SEOUL, South Korea – When President Donald Trump arrives here Tuesday, he’ll be visiting a country far less worried about North Korea than he is.
“The U.S. makes a big deal about North Korea,” says Jin Young Kim, a political activist who’s lived in the U.S. and now lives in Seoul. “We don’t.”
Kim is typical of younger Koreans whom I’ve interviewed during several, recent reporting trips to South Korea. The stresses of everyday life, they say, are of far greater concern than some looming war with North Korea.
Nearly 60 percent of South Koreans told Gallup researchers in September they doubt North Korea will start a war, the second highest number to say this since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.
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Indeed, the same polls show that South Koreans are more worried about Trump than North Korea’s Kim Jung Un. “South Koreans have one of the lowest rates of regard for Trump in the world and they don’t consider him to be a reasonable person,” former U.S. State Department official David Straub told the Washington Post. “In fact, they worry he’s kind of nuts.”
On the late October day that I spoke with Kim, it seemed that Seoul was a “Keep calm and carry on” kind of place:
- This was the first day of Fashion Week, a massive, seven-day party for people inside and outside the fashion industry. K-fashion, observers say, hopes to equal the reach of K-pop, whose singers dominate Asia’s music charts. Partiers around me looked just like the runway models they came to see.
- Dozens of office workers on lunch break, men and women in biking gear, rode around the downtown, some sporting vests that read, “Ride bike save the earth.”
- More than 120 folks waited in line in Seoul Plaza, in front of City Hall, to be given a small house plant believed to absorb the toxic “yellow dust” that wafts across Seoul from power plants in China.
One place Trump will visit is likely to be tenser than Seoul.
That’s Camp Humphreys, about 40 miles south of here, where the U.S. Army is consolidating its presence in South Korea. Humphreys is now headquarters for the Eighth Army that was garrisoned in Seoul since 1953. Fourteen years in the making, when complete in 2020, at a cost of $11 billion, Camp Humphreys will be the largest U.S. Army garrison in Asia, the Army says.
There is a Columbus connection here. The deputy commanding general of Camp Humphreys is MG Tammie Smith, who until 2016 commanded the 98th Training Division at Fort Benning. Smith is a logistics specialist whose focus here is leading the Eighth Army’s planning for military operations.
Trump is not visiting the demilitarized zone, nor U.S. Army combat units in nearby Camp Casey. The White House said that scheduling problems prevent Trump from visiting these sites along the border with North Korea, a practice traditional for U.S. presidents.
Meanwhile, everyday life goes on.
North Korea’s “temper tantrums” are all over the news, Kim said. “They’ve been going on forever. It’ll pass.”
John F. Greenman is professor of journalism emeritus at the University of Georgia an the former president and publisher of the Ledger-Enquirer. He publishes the travel guide www.36hoursincolumbus.com.