William Morley

William  Morley
Seoul, South Korea
February 04
I am processing the melancholy already distilled by the letters of the alphabet.


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NOVEMBER 26, 2008 12:22PM

Ballooning Over the 38th Parallel

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 In the image above, members of the activist groups  Abductees' Family Union and Fighters For a Free North Korea use balloons to send 100,000 protest leaflets and small sums of money to North Korea. These balloons were launched Thursday the 20th, defying a warning issued the day before by the South Korean government against such acts. 
My literal translation of the center balloon in the second photo reads: "Kim Jong-il - It's a dictatorship!", though I think a more natural reading would be "Death to the Kim Jong-il dictatorship!"
 The writing of another's name in red is blatantly offensive in Korean culture as names are only written in red after a person is deceased. Thus the words on the balloon will appear shocking and provocative to whichever brothers and sisters above the 38th parallel happen to spot them before they are shot down, plundered, and destroyed.
These activists are attempting to expose the mythopoeia that is North Korea to its malnourished  populace.  

One gets accustomed to the front page invective and threats when living in Korea for a number of years, but lately the situation has been intensifying beyond the usual truculence. There has been a precipitous and much publicized deterioration in the relationship between the South and North since Lee Myung Bak began his term as president February 25, 2008.   

The two previous administrations pursued a tactic commonly referred to as the "Sunshine Policy" - a policy which emphasized active engagement with the North and ample amounts of aid donated without condition, appealing to goodwill, a relaxing of tensions, and tentative reconciliation.

This policy was justifiably criticized for generating a false sense of serenity between the two sides while ignoring the repressive nature of the North. In addition, there were many indications that a substantial amount of aid was being misused, mainly sold for profit or overly-distributed to the military, not the suffering populace. Kin of South Koreans kidnapped around the time of the Korean War, like those participating in the photos above, had good right to protest the fact that Kim Jong-il was being given handouts to prop up his dictatorship while being asked of nothing in return. Their lost family members remained ghosts, dead or alive, inhumed above the Demilitarized Zone.

The conservative Lee administration has made it a point to interlock aid with the North's progress in denuclearization. This, combined with international pressure to ameliorate the North's pathetic human rights record has inflated the hyperbole coming out of the Korean Central News Agency ("South Korea will face the dearest price") and deepened the recalcitrance of the North's posturing.  For some 10 years preceding the Bak administration South Korea was tepid toward endorsing UN resolutions against the North's Human Rights record, the liberal governments weary of ruffling bilateral relations. A Nobel Prize was one as a result of the Sunshine Policy, but what does that mean? A look at the World Food Program's report on the North's recurrent food crisis and recent reporting on today's famine-like conditions remind us that little has changed for those who truly suffer. 


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KC --

Poignant photos and a fascinating glimpse at the North Korean dilemma from an intimate, inside perspective. I'd love to hear more about how you came to live in S. Korea.
Thanks for this post. I like hearing what you have to say, and catching up on news from the part of the world you currently live in doesn't hurt either...
Yes, it's certainly interesting to pick up my paper every morning and see these rather intense sounding headlines and articles concerning North Korea, which is but a two hours drive away - and there is such a feeling of disconnect here - the North threatens ambiguous destruction on Seoul, no one really shudders - they go to Starbucks, or go shopping.