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Korea: Seeking an end to the war

From CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy

The deserted streets of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, are a stark contrast to bustling Seoul.
The deserted streets of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, are a stark contrast to bustling Seoul.

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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Downtown Seoul is modern, bustling, prosperous and sophisticated.

Across the border, its Northern counterpart, downtown Pyongyang, is empty, impoverished and isolated.

South Korea is now the world's 13th largest economy, a vibrant democracy run by a former human rights lawyer.

But in North Korea, communist personality cult Kim Jong Il presides over food shortages, a slumping economy and a worrying nuclear weapons program.

Now these two systems, locked in a half-century of hostility since the war between them ended, both call themselves Korea.

But just as the Korean peninsula remains divided, South Korea itself is split by a generational divide, in which the war and its legacy remains the central issue.

Kim Dong Ho flew P-51 fighters in the war. He worries the younger generation doesn't appreciate what was at stake, when an estimated three million people died after three years of fighting.

"Worry, yes, because naturally they don't understand what is the war we fought, because North Korea, even if enemy, they are not thinking the enemy because we all the same race," the Korean war veteran says.

His view of the first hot conflict of the Cold War, which ended with South Korea repulsing the communist North, is echoed by others.

"The young generation does not know what the war was. They mostly focus on cooperation and reconciliation with North Korea," says Hong Yong-pyo, from Seoul's Hangyong University.

"The old generation still remembers the tragedy. They have some hatred towards North Korea."

Indeed, many young people, including those that attend regular candlelight vigils outside the U.S. embassy, are more antagonistic to Washington, especially to the 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea, than to the regime in Pyongyang.

Many young South Koreans are more antagonistic to Washington than to Pyongyang.
Many young South Koreans are more antagonistic to Washington than to Pyongyang.

And this is illustrated on the streets of Seoul, when residents are asked who worries them more -- George Bush or Kim Jong Il?"

"George Bush," says student Park Sang-wook.

"George Bush," echoes another student, Kim Hae-won.

Such sentiments reflect a widely held view that an overbearing United States hasn't given a successful South Korea the respect it deserves.

Sentiment remains strong

"We have been treated very unfair. We have been treated like a junior partner," says student, Kim Hae-won.

But even as anti-Americanism has strained the U.S.-South Korea alliance and complicated U.S. policy towards North Korea, pro-American sentiment remains strong.

And in recent times, a favorable view of Washington has been reinforced by North Korea's increasingly bellicose line on its nuclear program.

"One of the lessons of the Korean War is that real peace hasn't broken out on the Korean peninsula," says Kim Sung-han, from the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

"North Korea continues to be a threat to the South."

A society at odds with itself, facing a hostile Northern neighbor and an uneasy American ally is struggling with issues that have not gone away, 50 years after the shooting stopped.

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