My dad’s unification
My Dad was born and raised in Pyongyang before he escaped south, along with millions of other North Koreans, as the U.N. forces retreated in the winter of 1950 under the onslaught of the Chinese “volunteer” army.
He was 16 years old at the time, alone and hungry when he arrived in Busan; worse, he didn’t even understand the Busan dialect. ``It was like a foreign language to me,” he recalls. But somehow he survived, albeit with a bullet scar across his chest. Many others didn’t.
Now that he is 80 years old, he would like an opportunity to visit his old hometown once more. He has no hopes anymore of finding his mother or younger sister that he left behind, but he would like to lay his eyes on his childhood home at least one more time. With the death of Kim Jong-il, he hopes that the opportunity could come before it is too late.
But as I listened to him give voice to his wishes, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of ``Alice in Wonderland” dizziness at the situation
that all Koreans, not just members of separated families, face in the fact that Korea is divided into North and South. Worse, you are prevented from visiting the loved ones left behind, unless it’s through one of those infrequent, government–sanctioned reunions in Mt. Geumgang.
Of course, unification would solve this problem. But whenever you begin to broach the subject, it gets immediately blasted with so many challenges and objections that you think you just landed in the middle of a debate among Republican presidential candidates on the eve of the Iowa caucus.
There are the political questions. How can we possibly think of unification with North Korea as long as it’s run by the distasteful
Kim dynasty? How can we approach unification when their military has 20,000 artillery pieces aimed at Seoul? How can we unify with a
nuclear armed North Korea when they are threatening to blow us to smithereens?
Then there are the socioeconomic questions. How can we afford to unify when it’s going to cost us trillions of dollars? How can we feed, clothe, and retrain all the unskilled and boorish North Korea workers to compete in a globalized world? How can we build all the necessary infrastructure needed to begin bringing North Korea up to speed? Most of all, how can we even begin to deal with all the poor, famished, backward people with unrealistic expectations of what South Korea could do for them?
How, how, how?
For a country that used to teach its children to sing, ``Our Deepest Wishes are for Unification,” in elementary school, there are a lot of
``How’s” that blocks any serious discussion of unification. And, admittedly, they are legitimate how’s. These are not easy questions to
But that’s only because we are looking at unification from a high-level political and economic sphere. What about unification at
the people level? In short, what would unification mean to my father, who now lives in New Jersey?
Simple. It would mean being able to get on a plane at Newark Airport and fly to Pyongyang, rent a car, and drive to where his
childhood home was and point out to his grandson where he used to fish and swim. Perhaps even knock on doors in the neighborhood to see if he could find anyone who knew of his family way back when.
As long as he could do that, he wouldn’t care which Kim ruled North Korea, to what levels they were enriching uranium, and whether their missile tests were failed satellite launches or not.
Some might criticize him for being selfish, for not thinking of the big picture and indirectly supporting an immoral regime perpetuate
itself. But my dad has been a victim of the ``Big Picture” long enough.
It’s the ``Big Picture” of the Cold War that ripped him apart from his family in the first place, and it’s the ``Big Picture” of Juche vs.
Capitalism that prevented him from saying goodbye to his mother, and it’s the ``Big Picture” of Nuke vs. Six-Party Talks that’s probably
going to keep him from showing his sons where he grew up.
Forget the ``Big Picture.” And forget who’s originally at fault. The old players are all dead anyway. All he wants now is the freedom to travel to Pyongyang from New Jersey. Or hop on a tour bus in Seoul and drive into Pyongyang, like he does between New Jersey and Virginia whenever he comes to visit me. And I have a feeling that he might is not alone. After all, there are 10 million Koreans who count themselves as part of the divided families.
``Small Picture” unification anyone?
Jason Lim is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant in organizational leadership, culture, and change management. He has been writing for The Korea Times since 2006. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @jasonlim2000.