On Monday, March 31, 2014, North Korea (the DPRK) began to fire across the border into waters in South Korea (the ROK). The incident, which has been explained as a drill exercise for the DPRK, prompted marines in the South to return artillery fire into Northern waters. Seoul also scrambled a squadron of F-15 fighter jets into the air in order to patrol the border areas. The firing from North Korea into South Korean waters left island residents with no choice but to flee in terror away from the shelling. No one is yet reported to have been injured during the recent volley.
In an unprecedented move, Pyongyang informed Seoul that the drill was going to take place. This information in no way decreased the mortal tension for citizens on the border islands of Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong, though. The shelling notice would be akin to knowing that an earthquake is going to happen slightly in advance.
The shelling lasted for about three hours, and hundreds of shells were fired from both sides. Current totals indicate that the North fired around 500 shells, while the South retaliated with 300 of its own. It is known that the shelling represented a fair danger to citizens on the disputed Southern island of Baengnyeong, who were forced into bomb shelters during the incident.
In 2010, the DPRK began a similar shelling event near Yeonpyeong Island that resulted in the deaths of four people. Also in 2010, the ROK navy corvette Cheonan exploded off the coast of the island of Baengnyeong, which is the same island involved in the recent shelling event. Almost half of the 104 crew members of the Cheonan died during the incident. Residents living in South Korean island waters have good reason to flee in terror from these live fire “drills” between North Korea and the ROK. Pyongyang remains in a persistent state of war with its Southern neighbor, and the danger of sporadic conflicts remains as persistent as ever.
Leaders in Seoul have commented that the DPRK aggression is meant to threaten the South, and to increase tension along the Yellow Sea border. These exercises, in other words, are meant to instill fear within Southern citizens.
The shell drilling from the DPRK was not exactly unprovoked. The United Nations Security Council admonished the communist North for test firing two Rodong short-range ballistic missiles towards Japan last Wednesday. These missiles, which landed in the Sea of Japan, could feasibly carry a nuclear warhead into neighboring countries. Pyongyang is still waiting for scientists to construct a nuclear warhead small enough to fit into the Rodong missiles, which have not been test fired since 2009. Leaders from the ROK, Japan, and the United States met recently in order to discuss the growing threat that the communist North represents.
These shows of military might from the North represent a significant danger to citizens in both the Northern and Southern countries. The DPRK drill exercise was clearly alarming enough for marines in the South to return fire, so there was a question of control over the situation. There is a clear history of deadly conflict along the border, even during these so-called drills. Drill or not, South Korean residents living amidst the border waters are always going to flee in terror from North Korea’s artillery fire. It is a good thing that no one was harmed in this most recent incident.
Opinion by Luke Sargent