Skip to main content

Threats of annihilation normal for South Koreans

By Jim Clancy, CNN
April 1, 2013 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
CNN's Jim Clancy found that life is going on as normal in Seoul, South Korea. He detected no fear or anxiety about the stream of threats emanating from North Korea. <!-- -->
</br> CNN's Jim Clancy found that life is going on as normal in Seoul, South Korea. He detected no fear or anxiety about the stream of threats emanating from North Korea.
HIDE CAPTION
Life in Seoul, South Korea
Life in Seoul, South Korea
Life in Seoul, South Korea
Life in Seoul, South Korea
Life in Seoul, South Korea
Life in Seoul, South Korea
Life in Seoul, South Korea
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • No indication of fear or anxiety in Seoul toward North Korean threats
  • South Koreans have long lived under a cloud of threats from North
  • South Koreans seems to be carrying with life as normal

Editor's note: Jim Clancy, host of the weekly show "The Brief" on CNN International, is a 30-year veteran with the network. He has been an international correspondent based in the Beirut, Frankfurt, Rome and London bureaus, and has covered conflicts around the globe.

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- As winter recedes, winds whip through downtown Seoul and chill the crowds of commuters on their way home. The sun is dropping and the pale golden light streams between tall buildings. A girl smiles as she chats excitedly on her cell phone. Men in black suits cluster on a street corner debating their happy hour destination.

Nowhere is there the slightest inkling that anyone in this second largest metropolitan area in the world -- is fearful or even anxious about the stream of threats emanating from North Korea.

Just as sure as spring is coming, most seem to find it entirely normal that warnings of thermonuclear war, annihilation and utter devastation punctuate this, the season of joint U.S., South Korean military maneuvers.

Opinion: Why North Korea regime is scary

Kim: 'Time has come to settle accounts'
Business as usual in Korean econ zone
Little: We will protect South Korea
North Korea cuts last military hotline

"We are post-war, we don't worry about that," a journalist specializing in local news told me. "We take it for granted." He was just one of about 30 reporters I met in a session discussing news in the South Korean capital this week.

Seoul is a scant 30 miles from the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea -- one of the most militarized places on the planet. If a full-scale war were to break out, the South Korean capital would be Pyongyang's prime target. It might only be minutes before artillery or rockets would come raining down.

North Korea has an array of artillery and other conventional arms that make its military a credible threat, especially to South Korean. Pyongyang is also believed to possess thousands of tons of chemical agents, although it has denied possessing such weapons.

I wondered aloud if South Koreans really weren't afraid or simply felt there was nothing they could do about it anyway?

"We're insensitive," one offered in reply.

It's not the futility of fear in their predicament; it's that they have lived their entire lives under a cloud of threats and warnings from the North.

READ: Timeline of North Korea's escalating rhetoric

"We know North Korea doesn't want war," said another. "They want money and food," adding that Pyongyang has tried it all -- missiles, the nuclear threat, its million man army -- to try to blackmail the South.

READ: Five things to know about North Korea's threats

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited this week and told hundreds of people gathered for the Asian Leadership Conference that North Korea knew well an attack on South Korea, much less the United States, would mean a "regime ending" retaliation.

How far can North Korean missiles go?
North Korea puts rockets on standby
South Korean island haunted by war
U.S., S. Korea defense agreement

He encouraged his mostly South Korean audience to be optimistic because they were part of the world that has grown more democratic and wealthier, as opposed to the road chosen by the Kim family dynasty. Rather than being burdened by the dark clouds of threats, Powell urged them to pursue jobs and human dignity, to focus on the environment and poverty reduction.

What's Kim Jong Un up to?

South Koreans seem overwhelmingly willing to take that advice. In the week I've been here, I have only found one woman who remembers participating in civilian air raid drills. "It was 30 years ago," she told me. Today, Seoul's 25 million people have absolutely no ambition to live in constant fear.

But Seoul isn't all of South Korea.

"It's different for us than people on the islands," one told me, recalling the attack in 2010 that killed four South Koreans on Yeonpyeong island barely outside North Korea's territorial waters. In Seoul, the prospect of war is unthinkable. But in a select few flashpoint areas, the threat of armed provocation is very real, indeed.

Korean nightmare: Experts ponder potential conflict

I paused on a street corner near CNN's Seoul offices and looked up at the jagged peaks rising behind the Blue House, which is the South Korea's presidential office. If missiles ever did come streaking toward the South Korean capital, they would likely arc above those mountains. The nearest shelter, I thought, would be the subway system. I considered how long it would take me to get there, even if I were lucky enough to see them still short of their targets. My calculations weren't at all comforting.

Then, like about everyone around me, I decided to think about something else.

iReport: What are your views on North Korea's threats?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Kim Jong Il's former bodyguard tells of beatings and starvation while imprisoned in the country's most notorious prison camp.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0559 GMT (1359 HKT)
The chief of the Commission of Inquiry into North Korea's human rights says the world can no longer plead ignorance to the regime's offenses.
November 10, 2014 -- Updated 1834 GMT (0234 HKT)
Putting the United States at the same table as lawless thugs isn't just morally repugnant -- it's ineffective, writes Christian Whiton.
November 9, 2014 -- Updated 1711 GMT (0111 HKT)
Why did North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agree to released American prisoners Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 0025 GMT (0825 HKT)
North Korea has released photos that claim to show leader Kim Jong Un, whose absence for over a month has raised speculation.
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 0543 GMT (1343 HKT)
Despite tense relations, China benefits from Kim Jong Un's rule in North Korea. David McKenzie explains.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0851 GMT (1651 HKT)
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system," the country declares.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 0135 GMT (0935 HKT)
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions Monday in an exclusive interview with CNN.
May 28, 2013 -- Updated 1041 GMT (1841 HKT)
Beijing-based tour company posts exclusive photos and video from inspection visit.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
The crowd cheers as the stars make their way to the ring for first pro-wrestling bout North Korea has seen in almost 20 years.
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
Visiting the DPRK is easy these days, so long as you don't forget to play by their rules.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley is given a rare look inside North Korea and tours Kim Jong Un's pet project, a waterpark.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
Photographer Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea and shares his inside look at the most isolated country in the world.
ADVERTISEMENT