Over this weekend in Seoul, one could hardly imagine that Armageddon might be hovering around the corner.
In crowded cafes and coffee shops, headlines blaring North Koreas latest rhetorical twist and turns, and news programs of people interviewing one another, are largely ignored. K-Pop and quiz shows, serial dramas and sports remain the top fare on TV. Asked if anything fateful or serious might be happening, people are likely to wonder why the question.
All is normal here, says a middle-aged Korean woman. We dont know about all that that being talk by commentators and headline writers, fueled by statements from Pyongyang, of a North Korean invasion, artillery and missile strikes, a nuclear attack, a "Second Korean War."
The absence of panic offers a strange counterpoint to the declarations from North Korea of cancellation of the armistice that ended the Korean War nearly 60 years ago. Its as though outrageous rhetoric from Pyongyang was so familiar that people are inured to it and there was little more the North Koreans could say to send crowds rushing to get out of the line of fire.
A threat to destroy South Korea or turn Seoul into a sea of fire? Another threat to abrogate agreements with South Korea and cut off the hotline between the two Koreas? Talk from Pyongyang of all-out war?
I dont know about any agreements, is the laconic response of a young office worker. What are they? Its not really my concern.
As if to punctuate the mood, echoes of demonstrations waft down one of the main streets in central Seoul. A few hundred people watched closely by hundreds of policemen are carrying banners and shouting slogans at the iconic Jonggak intersection. But their ire is not nuclear but the presumed policies of the conservative, and newly inaugurated President Park Geun-hye. They are unhappy about unemployment, corruption, suppression of free speech, and the rising costs of education. North Korea is not among their issues.
Not that North Korea goes totally unnoticed. Grill people about what they think Ms. Park should do to head off North Korean rhetoric, and responses are quite mixed.
One prevailing view is that she should find a way to negotiate, if only in secret. …