Threats of annihilation normal for South Koreans

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.

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

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

“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.