So early last week, North Korea announced to the world that it had successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test. As expected, this announcement elicited sharp responses from different parts of the world- USA, Russia, China, Japan, South-Korea, etc…everyone had an opinion on the matter. Now, some experts question the validity of Pyongyang’s claims; noting that the tremors produced by the explosion, were not strong enough to be those of a hydrogen bomb. For sure, it was a nuclear test of some sort (the 4th such test conducted by Pyongyang); but it just did not qualify to be a hydrogen bomb test, as the North had claimed…so the experts said. As Japan scrambled its pilots into the air to try and get some dust particles to test for radioactivity in order to verify what had actually been tested; and the UN Security Council called a meeting to discuss the issue and come out with a decision against Pyongyang, one particular response stood out to me- South Korea’s. A few days after the test, Seoul announced that it would resume its propaganda broadcast, along the border with the North- the DMZ. This got me reflecting…on the issue of “Psychological Warfare”, and its application in modern day conflicts.
This would not be the first time that Seoul has resorted to such measures after being provoked by the North. In 2015, sometime in August/September, Seoul embarked on a campaign of psychological warfare against its Northern neighbor, employing the same tactics. This was in response to allegations that North Korea was responsible for planting landmines on the Southern side of the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), resulting in the maiming of 2 South Korean servicemen. Loud speakers were thus mounted on the border with the North, broadcasting a steady, endless stream of South Korean propaganda messages into the North. The broadcasts consisted of South Korean songs, news (especially about the poor North-Korean economy, in comparison with the financially-robust economy of South-Korea), soap-operas, and even recipes for South-Korean delicacies…all clearly intended to greatly annoy the regime in Pyongyang. Again, as I usually state, if not for the seriousness of certain issues, they would almost seem comical! Well, it did not take long for Pyongyang to respond. As usual, threats were issued, warning Seoul about military repercussions if the broadcasts were not stopped immediately. As usual (again), a deadline was given. And so, the world watched. But true to how these events usually turn out, as we all counted down to the lapsing of the deadline, the media suddenly announced that high level talks would be held between the North and South, in order to diffuse the tension. Another disaster was averted…again. That was 2015. And as the world now watches as Seoul has resumed its propaganda broadcasts in this year 2016, I wonder what the outcome would be. But as I said, I want to focus on the issue of psychological warfare in itself. Let’s discuss.
South and North Korea are technically still at war. After the defeat of Japan in WW2, Korea, which had been under the control of the Japanese Empire, was basically handed over to the USA and the Soviet Union- the leading victors of the war- to decide its fate. To maintain their separate spheres of influence just as they did in Germany, Korea was split into North and South, with a border at the 38th parallel. Needless to say as the cold war went into full swing, both halves became centers of a proxy war between East and West. When North Korea took the first provocative step against its neighbor by having over 70,000 of its soldiers cross the 38th parallel into the Southern half, the allies and backers of the 2 sides threw their weights behind their respective puppet governments. And so, in 1950, the Korean War began. By the time it ended 3years later, nearly 5million lives had been lost. The war did not end with the signing of a peace treaty though, as most wars usually end…instead, on July 27th 1953, an armistice was signed between both adversaries. Now, because of the absence of an actual peace treaty, both nations (North Korea and South Korea), are technically still at war. And as a result of the ever-present tensions between both sides, the DMZ is the most heavily fortified border in the world. South Korea is an ally of the USA; and both sides hold annual joint military exercises, to the chagrin of Pyongyang.
During the Cold War, the forces of capitalism battled against the forces of Communism; and various theatres of war reflected the ideological positions of East and West. Korea was no different. During the Korean War, the North was backed by China and Russia (the Communist faction); while the South was supported by the USA and the larger West (the Capitalist alliance). In consequence, South Korea went on to become a democratic state, while the North became a highly reclusive state, governed by one particular tyrannical family. As I have stated in a previous post, in North Korea, all aspects of life is controlled by the regime. Any act contrary to that permitted by Pyongyang, is punishable…even by death. In fact within North Korea, basic freedoms which are taken for granted by citizens of democratic countries (like South Korea), are largely prohibited. And added to all these, is the burden of extreme economic hardship. To make up for its shortcoming though, Pyongyang has dedicated itself to aggressively pursuing a nuclear programme that would give it possession of nuclear weapons. The rationale is that with the possession of these weapons, the world would have no choice but to listen to it, and take it as a serious player in the field of international affairs. Also, continuous nuclear tests give Pyongyang a bargaining chip to get food relief from its neighbors and the international community (specifically, the US). In response to this often-deployed tactic of Pyongyang’s, the international community has repeatedly passed (and strengthened) sanctions. But so far, they haven’t deterred North Korea from pursuing its quest to build up an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Seoul has threatened, while continuing to conduct military exercises with the USA; and still yet, Pyongyang has continued its nuclear offensive. So lately, South Korea has resorted once again, to Psychological Warfare.
Now, the art of warfare has taken various forms over the years. Overtime, nations have resorted to military warfare, economic warfare, psychological warfare, and even cyber warfare (in recent times). For South and North Korea, the tools of warfare have varied, depending on the provocative action, and the effect expected to be achieved by the ensuing reaction. The terrain of psychological warfare is not the hills, valleys, mountains and flat plains of conventional battles. Instead, it is the minds of people i.e., the enemy population. It invades the hidden recesses of basic human nature; influencing thought patterns, planting seeds with the hope that they would germinate into new ideologies. It has been used in various ways in documented wars of history, mostly to turn a population against its leadership by exploiting their pain and suffering through propaganda materials (sight and sound), in order to create a picture of an alternate reality- a change that should be sought. When Seoul employed this method of warfare against North Korea in 2015, I do not know if they calculated the long term effect(s) of such an action; but I am pretty sure that they did not expect an “overnight change”. It would have taken a sustained effort, to achieve any measure of success (if any). But alas, the world was deprived the opportunity of seeing the product of Seoul’s psychological campaign, in the long term. In the short-term though, Pyongyang was significantly rattled enough, to call for talks with the South. And so, the loud speakers were turned off. Now, they have come on again. We shall see.
Psychological warfare though it does not involve the sounds of guns and bombs, is tantamount to beating the drums of war…it certainly can lead to all-out assault. But against North Korea, I hope that it continues. If there is one thing I have learned since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, it is that citizens are not as weak as they may seem; and they cannot be put down ALL the time. It usually takes just a little spark to ignite the “flame of change”…a little crack in the wall to stir up the masses and tear down tyranny. And so, as the speakers were turned on once again in the DMZ, I hoped that the message would be intently listened to, by even just a few…even just a few, who may one day, be the catalysts for the many.