Recently, I've been asked a lot of questions about "things" in Korea. It's hard to know what to think about the recent violence on the peninsula from the English and Korean media I read and the comments from friends and family around Seoul. I may write more in the future, but I wanted to share an article that was in the Washington Post several weeks ago. Carlin and Lewis, two U.S. scientists invited to the DPRK to "tour" the nuclear plant, make some very interesting comments about the U.S. policies with the North that go beyond their initial focus.
"Dealing with North Korea is not easy, and the process has been exacerbated by myths about the travails of negotiating with its regime" they say, calling for a creative approach. This approach, however, has something to do with U.S. perception. "North Korea is on the sad list of countries that, over the years, Americans have convinced themselves they cannot understand and believe, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, that it is impossible to engage. Not so long ago, of course, China and North Vietnam were high on that list."
Carlin and Lewis are pointing to the complexities of international efforts for "peace." One regime does not cause all the problems because it is inherently evil. Just as members of a family are part of a system in which the actions and decisions of one member influence others, international relationships are part of system in which perceptions and actions can also play into conflict and also, peace.
These actions might start as small as hearing more diverse stories and increasing the amount of interaction between ordinary people of two countries.
"Those who have been to the North know that it is nowhere near as simple to categorize as media stereotypes suggest. But not many Americans have been there, and U.S. policies help ensure that relatively few North Koreans come here. Unfortunately, Americans are probably more isolated from North Korea than the North Koreans are from the rest of the world."
Building peace does not start with relationships. Relationships exist within the reality of conflict and violence. Peacebuilding begins with paying attention to what kind of relationships are there, and then working to increase positive interactions and perceptions.
In the midst of all the tensions going on, which are loudly vocalized in the media both in Korea and around the world, there are also small groups of people working in small, consistent, and persistent ways to pay attention to relationships, and engaging beyond rhetoric.
In this Christmas season, I'm reminded that although God might do amazing things with nations, leaders, and even military, God seems more often to work through the little and unexpected ways, like a baby who grew up to be a carpenter and built real relationships in the middle of an empire.
May we remember to listen to the small and consistent voices of hope for peace on the Korean peninsula too.