Yesterday, a group of students announced to me that North Korea was going to bomb us the day after tomorrow. “According to who?” I asked. But they were all chattering at me and each other in Korean a million miles a minute, and I was struggling to catch up.
“At school, our teacher said!” was all I could catch.
NYtimes.com was open on my browser, and none of the top headlines were about North Korea. But I knew it was the middle of the night in America, so NYtimes might be behind. Was I missing something? I hastily googled “North Korea Trump news,” and plenty of articles popped up, but they the most pressing issue seemed to be trade agreements that were currently up in the air. Not scheduled missile strikes.
Later, my older students told me the source of this information was “Youtube.” Youtube? But yes, apparently these rumors had come from some speculators on the internet who claimed that secret documents had been intercepted revealing that a bombing of South Korea was scheduled for September 9th.
What surprised me more than this fake news was my students emotional reaction to it. (Although what kind of teacher tells that to their ten-year-old students?!) This particular elementary-aged class of mine spent a good ten minutes in heated discussion about our situation. Were we all going to die? Were our lives going to be ruined? Would only the people in Seoul die? Most of all, the students proclaimed how much they would love to personally bomb Kim Jong Un.
Living in South Korea the past six years, threats of war have risen from time to time, usually around the same time each year. This year has felt different. It has lasted longer than any other year, and war has felt more real than before. But even so, like other years, I have sensed very little tension here on the ground. If it weren’t for my parents and NYtimes, I probably wouldn’t feel the least bit worried. As it is, even amidst my students exclamations today, when war felt more real to me than it probably ever has, a student asked me, “Teacher, feel scary?” and I just shrugged. So-so, I indicated with a hand gesture.
When you live in unresolved conflict for as long as Korea has, you get used it, it becomes the norm. Sure, we could all be bombed tomorrow, but we haven’t been for the past 64 years. And if we are, what can we do about it now? Might as well just live our lives.
Apathy is natural. Especially if you’ve never personally experienced war.
But today I saw that underneath the apathy are real emotions. Today when I asked my students my daily, “How are you?” they all answered, “Angry!” The last one added, “And very, very sad, and very, very ANGRY.”
I realized they felt helpless. How could they not? They felt frustrated. Again, understandably. They are stuck in a potentially perilous situation over which they have no control and behind which is a lot of hurt, feelings of betrayal, and unresolved tension that they have inherited, even as children.
As an American, as a citizen of the most powerful nation in the world, I have never known the feeling of fearing another nation, of fearing invasion, of having to appease a higher power. Terrorism has changed things. America is no longer untouchable. But even so, our pride is very much intact. We don’t bow to anyone.
While watching a Korean drama recently, I thought to myself, “Koreans know about suffering.” Suffering in silence. Hiding your pain. Crying in secret. Silently bearing injustice. Humbling yourself to appease those over you. Koreans know that kind of suffering well.
Today I felt a bit of that helplessness as I listened to my students. We may not be occupied by enemy forces, but we are at the mercy of allies and foes stronger than we. What can we do but bear it?
But while the resentment that kind of situation could foster concerns me, my students’ “anger” also made me smile today. I saw resilience in it. There was real fear in some of their eyes. In some, near hatred. But mostly I saw resilience, a determination to defend their nation, a resolution to fight for good.
There is a strength that can only be learned by long-suffering. The Bible calls it endurance. Amongst all the tragedies this nation has suffered, that is one of its most beautiful traits to me: They have endured.