—some people were celebrating, and others were swearing because of the pain North Korea has caused.

I yearned to hear more about it.

At 10 p.m., I rushed to the TV to see the story on the news. It wasn’t until 15 minutes into the program that anything about Korean reunification was shown. That made me angry. Reunification should be something that everyone knows and cares about. When the Korean news came on, it was their first story. I realized that American media had their own priorities, and Korea was definitely not one of them.

Korean leaders discussed improving North-South relations

"June 13th will be proudly remembered in history," declared North Korean president Kim Jong-il during a 27-minute talk in a guesthouse in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

"Let’s make history," replied South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, who has staked his political inheritance on improving relations with his Communist neighbor.

No agreements were announced, but Kim Jong-il has said, "We won’t brag about anything, and we will make you satisfied."

I wonder how much will change. I wonder if the hatred and the prejudice will go away. A large part of me says it will, but this small part of me worries that North Korea’s president will do something detrimental.

Can North Korea be trusted?

Just 17 years ago, North Korea was suspected of launching a remote-controlled bomb in Burma which killed many high-ranking officials including four cabinet members from the South. North Korea still has more warheads and could start a devastating attack when the country reunites and the South has its guard down Although time has passed, I’m still leery, especially since my relatives and family live near the border in South Korea. There is an U.S. military base located near them. If the North was ever to attack the South, their first target would most likely there. My family and relatives might lose their homes or be killed.

I thought about this in July when I visited relatives in South Korea. I strolled around the town of Chonchong and asked some people how they felt about this reunification.

Even though it has been 50 years since the war, some people are still bitter. Some like my aunt, Mi-sun Che, fear the scheming of Kim Jong-il.

"North Korea was very bad to us in these past 50 years. It was only 17 years ago that they shot that bomb in Burma," Che said. "I do feel that a reunification would lead to peace, even though this could all be part of Kim Jong-il’s master plan to eliminate South Koreans."

Later on, I met Dong Hwa Choi, 24, on the subway and asked her about the subject on reunification. Her face turned red with anger as she spoke. "Tell that disgrace of a Korean, Kim Jong-il, to stay on his side and never think of a reunification. North Korea has caused South Korea too much pain already, and I have no doubt that they are willing to cause us more."

Reunification could be great

I feel that this reunification could be great. It could lead to the reunification of families and end prejudice between North and South.

Kyu Jin Park, 33, who works as a student in molecular biology, said this reunification would close open wounds. "A reunification would be wonderful and lead to many benefits, but the Koreas have too much differences to become one. If however, they were to become one, it would take a considerable amount of time."

My older cousin, Gee-yun Yoon, 22, works part-time in computers, attends Seoul University, and thinks it would be a good idea for this reunification to happen. "So many families were separated during the war. We need to reconnect the two Koreas," Yoon said.

Reconnecting the two Koreas would take a lot of work on both sides. It will take some work from me, too, because I feel optimistic about the reunification, but pessimistic about what has happened in the past.

I hope Kim Jong-il will do what he says and not betray us. If he does this, there will be a collective happiness that everyone can enjoy.

How did Korea get divided?

Background on the Korean war from the Encyclopedia Brittannica

At the end of World War II, Japan was forced to surrender Korea, which was divided into two sections, North and South.

The Soviet Republic occupied the North where communism soon reigned. The United States took South Korea, where democracy was later established. By 1949, both countries pulled the majority of their troops out of Korea.
But on June 25, 1950, North Korea crashed through the border and invaded its southern counterpart. That aggression started the Korean War, which lasted three years.

Other countries stepped in for support. China assisted North Korea. Forces predominantly from the United States fought for South Korea. War blasted through the country for the following three years.

Negotiations to stop the war dragged on, until President Dwight D. Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons and stretch the war into China. Within a year, a peace agreement was reached. The boundary separating North and South Korea was established and remains today.

Approximately 3,000,000 died in the Korean War—nearly 1,300,000 South Koreans, about 500,000 North Koreans and 1,000,000 Chinese were killed. An estimated 54,000 Americans, plus soldiers from England, Australia and Turkey died.