What To Do If The Second Korean War Starts?


This is my brother-in-law, Namhoon, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He just got married to a nurse named Hira, who two years ago spotted him in the local university hospital taking care of his amiable shaman grandmother, and sent a note over to him via friendly intermediary, requesting that he call her. Now they’re married with a baby, and living in a small town within three hundred meters of the border with North Korea. Namhoon isn’t a draftee, but a career soldier and an officer in the ROK military; due to catching polio when he was a baby his father was never able to join the army, and so the fact that his son is there on the front lines has filled him with pride. Namhoon looks almost exactly like my wife, so when I’m making out with her I sometimes think that I’m also making out with him.

If a war begins, Namhoon and his family will almost certainly be killed. The latest round of UN sanctions passed against the North is unique from all the others in that China not only helped to draft them but also seems willing to enforce them. To my knowledge this is the first public rebuke issued by the Chinese against the North, and has effectively left the North Koreans without a single ally—unless one counts Laos, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iran. These new sanctions have cut them off from every conceivable source of income. Luxury goods will be more difficult to import, North Korean ambassadors (often doubling as drug smugglers) will be subject to more scrutiny, and rare materials needed to produce nuclear weapons will be even harder to acquire than before. As I was telling my wife last night, these guys are finished. There’s nothing left for them to do. China has finally turned against them, and now they can either wait for their country to collapse or go out in a blaze of glory. In a nation whose immense propaganda apparatus has been exhorting frenzied kamikaze rhetoric for years, which do you think is more likely?

A Yeonpyeogndo– or Cheonan-style attack is coming, but this time the South Koreans will respond with everything they’ve got. The North will probably be destroyed before it can launch an invasion of the South, but if by some chance the North Korean army does start surging down the peninsula, what should we do?

My wife and I talked it over last night. Most people are probably going to head to Busan. It’s the only major city the North didn’t take in the last war, and its proximity to Japan increases the possibility of escaping abroad—though the North’s missiles are capable of reaching destinations as distant as Guam. But within days of an invasion Busan will probably be packed to the brim with millions of angry, desperate, and hungry South Koreans, many of whom sympathize with the North. Any ship that approaches its shores will be threatened by the North Korean midget submarines that sank the Cheonan, and any airplane will be full long before you manage to get aboard. In my opinion, Busan is a trap, and it’s not as safe as other places.

After wondering about where else we could go, I got to thinking about Geoje Island, which is connected to the mainland by a lengthy bridge that would be easy to defend and difficult to attack. There might be some possibility of catching a boat to Japan or Jeju Island once we got there. So that’s our plan. If the shit hits the fan, we’re going to Geoje. We’re not going to wait for the news to tell us that a serious conflict has started, and we’re not going to be running around in our apartment screaming at each other while the North Korean special forces make mincemeat out of the army of draftees that stands in their way: we’re going to get in our car and drive to Geojedo like motherfuckers. This conflict could happen any day now (or it could never happen at all), so one of the Sunday chores we need to perform involves buying a few spares tanks of gas and loading the back of our car up with big bottles of water. That’s it. When the bombs start flying, we grab our baby, grab our passports, grab our computers, cameras, and phones, and get the hell out. That’s our plan. What’s yours?

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10 thoughts on “What To Do If The Second Korean War Starts?

  1. Randy says:

    Hey Ian,

    Great read. I’ve always wanted to engage in some discussion over Skype on this subject. I think another thing to consider “IF” the NK army decides to get into Seoul, they would be shocked of the luxurious and advancement that SK has enjoyed since it became a global economy. After all, they’ve been told that the South had been living very poorly, and those living in the wonderful Pyongyang capital are living the life of luxury. So, I think they might have a bit of culture shock there, unless they’re so programmed to be so robotic that they’ll shut off the sights of seeing neon bright lights, Gangnam Style dances, etc. Also, with this much potential possibility of disruption in the Korean peninsula, this may push Japan to go nuclear.

    Do you have time to Skype? I sincerely hope that your brother in law and his family arent’ caught in the crossfire, and I do worry because my group of students will be in the army during this time. My first group of my old middle schoolers are now in their first year in college. So, the thought that my former students will be caught in the crossfire, along with my friends, you and your family, and the place that I called home for those 3 years will be very tough to stomach. However, at some point, as you mentioned, the SK are going to go aggressive. I do think that it’s very intriguing to see China really go tough on North Korea this time around, and what this would do in the future between South Korea/US with China as they would see the possibility of a US-influenced type government on its borders (something China dreads)

    Well, at least you have a backup plan. If those ajummas are aggressive on the subway, who knows what to expect at this point?

  2. kimchineil says:

    Grab a pair of sturdy walking shoes and a map of the Korean showing the mountain paths and forget the car.

  3. kimchineil says:

    Grab a pair of sturdy walking shoes and a map of the Korean perninsula showing the mountain paths and forget the car.

  4. kimchineil says:

    Try again!!

    Grab a pair of sturdy walking shoes and a map of the Korean peninsula showing the mountain paths and forget the car.

  5. me jones. says:

    ” they can either wait for their country to collapse or go out in a blaze of glory.” There are other options. They could choose to start obeying the UN sanctions. They could also choose to start opening up the country more following the path that China has taken. This would allow the ruling generals to continue ruling.

  6. we will stock up on Choco Pies and soju. we will wait, at home, where it is safe from everything but radiation clouds. (really, no Korean is going to attack Gyeongju, not in the last war, not in the next either.) when the DPRK soldiers come, we will feed them. they will be so hungry. if they try anything funny, the dogs or my wife will kill them. i practice swinging bamboo sticks every day, so hopefully my skills will be up to par to join my family in the slaughter.

    it’s not as safe as say a 4th floor apartment where i could horde guns and make small bombs. such a position would also great for sniping enemy soldiers.

    infrastructure is the first thing an army takes out. bridges, especially long ones, are easy pickings for almost any missile system or 1960s era jet. Gyeongju has enough hiding places (mountains!) that one could keep a guerrilla war on for many years before being caught. Geoje, on the other hand, is a death trap. there’s no escape once that bridge is gone, the enemy need only land troops on the shore to pick off whoever didn’t survive the shelling. Unless the residents are dug in like Japanese troops on Saipan, everyone on Geoje would die soon after Busan is destroyed.

  7. hiddenconnections says:


    Hey, I think the North Koreans actually know that the rest of the world is much wealthier than they are, since they’ve been sneaking in American and South Korean DVDs and flash drives for years now, while plenty of them have also left to work in China. I think both Koreans in the North and South have various ways of coping with this: America may be the richest country on Earth, but everyone knows that Koreans are purer.

    If these guys attack, I don’t think the comparative glamor of Seoul will slow them down, especially because Seoul will be in ruins by then. Let’s see if we can make skype work…

    @me jones,

    I was talking with a student about this last night. North Korea has three options. They can fight. They can do nothing. Or they can change. Like, really, fundamentally, change, and become a poor man’s South Korea, which will lead to their eventual absorption by the South. But the question is, when has a country ever changed without being forced into doing so by war? The American South never would have given up slavery before losing the Civil War, and who knows if Germany and Japan ever would have given up fascism before they got their asses handed to them? It could even be argued that Afghanistan finished off the Soviet Union. I suppose serious fundamental change can happen slowly and over time without violence, but is the North Korean leadership (and the population which at least tacitly supports it) really any different from the way it was fifty years ago?

    The North Koreans aren’t going to become South Koreans without being forced to, just as South Koreans won’t become North Koreans without being forced to. They aren’t going to give up their nukes for any reason because that’s their only defense. At this point it seems inevitable that in the coming decades most of the powerful nations on Earth are going to be armed with nuclear weapons. Because of North Korea, because of Iran–two nations whose belligerent leaderships are products of misguided policies from the Cold War (the CIA replacing a democratically-elected president with the Shah; MacArthur ignoring China’s threat to invade North Korea if American soldiers approached the Tumen River)–Nonproliferation has failed, and a nuclear bomb is going to go off inside a city sometime in the future. The only protection against this is the elimination of even the idea of independent countries.

    @kimchineil and J. Blake Coco (CALEB),

    In the last war the North Korean guerrillas were rather fond of hiding out in the mountains. Just last weekend a friend told me they were holed up around Gyeongju until the end of the war. I’ll take my chances on the islands scattered off the southern coast.

  8. hannamja says:

    Hi, I’m a long time reader of your blog and always enjoy it. Just one quick suggestion for you regarding stocking up on water bottles. I’ve recently returned to Korea and decided I don’t want to have to buy any more water or drink any fluoridated water anymore, so I bought those specialized bottles that filter basically everything. If you get one of those, it’d make your bug-out plan a little easier on you, especially in the case water became scarce. ^^. Also, what was the quote you once had on your blog for the about me section? It was something like, “I am but an old man of 80…” I can’t remember – could you post it once again?

    I’ve thought about where to go in case of a disaster. I have heard that it’d take an hour for the North to totally ruin Seoul before the South could appropriately respond, since the North has lines of artillery across the border. I heard this from a military worker in Korea, so I don’t know. I guess we need to know the warning signs well ahead of time.

    • hiddenconnections says:

      A long-time reader! I didn’t know I had such things! Sorry for the late reply, and thanks for the support. Do you have a link for the water bottles? We have a giant electric filter. The quote was from Bernal Diaz, a literary conquistador; you can find it here.

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