Tuesday, October 10, 2006

what my students are saying

I've been asking the question all day to my students: "Are we now living in a new world?" Some students are nervous. "I'm thinking about emigrating," one said only half-jokingly. Where? I asked. "Anywhere," she said. Aren't you ready to fight for your country? I asked. "How do you fight a nuclear weapon?" her seatmate interjected.

Other students have offered me a shrug. "We already knew they had nukes," was a line I heard frequently, and it reflects my own thinking on the matter: even if this "test" wasn't truly performed with a nuke, there's little reason to doubt the intelligence we possess regarding North Korea's nuclear capability.

One student surprised me with her take on Kim Jong Il. "I sort of liked him until today," she said, "But now I hate him." I kept a poker face, but my guts were writhing and my testicles kept popping in and out of my body like turtle heads. My asshole started shrieking ultrasonically; little edible dogs screamed in response and then exploded outside our building (NB: I've decided to name any future canine pet "Yummy"). Liked Kim Jong Il?

In all, it seems to me that the people most in a tizzy are the newscasters. I have no TV at home, so I've been getting my news from various shops in which TVs have all been blaring the same thing. "Haek mugi... haek mugi..." Nuclear weapon. But was there a nuke?

I saw some commentary at the Marmot's Hole that said in effect, "It doesn't matter whether that bomb was a nuke." I respectfully disagree. It's important to establish the fact of the matter to gauge to what extent North Korea is either telling the truth or bluffing. Right now, I'm leaning toward "elaborate, expensive bluff." I don't doubt that NK has nukes, but I'd like to know whether they just wasted one from their arsenal in order to make a point.

The Marmot's Hole commenter is right in one sense: real nukes or no, events beyond NK's control have likely been set in motion, especially when we look at Japan. Assuming that NK was indeed bluffing, there's no way in hell they can backpedal now and claim that they never said anything about a nuke test. I recently read that Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is something of a hawk who would like to see Japan's constitution reworked. How did a man like that ride into office? Underneath all the sound and fury of Japanese public opinion is, I believe, the gentle but persistent tidal pull of Japan's hawkish right wing, which has been saying both loudly and softly that Japan can't just sit there and take it. And unlike a polarized America, Japan is more likely to swing most people to whatever becomes the majority opinion.*

Most of my students concluded that there's no real problem for now, but that large problems loom on the horizon. That's the guarded view I'm also taking for the moment, at least until certain basic facts are unearthed.

*As when I make general statements about Korea, I don't mean to imply that Japan is ruled by a heedless, robotic conformism, but it would also be wrong to deny that conformism plays a significant role in East Asian politics.


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