War is easy, peace is difficult.
This should be the thought process going through the minds of all observers, as the detente between two sworn enemies unfolds.
After 68 years of war, recent interactions between the United States and North Korea, culminating in the historic first meeting between each country’s sitting leaders, have become romanticized by world observers, but it is important to remember that millions of lives hang in balance.
Yes, President Donald Trump may just be trying to de-escalate tensions he helped create. Yes, he may just be trying to score a political victory before the midterm elections. Yes, he and his team fumbled much of the build up to the meeting on June 12 and probably gave away too many concessions afterwards. However, peace is difficult, and complex.
The Korean Peninsula has known nothing but war for 68 years. Multiple generations of Koreans have grown up and become accustomed to the possibility of war. This is why Moon Jae-in, prime minister of South Korea, was elected. Following a government that took a hard-line approach to the North, Southerners simply grew tired of failed attempts to rebuff the North with tough words and simulated military operations.
War is easy. The South — with American training, support and its nuclear shield — hold the superior military edge and would win any conflict between the Koreas, rather easily. War, though, is never a simple zero-sum game. Winners and losers exist within the larger outcome.
Koreans in the South sympathize greatly with their Northern neighbors. They are cognizant enough to separate the government’s actions from those of their non-consenting citizens. How could the South’s government justify the annihilation of their supposed Northern brethren, presumably resulting in the death of millions of innocent North Korean civilians. Or how about the thousands of lives that would be lost in the South. Less the 50 miles from the Southern capital Seoul — population 10 million — sits hundreds of thousands of Northern artillery, capable of reeking havoc in a short duration. Not to even mention the nuclear holocaust, an albeit brief war, would still generate.
No one ever wants war, but achieving peace is not as simple as holding one historic meet-and-greet. Huge obstacles still remain, but peace must start somewhere. Trump may not even be aware of what he has stumbled into. Complex international issues, steeped in a labyrinth of history, do not appear to be his strong suit, as one can see from the Palestinian question. We should not be condemning the president’s attempt at peace, however, no matter how unorthodox it is.
It may be difficult for Americans to realize, but this complex issue is not about human rights or national security. What’s at stake is a much greater historical reality: a Korean peninsula, and wider region, that has not known peace for literally thousands of years. From the chaos of Chinese inner turmoil, through Japanese imperialism and currently the inter-Korean standoff, East Asian harmony is finally within grasp. For decades, an American solution to East Asia had to include a North Korea either overthrown militarily or defeated ideologically. After the historic meeting between Trump and the Northern Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, the United States has tacitly acknowledged a future in East Asia involving a communist North Korea, and this was the first domino needed to fall for any peace to advance.
It is now the North’s turn to drop the next domino. Twice before the Democratic People’s Republic reneged on its international commitments to denuclearize. History would imply that the North sees no future East Asia without nuclear weapons at its disposal. But the North is not irrational, and it realizes its nuclear weapons are the final obstacle standing in the way of meaningful peace.
If each countries truly wants to end the hostilities, then it is attainable. South Koreans have waited 68 years and the rest of the world must be patient too. The thaw between sworn enemies will take time, and agreements could fall apart once or twice before the republics realize how close they’ve come, but it will be worth it in the end. Peace is difficult, but worth every minute once achieved.
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