Voices From South Korea: National Security, North Korea and the U.S.

BY Margaret Warner  January 13, 2011 at 10:30 AM EST

South Koreans enter 2011 still smarting from two North Korean attacks last year — on a warship in March and an island in November — that together killed 50 of their citizens. We’ve been asking South Koreans how they now feel about their neighbors to the North, and about the United States, which keeps 28,500 troops here. These were among the questions submitted by our readers.

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Yoo Jae Won, 16
Incoming high school freshman
Seoul

Yoo Jae WonWhat do you think of North Korea and North Koreans now?
I don’t have very good feelings about North Korea because they’re developing nuclear weapons and other bad stuff.

What should the South Korean government do?
We have to do tough things. Before, we gave a lot of aid and food but North Koreans never say thank you, they just take. President Lee changed that. He doesn’t give aid and food, and that’s better, it’s better to stay in a tough position, and make them ask, and say thank you, and change their behavior.

Even if that leads to war?
It’s impossible for North Korea to [wage] war on us because the United States and Japan are behind South Korea. And they don’t even have enough food. It’s hard to fight if your soldiers are hungry.

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Lee Sunghye, 35
Masters student in education
Seoul

Lee SunghyeWhat’s your view of North Korea and North Koreans?
I still feel that Korea is one nation. And in the World Cup soccer match, when North Korea played other countries, I rooted for North Korea with the same amount of enthusiasm that I used to have when I rooted for the South Korean team. I felt no different.

What’s your view of the U.S. and of U.S. troops remaining here?
Some people in South Korea expect the United States to play a role that keeps order and justice around the world — it might be too much of an expectation. I think South Korea should get wartime operational control back from the United States. As a matter of self-defense, I think we should have that kind of authority.

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Lee Sanghun, 24
Senior at Kyung Hee University school of business
Seoul

Lee SanghunWhat’s your view of North Korea and North Koreans?
Even after my military service, I firmly believed North Korea [was] the other half of our country. But whenever they make provocative actions or make aggressive decisions, it’s kind of confusing for me. The tension between the two countries is growing rapidly due to these provocative actions. I still believe they are the other half of our country, but the South has to be prepared for those military acts.

How prepared do you think the South Korean military is?
I thought they were really well-prepared when I was in the military. I participated in joint activities with the U.S. forces as well. And there was a lot of synergy. But these incidents show there have to be some improvements in the defense. There has to be a way to be better prepared.

Would you like to see unification of North and South Korea in your lifetime?
Yes. Right now, it’s impossible to speak with North Koreans. I’ve rarely seen pictures of them. I’ve only seen pictures of some mountains or famous tourism sites. So I was always curious about how they think of us and how they think of other things. It would be a wonderful experience for me if I had the chance to interact with North Korean people.

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Kim Eun Ji, 25
Studying to be interpreter
Seoul

Kim Eun JiWhat’s your view of North Korea and North Koreans?
North Koreans are very poor and I’m very worried about them, because they have a very cruel leader and are suffering from poverty. I feel sympathy for them, but I don’t like the leader of North Korea at all.

Do you think U.S. troops should remain in South Korea?
Yes, because the U.S. actually helped us in the Korean War, and I think they would definitely help us now. If we have their assistance, it would be better — even though we can do it for ourselves.

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Shin Dongpyo, 47
General manager of SDP Institute of Foreign Languages
Seoul

Shin DongpyoWhat’s your view of North Korea?
We are generally accustomed to their theatrical gestures. But you cannot really shake off that fear or threat that North Korea may fire a nuclear bomb on downtown Seoul even. Though immediately after the attack there was panic here, now after a few weeks have passed, most people are calm and don’t really talk about it.

Do you think U.S. troops should remain in South Korea?
Yes. As long as North Korea has nuclear bombs, the U.S. presence is very important because that can give the basis for immediate intervention of the U.S. Army to protect us.

The NewsHour is in South Korea reporting on tensions with North Korea and other social issues. Watch for our broadcast reports airing every night the week of Jan. 17.