In recent days, news about North Korea have taken a dramatic, if temporary, turn with hour-by-hour alerts of North-South Korean cooperation and goodwill in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
But I cannot forget that what was said to me as recently as a month ago by US military contacts: “If I were you, I’d get my family out of Seoul.”
Experts have estimated the probability of preventive war with North Korea to be anywhere between 25% and 70%. Senator Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq War, warns “We are far closer to actual conflict over North Korea than the American people realize. Everything we’re doing shows a military that, in my personal opinion, has turned the corner.”
Violence has been justified by the likes of Senator Lindsey Graham with statements devoid of empathy: “If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here.”
“Over there” is where my family, friends, colleagues, and 75 million other Koreans reside. That is roughly the same population as Texas, California, and Pennsylvania combined.
In America, discourse on the Korean “situation” is pitifully one-dimensional. The Cold War divided many families — like those of 9 at 38’s subject, violinist Hyungjoon Won, and myself — for 7 decades now and counting. It is why Won chose Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 for his joint performance: “Thy magic reunites those Whom stern custom has parted All men will become brothers."
Is there any hope to see the human aspect of the Korean situation? We humbly believe our film ‘9 at 38’ can play an important — no, urgent — role. I am convinced, from discourses continued by the audience outside the theater door after screenings to more than one student emailing me to reveal the film changed their professional plans, that Hyungjoon Won's story can set off a domino effect. It educates and inspires. It challenges notions of "us versus them." And if nothing else, it calls to reduce tension for just one evening, with bows pointed to the sky instead of guns, in what is said to be the most militarized border in the world.