May 28th, 2009
07:57 PM ET

Why South Koreans don’t worry about Kim Jong Il

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/28/art.southkorea.reaction.jpg caption="Despite a declaration of war from North Korea, many South Koreans seem unfazed."]

Sohn Jie-Ae
CNN Seoul Correspondent

Despite its declaration of war, North Korea is just not on the minds of many South Koreans.

People on the streets of Seoul have been calm, and going about business as usual. No sign of fear.

And overnight - at 4 A.M. - 200 South Korean soccer fans were fixated on a movie screen, watching a soccer match between Manchester United and Barcelona.

North Korea's threats were not keeping these South Koreans from cheering on the first Korean, in fact the first Asian, playing in the European championship finals.

"Park Ji-Sung! Park Ji-Sung!" The crowd chanted his name while waving the red and yellow flag of his team, the world-famous "Man U".

I asked one fan for his thoughts about North Korea and his eyes seemed to glaze over as he tried to re-channel his thoughts to a subject that he obviously had not been thinking about. A long pause. "I don't have any," he finally said.

I'm getting a lot of that as we gauge reaction in the streets.

Even non-soccer fans aren't discussing North Korea. The news everyone is talking about is the suicide death of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

It's not hard to understand if you put yourself in the shoes of a normal South Korean. After the two Koreas fought a war in the 1950s, the two sides have faced off in one of the world's most hostile borders. And since that time, North Korea has made more than its share of threats against the South.

How many times has North Korea threatened war on the Korean peninsula since the two Koreas battled from 1950 to 1953? Just off the top of my head, I can recall at least three in the past decade.

North Korea seems to comes out with belligerent statements every time joint U.S.-South Korean troops conduct their annual military exercises.

In 1994, North Korea even threatened to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire." Then in 2008, in typical North Korea fashion, they upped the ante and said South Korea would become "a pile of ashes."

So what's one more declaration of war?

By contrast, a former president being investigated for receiving millions of dollars in bribes, who then leaps off a cliff to his death - now THAT is news.

A typical evening scene since the suicide, especially in the Seoul city center, is thousands of South Koreans lining up at the numerous alters across the country to pay their last respects to the late president.

Calmly reading the evening papers or talking and texting on their cell phones, South Koreans join a very long winding line of mourners, with a black ribbon of mourning taped on their chest. After what could be hours, they get to lay flowers and bow in front of a black-ribboned picture of the late president. When it gets dark, volunteers appear and hand out candles to the mourners. The line becomes a procession of lights. This lasts until the wee hours of the morning.

So it's not unusual when people on the streets respond to our probing questions about the North Korean threat by saying they would prefer to talk about the late president Roh. Or soccer.

By the way, despite Park Ji-Sung's efforts, Barcelona beat Manchester United by 2-0.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. G.

    This is the time to watch China and find out its intentions, in the world. If their intentions are not committed to world peace, then the shift should change to trade with those a little more involved in finding it. Interesting. I think the U.S. and other countries should back off and watch. There are enough nuke subs to end any major conflicts probably. This is a time of change, a world recession, and we should all be learning and adapting to the world. Some may not fare well.

    May 29, 2009 at 10:20 am |
  2. Ryan

    Despite my fellow Americans comments I think the South Korean government and the United States government need to take these threats and other threats into serious consideration. Although North Korea may seem powerless and underdeveloped there are countries and organizations that have the power to supply this country with necessary weapons and resources to carry out a deadly military act of violence. The United States as well as the United Nations Security Council and our fellow UN members should be putting diplomatic as well as economic pressures on North Korea. CUT THE AID to the country. The only way we can get North Korea to change is through civil unrest! Let the people protest! Rebellion, unfortunately is the only way Kim Jong II is going to be gone!

    May 29, 2009 at 10:19 am |
  3. G.

    This is not a U.S. problem. China backs-up N. Korea and there are many problems with their products. Major ones. It's about time that they took responsibility for this area of the world. They send food and support there.

    May 29, 2009 at 10:11 am |
  4. TruthBaby

    Well, they should!! His helth in all of his talk should be cosidered. The South might wanna think that maybe he might want to start a war before he goes from his resent sickness and take a lot of S. Koreans with him..

    May 28, 2009 at 7:27 pm |
  5. Jack

    Im not worryed about North Korea why because last time we didnt know what to expect and if tey attack USA and many other nations will attack North Korea.South Korea should not worry the world supports them and besides who has nukes and whos building there first.

    May 28, 2009 at 5:02 pm |
  6. chandra

    North Korea's defiance in testing misslies and underground nuclear tests, increasingly exposes the weakness of US, UN and the othe "Gobal powers". In spite of the repeated "warnings" and "consequences" which has no or little effect on North Korea. Obama and the Global Powers are in urgency to take some "action" which will deter other nations following the suit. (Iran is on the verge of testing one). US and Global powers should work on improving their own credibility by reducing the nukes and signing on the Non Proliferation themselves in addition to pressing other nuclear countries (India and Pakistan) to so the same. We are already on the verge of the Global nuclear race and humanity has to pay a "big price" if they dont take action now.

    May 28, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  7. Yubin

    (Although I'm not good at English, as a Korean, I'd like to write down my "personal" opinion on S. Koreans' current attitudes toward N. Korea)
    Whenever serious threats from N.Korea pop up, S. Koreans generally don't concern about them. This kind of indifference is not just today's matter. It has been long time for people not to care about them. That is possibly because S.Koreans are sick of constant negative behavior of N.Korea, or they still vaguely assume any war won't burst out at the end considering that N.Korea may not gain much profits from the war. However, now, the main reason "Why South Koreans don’t worry about Kim Jong Il" is this: all the attention is paid to the loss of former president Roh(actually I don't know whether they are that much crazy about soccer as I'm not interested in it). All the press and media are dealing with his death on the first page and a lot of people are joining a very long line of mourners as the saying above. Since many people have abundant complaints about present president Lee, they are really mournful about the loss of the former president. Even though Roh was being investigated for receiving bribes(in fact, who received it were his associates according to investigation so far), he still had lots of support from people. Many think he was attacked due to the political retaliation. Finally, he chose the way of death and jumped up from cliff. His suicide was too stunning to believe, and even I can't and don't want to. His suicide notes appeals he is innocent of bribery at least, and this makes people feel somewhat guilty about suspecting him. Now, people are crying in front of his pictures and feeling his emptiness.
    I guess this is "Why South Koreans don’t worry about Kim Jong Il", at least now. Anyway, his funeral is going to be held today(29th, May). I do pray for the repose of his soul and hope him not to suffer any pain in heaven.

    May 28, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  8. Justine

    Good to know I'm not the only one not caring about all this huffing and puffing from North Korea. My mother panicked when they tested that failed missile and I just rolled my eyes and told her, "They're light years away from being a serious threat. Been so since the end of the Korean War." But she was born just years after the war ended, and grew up in the hell that was the early years of South Korean democracy, so I know why she was so worried.

    But she was more or less incapacitated when she found out about former President' Roh's suicide, and she didn't even like the man, so if Kim Jong Il's trying to get more attention (as usual) he chose a really bad time. Korea has enough suicides, thanks, but by a former president who prided himself on being a human rights lawyer and having a clean record?

    I still wait for the day my mother country is reunited, but from what I can gather we've pretty much moved on.

    May 28, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  9. DragonTat2

    The opinion of a 4a.m. soccer fan (did he have his obligatory Soju bottle?) may well reflect the feelings of the other 59 million people in and around Seoul, yet I wonder what the daylight reaction is around Yongsan Garrison and Itewon.

    May 28, 2009 at 2:39 pm |
  10. Felix

    They should be worry Anderson, because when humans are corner or presser they are likely to lash out. it only take one bomb and the south is no more. his health is not good right now so who really know what he is thinking.i'm alittle disappoint that the world allow this to get this far:o( We should have fix North Korea first before ever going into Iraq.

    May 28, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  11. robyn caffrey keyser wesr virgina

    this coment is for cindy '

    it makes alot of sence.

    ( please ) mr president from what was on the news about north korea " only u can fix this. ( please we all know you can.

    May 28, 2009 at 2:00 pm |
  12. Cindy

    Kim Jong II is nothing but all talk that's why the S. Koreans aren't paying him or his threats any attention. They and we have heard it all before. He'll rant and rave and then do nothing. He just really wants attention and more money thrown his way.


    May 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm |