It is a country with few friends in the world and tends to hold on to anachronistic values. So what is North Korea’s problem? Why are they – the powers of that country – intent on flexing their military muscle to show their might? Over the last ten years I have worked at a North Korean elementary school, here in Japan. I have spoken with the teachers and other staff and realize that North Korea wants no interference from other nations.
Japan controled the Korean peninsula from 1910 until 1945. In the latter part of this rule, many Koreans were sent to mainland Japan to work in factories and help with the Imperial war effort. Following the liberation on the country, in 1945, many forced Korean laborers, returned to their homeland, while others chose to stay and start a new life in Japan.
The many that did return found Korea a divided country – North and South. The Russians had forced the Japanese out of the north and the Americans had done the same in the south. However, unlike the Americans in the south, the Russians left North Korea to govern itself – only advising and trading with the country. North Korea, under the leadership of now Kim Jong’s father, Kim ill Sung, began to rebuild its heritage, its culture and its customs. The North thought that South Korea would also be free of American influence and would also would return to its true self. Alas, this did not happen. America’s, occuping of the southern part of the peninsula, was seen from a military standpoint. From Korea they could easily attack that feared monster, “The Red Ruskkie”. Japan also was of a military advantage for the United States and thus they never left that nation also.
As mentioned, after the retreat of the Russians, North Korea began returning to how it was before the Japanese annexed the country. Kim Sung was (and still is) seen as a hero of the people. He gave Korea back to the people of the country. North Korea continued to hope that the south would follow its example and ask the Americans to leave. But it never happened. While the North was becoming Korea again, the South was becoming an Asian America. The North saw much of the Korean culture being lost or perverted in the south, because of western influences. They (the North) believed that the only way to save the entire peninsula was to attack the South – drive out the interfering Americans. This, as we all know, lead to the Korean War. In retrospect, it was stupid of the North to invade the South as this only gave the Americans an excuse to stay in the country.
So, to answer the question what does North Korea want? They want to hold on to the customs and culture of the Korean people. They want to trade and learn from the west, but they don’t want the west pushing its customs and cultures on them. They want to pass on to their children the stories, language etc of Korea. They are extremely xenophobic and fear a pre-emptive attack from a western country – namely America – and the show of might, is their way of saying, “We will fight for our sovereignty”. Indeed, if America or some other nation did attack North Korea, it would be a blood-bath. North Korea would never surrender and the leaders would destroy the country, and not let an invading nation take control. I believe the average North Korean person is a good person – a person with deep beliefs, but a good person. The leaders of that nation are somewhat jingoistic and quite possibly have falling “in love” with the power, however I do believe that friendship and peace with North Korea can be achieved, if we – the western powers – assure them that their way of life is respected and safe.