The Threat of North Korea: What Do Students Think?


Photograph from Bjørn Christian Tørrissen for Wikipedia.

Stella W. '19, Writer

Ever since the Korean Peninsula was divided between Soviet occupation in the north and American occupation in the south after the end of World War II, the northern part of the East Asian peninsula has harbored a fragile relationship with the United States. Power has been kept in the Kim family, with Kim Jong-un taking over in 2011. The state of North Korea has not only kept its people largely isolated from the rest of the world, but has also been widely recognized as having the poorest human rights standards of any nation. Its people are often hungry, imprisoned, or even made slaves as punishment. Perhaps most distressing to the outside world, however, is the nation’s development of nuclear weapons. North Korea began testing these weapons in 2006, posing a significant challenge to international order.

While governments and institutions like the United Nations have struggled to define an effective policy toward North Korea, opinion makers across the world have expressed a variety of views on what should be done. But what do high school students think?

“I would definitely say that I am worried about the threat of North Korea,” says Sydney Kenton, a junior. “The increasing missile tests and the proximity of said tests to other countries nearby is definitely worrisome.”

It is undeniable that that North Korea has been aggressively pursuing its missile test program, particularly this year. July 4th marked the nation’s first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could potentially reach any location in world. News such as this is clearly making students think. “While it’s not constantly weighing on my mind, it is a concern, especially because of the actions our president is taking,” says sophomore Brynna Bartoo, referring to President Trump’s threats towards Kim Jong-un on Twitter.

With the media constantly reporting on relations involving North Korea, it is understandable that many feel uneasy. “Whenever I hear things in the news, I get worried,” says junior Jackie Holowka.

“What worries me is that North Korea is resisting all attempts of compromise and turning instead to making jabs at world leaders and threats to their countries,” says junior Ruby Champney. “Nuclear war is a heavy topic to be uncertain about. With Kim saying things on his social media and in meetings about how he is going to ‘bomb the yankees’ and that his missiles could make it all the way to Alaska, it’s easy to see why some people might think this is the beginning of the end.”

While tests and provocations may have increased, it is unclear what kind of conflict may result. “I’m not sure if we’re headed for war,” Kenton says. “North Korea has always been hot-headed and has made many threats to Americans. I think that the news outlets are choosing to give it more coverage due to our new leadership, thus making people more afraid. It’s certainly something to worry about, but I don’t believe we’ll be in an all-out war if things are handled correctly.”

It is difficult to identify the degree of power North Korea actually has, which is another factor clouding the degree to which the free world should actually be concerned. “I think Kim Jong-un is playing his power up for internal legitimacy, and he’s not actually going to use nukes if he cares at all about his own well being,” says junior Christa Mumley. However, senior Adair Bartram disagrees, saying, “If America and other countries continue the policy of brinkmanship with North Korea, war is a very real possibility.”

What exactly can be done, though? And how much of the solution is left to world leaders? “I think the issue should be handled as diplomatically as possible,” Kenton says. “North Korea is very quick to make threats that are usually not carried out, so we must keep things like that in mind. If it really came to the point of an all-out nuclear war, I guess we would have to carry that out. If we can do anything we can to prevent that diplomatically first, that would be ideal.”

Intervention would carry many serious risks, especially to countries in East Asia like South Korea and Japan where many American troops are stationed. Exploring all available options with countries like China is therefore imperative. “Getting into a serious altercation in the age of nuclear weaponry could essentially end modernized humanity,” says Champney. “Dealing with a dictator who clearly has both spite towards other countries as well as an itchy trigger finger is serious and not something the world can ‘try to intervene’ in without absolute certainty in the safety of their actions.”

Looking to the future, the U.S. should ask what it can do to avoid future situations that escalate to this extent. “More light needs to be shed on global status of nuclear weaponry and the transparency policies relating to them, not just for North Korea but on a global level,” says Champney.

However, despite the threat facing the world, it is important to remember that those who are currently most impacted are the North Korean people themselves. “People often forget the humanitarian crises occurring in North Korea,” says Bartram. “People there suffer from the authoritarian regime, which dominates every aspect of life and can prevent citizens from accessing basic needs.”

Students therefore do not see the issue only as a matter of American self-preservation. “I’m sure seeing the people there so supportive of anti-American rhetoric makes Americans inclined to “bomb the hell out of them,” but they’re people at heart,” says Kenton. “They certainly don’t deserve to die. That’s why I want anything but nuclear conflict with North Korea.”