On Reddit, a commenter noted that the North/South Korea conflict had grown “tiresome,” with something new happening every month and no clear resolution.
I find that this is an unfortunate byproduct of our novelty-seeking brains. Stories that appear tiresome or insignificant because of their regularity (Man, North Korea is pissed again?!) lose out in our consciousness to stories that address the here and now. Yet, simply not knowing about the possible consequences does not make us immune to them.
For example, in 1914, nobody knew who Gavrilo Princip was, and most Europeans could not reasonably find Sarajevo on a map. By the end of the year, Europe was at war for his gunshot. But “trouble in the Balkans” hardly makes for a staggering headline, and most people regarded the possibility of a Great Powers conflict as absurd in an age of globalization.
Now, consider Korea. The two countries have never signed a peace treaty and both countries are backed by nuclear force of arms. Both sides have alliances with major world powers. Everyone assumes that because of North Korea’s reliance on foreign aid to survive and the economic ties between South Korea and China that a conflict has been successfully defused. After all, if it were important, I would have heard about it on the news, right?
Thursday South Korea will formally blame North Korea for sinking its naval vessel. Who knows what will happen as a result? But just because it is “tiresome” doesn’t mean it’s not important. If actions between the two countries escalate, the events would be swift and we would have little to no time to respond. A Great Powers conflict could sneak up on us as it did Europe in that last summer of 1914. We have many more bodies of international discussion and cooperation than we did in 1914, but that hardly makes us immune from the same devastating results.