I believe in peace and reconciliation. North Korea’s nuclear test this past fall shook many in East Asia as well as the rest of the world. And while the dream for national reunification, as realized by Germany 16 years ago, seems more fantastic now than ever, I believe that it will come true.
My grandfather was an official of an area that would later become a part of North Korea. In the late 1940s, the repression from Japanese imperialism began to recede and the contrasting ideologies of the North and South began to take form. These ideologies exerted a magnetic pull dividing people that shared 5000 years of history, between the poles of Seoul and Pyongyang. Marked for interrogation by Communists, my grandfather took his young family on a harrowing ride to the southern most tip of the peninsula. They rode on top of packed train cars during the harsh Korean winter as thousands of their countrymen fled. My infant uncle nearly froze to death.
Growing up in the United States with the backdrop of the Cold War and family horror stories, the villain was clear. The North had started the war forcing my family to flee. The North was threatening the livelihood of innocent Koreans in the South. But when news of their famine began to trickle out I wondered if there was more to know about the North.
This past August my wife and I traveled to North Korea, to meet the enemy. Surprisingly we were served dishes like ones we cooked at home. We conversed with new friends using the first language I ever knew. Our host mother doted and nagged as if she were our own. We even continued the strange Korean obsession for a round of singing at every social gathering. At church, my wife cried as we sang her grandmother’s favorite hymn. Her grandmother had known a unified Korea almost as long as a divided one. It was remarkably like the Korean cultural island I knew growing up in middle America. I was home. The people I met were welcoming and were desperate for peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula. They spoke of a confederacy of separate governments to bring a divorced people together through a slow and gradual process of reconciliation. Of course we saw significant challenges as well. I played with children who were too small for their age, and dressed wounds for kids whose malnutrition underlied their slow healing wounds.
There we discovered something else that would give new meaning our lives. While in the North we learned that my wife was pregnant. Unbeknownst to us, our unborn baby was nourished by North Korean food, was loved by our ethnic brothers and sisters, and traversed the land my grandfather knew.
I believe in peace and reconciliation. Despite the threat of nuclear escalation, dysfunctional diplomacy, and 56 years of fear and hatred dividing the Korean people, I believe our common identity and filial obligation to bring every generation of our ethnic family together will prevail.
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