The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Monday, November 06, 2006

Slow news day

Here's a story which deservedly received very little attention in the media:

THE SPECTRE of a nuclear race in the Middle East was raised yesterday when six Arab states announced that they were embarking on programmes to master atomic technology.

The move, which follows the failure by the West to curb Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, could see a rapid spread of nuclear reactors in one of the world’s most unstable regions, stretching from the Gulf to the Levant and into North Africa.


There is, incidentally, a Korean angle to all this, since it is North Korea, not Iran, that has recently succeeded in testing nuclear weapons. But that story, too, is in a slow news cycle.

It simmers in the background, however. My wife and I are in the habit of going to Gwangwamun in downtown Seoul on weekends. We like to stroll around the area close to Kyungbukgong and the Kyobo book store. As we make our regular rounds, we pass two rather non-descript buildings. Both are constantly cordened off by bus-load after bus-load of riot police.

The first is the Japanese embassy. It is shrouded in a darkness that is positively eerie. A building that does not want to bring attention to itself (it was deliberately constructed on a side-street), it nevertheless exerts a quiet and unwanted influence on Korean affairs. While the Japanese government publicly states it wishes to eliminate nuclear weapons from the region -- from the world, in fact -- elements in Japan are preparing the groundwork for a build-up of its armed forces. This is partly justified as a reaction to the North's proliferation. But in fact it is also a reaction to the rapid re-ascendance of China to the status of genuine superpower.

The second building is the American embassy. It is situated on a piece of real estate that has pride of place, directly across from the Sejong Arts Center. It is not shy about its presence, since the United States has played so many roles in South Korea's history: benefactor, protector, and, on occasion, oppressor.

These days, even on weekends, the embassy's lights have been on late into the evening, burning brightly. Scenarios are being played out, actions meditated upon.

The peninsula these days is placid on its surface. But underground -- kilometers, or perhaps, decades, deep -- it rumbles.


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