The Consequences of Korean Extremism

SEOUL – Once again, the Korean peninsula is experiencing one of its periodic bouts of extremism, this time marked by the suicide on May 22 of former president, Roh Moo-hyun, and North Korea’s second test of a nuclear device. Roh’s suicide is a disaster for his family and a national shame, while North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s nuclear blast is something of a temper tantrum, but one which may have dire consequences for the two Koreas and the world.

The North Korean bomb, estimated at four kilotons, does not come anywhere near the magnitude of the atomic bombs of 15-21 kilotons that America dropped on Japan 64 years ago. Indeed, this vainglorious attempt by Kim Jong-il reminds Koreans of the mother bullfrog in Aesop’s Fables who puffed herself out to imitate an ox.

Yet North Korea’s world-defying belligerency is not utter madness. Rather, it is a by-product of its own acute fears of regime collapse.

As a Korean, I am always puzzled by Korean extremism. Where in the world can you find a more isolated, regimented and militarized dynastic mutation of a communist totalitarian system than in North Korea? Where on earth can you see a nuclear-armed, missile-shooting panhandler such as Kim Jong-il? Is there another country where only a father and his son have ruled like demigods for the last 61 years?