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This report is taken from PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.

Letter from South Korea (II) David Miller
THERE IS A PROBLEM on the Korean peninsula, not necessarily a military one. It concerns the pundits who come to this place with their eyes shut, conditioned by cardboard cut-out interpretations of history. Missing from images of this peninsula are Korean voices themselves. No one even wants to listen in the first place. Unreflecting commentary can betray more about the ignorance of reporters than about Korea. ‘The only thing both Koreas share,’ proclaimed ITV’s John Irvine in April, reporting from a subway station in Seoul, ‘is their last name’. As if a shared language and thousands of years of history mean nothing next to an arbitrarily demarcated partition.

To dismiss Korea as a unified territory equally dismisses the hopes of its inhabitants. Even if the younger generation cite potential economic problems as a reason to avoid reunification, there is also much evidence to the contrary. When Korea was forcibly partitioned more negotiations were promised in ninety days. This never happened. The serious attempts by writers in both countries to compile a collaborative Korean dictionary are testament to a desire for this stalled reunification as much as they are signs of separation. Recently, statements like Irvine’s have reached saturation point, coupled as they always are with speculative accounts of military prowess. To an active, mindful, existence here, they lend surreal qualities. There are tensions, but little justice is done by the reductions of twenty-four-hour news.

Commentary that comes from this region must pay attention to the omissions and silences. One of the most engaging pundits has ...


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