News stories are reporting that North Korea has fired dozens of artillery shells onto a South Korean island, killing one South Korean soldier, injuring other soldiers and civilians, and damaging houses. South Korea returned fire. Although the shelling has stopped for now, the two neighbors are on high alert, and the world is waiting to see if North Korea continues, or escalates, the situation.
Other countries in Asia have moved into the 21st century and focused on economic development and democratic reforms — but not North Korea. It remains mired in the 1940s, home to a throwback totalitarian regime complete with a “glorify the leader” personality cult and ludicrous propaganda. Its paranoid behavior on the world stage is consistently inexplicable. It spends its scant treasure on nuclear weapons programs and other military initiatives, and all the while its poor people are starving.
You have to sympathize with South Korea. Its neighbor is home to many suffering relatives of South Korean citizens. No doubt South Korea hopes that the people of North Korea will overthrow their repressive government, or that reform elements in the government will emerge that allow North Korea to move toward democracy and capitalism, like China before it. Such hopes have been dashed. North Korea’s leader acts out his whims, he appoints his son as a successor, the son acts out his whims, and the pattern continues. All the while South Korea waits, uneasy, its thoughts never straying too far from the unpredictable, hyper-aggressive country to the north.