The men on the girder and the men on the border

Posted by Joseph Pak

You probably know this picture – it’s world famous. Taken by Charles Ebbets in 1932, it shows workers taking a lunch break high above the streets of New York. In these days of Photoshop and computer generated images, one might assume that it’s a set-up, but it’s real.

Those guys on the Rockefeller Center really did sit down on that girder for their break, regularly, even though one slip would have meant certain death. They didn’t mind. They were used to it.

It’s very much like that in Korea, where North and South have been technically at war since July 27, 1953 when the Korean War (1950-53) ended with a ceasefire agreement. More technically, it was South Korea who never signed it, athough both side have ceaselessly accused each other of “violating the ceasefire” ever since.

Both sides are well equipped for a resumption in hostilities any time; North Korea has 1.1 million soldiers and South Korea has 0.65 million. Remember, the massive military might of China only amounts to 2.3 million soldiers.

The southern capital, Seoul, is well within range of North Korean artillery and the North regularly threatens to unleash hell on the city and the country’s President. There have also been several fatal shootings across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has separated the two Koreas since 1953.

These threats and instances invariably spook foreign investors iinto a stampede, selling their stock at sacrificial prices in fear of impending war, or at least a bloody conflict. These same investors are often astonished to see South Korean citizens coming and going in and out of the busy Incheon International Airport, just 30 kms south of the DMZ and therefore in easy rocket-firing distance.

But just like that workers’ lunch on a skyscraper, it only goes to show how good humans are at adjusting themselves to their environment. South Koreans have lived for 59 years with threats of war sworn by the North, virtually on a daily basis. The South’s own politicians have rarely been averse to talking up those threats if people’s fears can be employed to secure their power.

And we now know that neither government really wants to start another war. They are just growling at each other. Pass the sandwiches.

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Filed under Asia, Joseph Pak, Korea