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We need to stand up to the bullies next door
Publication Date : 13-03-2013
There is a saying in English, “You cannot choose your neighbour.” Indeed, it seems luck can determine whether or not you have a good neighbour. If you are unlucky, you have to either put up with your bad neighbour or move to another place. Perhaps that is why people say, “Neighbourhood is everything” when renting an apartment or purchasing a house.
Like many, I have experienced living alongside a few bad neighbours in the past. When I lived in the States, for example, one of my neighbours was a college student who threw a wild party every other night, blasting music on his stereo. My unit was right above his, and my entire apartment literally shook whenever he held a party. I complained a number of times, but each time my grievances were ignored. He undoubtedly demonstrated the maxim: “Old habits die hard.”
When I lived in a ranch-style house later, I also had a bad neighbour who seldom mowed his lawn, took out the garbage or shovelled the snow on the sidewalk. As a result, his house was always messy and unclean, sticking out like a sore thumb on the otherwise nice street. The neighbours hated him because his untidy house significantly lowered the values of all the properties on the street.
Perhaps one’s worst nightmare is living next to a bully who constantly harasses or threatens one’s life. Such neighbours are rare in mature, civilised societies these days. At school, however, bullies who push other students around are quite common. The best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him and fight him. If you succumb to his threats and try to bribe him with money, you will be at his mercy forever. The bully will take advantage of your feeble mind and ask for more money until you are penniless. The spirit of a gangster is broken only when he encounters a stronger gangster. And one who relies on physical strength will become docile only when he encounters a stronger person, whether physically or spiritually.
Another way of dealing with a bully is to convince the bully that bullying is not the most beneficial way to live, and joining the rest of civilised society is actually the most rewarding.
Unfortunately, South Korea has a bad neighbour called North Korea that constantly bullies her with various threats. Recently, North Korea announced that it would nullify the armistice agreement that suspended the Korean War, and that it was fully ready to launch an all-out war against the South with nuclear weapons. We know that North Korea is making such threats to secure an advantageous position for itself when negotiating with the US, to protest the new rounds of UN sanctions, and to stop the ROK-US joint military exercises. In addition, North Korean politicians childishly want to flex their muscles as a mighty nuclear state. In the midst of all the threatening language, we know that North Korean politicians are simply instigating a verbal war, since actual war would be extremely costly.
Nevertheless, North Korea has gotten on our nerves this time, and we are worried our neighbour may stage political shows by attacking Yeonpyeongdo Island or a Korean naval ship again, or by terrorising the citizens of Seoul by bombing a crowded downtown building. If such a tragic event were to occur again, North Korea sympathisers in South Korea would once again take side of the North, blaming South Korea and the United States for “fabricating” an attack. Eventually, South Korea will become hopelessly divided, torn and chaotic.
To make matters worse, a considerable number of South Koreans seem to naively believe that the best way to maintain peace is by being submissive and giving money to North Korea.
“Do you want another war on our soil?” they cry out. “If not, we need to pacify them by all means, including giving them money.” But begging for peace through bribery is neither wise nor right. Giving money is like applying medicine for temporary relief, not curing the disease. Moreover, what would we ultimately gain from giving the North Korean government astronomical amounts of money? Everlasting threats and harassment! You can never placate North Korea with bribery.
We used to think that we were surrounded by unfriendly neighbours who invaded our country in the past or sent yellow dust in the spring. Today, however, we realise that North Korea is the worst neighbour we have ever had - a bad neighbour that threatens us with nuclear bombs in this small peninsula. As a nation, we cannot move out and thus have to cope with the extremely hostile neighbour every day.
It is a relief that President Park and the Ministry of National Defence firmly declared that South Korea would not tolerate any provocations from the North. In order to break free from bullying by a bad neighbour, we need to stand up to him. Living with a bad neighbour is tough and rough already. But we must do our best to protect our family from the bully next door.
(Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.)