Authors: David Jackson
Posted on: 9:18 a.m. ET Nov. 6, 2017 | Updated 7:25 p.m. ET Nov. 6, 2017
SEOUL – In a city where the threat of a nuclear attack has loomed large for years, Hong Soo Jin says she has special reason to be anxious these days.
«My two sons are serving in the army,» Hong, 50, said as hundreds of anti-war demonstrators marched along the South Korea capital city’s Gwanghwamun Square, right across a plaza from the U.S. Embassy.
Now, Hong and throngs of chanting, sign-waving protesters say there’s another thing fueling their worries about a nuclear-armed conflict with the rogue state across the border: Donald Trump.
As the U.S. president prepares to make his first visit to Seoul this week, some local residents are taking to the streets to argue that his past threats to to meet North Korea’s «Rocket Man» Kim Jong Un with «fire and fury like the world has never seen» make war much more likely.
«I’ve heard from many Americans that Mr. Trump is a crazy guy — very crazy,» said JunChan Lee, 49, a researcher from nearby Sejong who came downtown for a concert and march in support of peace efforts in the region.
South Koreans have long worried about renewed military conflict with the north, he said, but now «they have a big fear about the war — a second Korean War.»
Yet not all the protesters were anti-Trump. In the run-up to the president’s visit, other South Koreans demonstrated in support of Trump’s efforts to confront the Kim and his nuclear weapons program. One sign even even gave Trump some advice: «Kill Rocket Man Kim Jeong Eun & Bomb North Korea!»
«No one wants war, but somebody needs to liberate the people of North Korea,» said David Enukoo Kim, a Seoul businessman and international law student who attended a pro-Trump rally across the street from the U.S. Embassy.
«Kim Jong Un is the real threat, not Trump,» he said.
Trump gets to make his own case during his two-day visit to Seoul that begins Tuesday, including meetings with South Korea President Moon Jae-in and a high-profile speech to the National Assembly.
Making North Korea the focus of his five-nation tour of Asia, Trump wants China and other countries to shut off financial help to Kim’s government, making it harder for him to maintain a nuclear weapons program.
The president has not been shy about the possibility of the use of force, should North Korea attack the U.S. or allies.
In a formal speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19, Trump said that, if forced forced to defend itself or its allies, «we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.»
These words were the focus of various demonstrations — on both sides — leading up to the presidential visit.
Favored gathering spots are around Gwanghwamun Square, the long and narrow rectangular park that leads to the late 14th-century Gyeongbokgung Palace. Beneath the statues of ancient kings, South Koreans argue about what Donald Trump might mean for their country’s future.
On one block across the street from the U.S. Embassy, two groups faced off against each other, microphones blaring.
One one side, members of the People’s Democracy Party sang, chanted, and spoke in opposition to the American president. One of their signs described Trump as a «war lunatic,» and had a cartoon that put the president’s head atop a Nazi military uniform, his Hitler-like salute extended over a nuclear mushroom cloud.
«He can provoke war,» said Eunseo Park, 22, a full-time party member.
On the same block, separated by yellow-jacketed police officers, speakers at a pro-Trump rally extol him as a «bold leader» who will actually prevent war. They stood behind a large banner saying «Welcome, President Trump,» sponsored by the «Association of Korean Patriots.»
Trump’s aggressiveness toward North Korea seems to have inflamed an already volatile electorate in South Korea.
Some protesters, particularly ones who favor Trump, demonstrated to bring back impeached president Park Geun-hye.
Others criticize her successor, Moon, for welcoming Trump to the country, even though he campaigned on a pledge to try new approaches to North Korea and defy the U.S. if necessary. Trump backers, meanwhile, criticized Moon for not working closely enough with the president.
South Korea citizens said they have long feared war, but it has not hampered the nation’s growth. The home of Samsung and Hyundai, Seoul is a city where 10-lane streets slide past steel-and-glass skyscrapers and old alleyway markets. South Korea is now preparing to host the Winter Olympics in February.
Technically, the two Koreas are at war now. The conflict that began in 1950 when the Soviet-Union backed north invaded the south ended with an armistice in 1953; there has never been a peace treaty.
If actual military action is revived, residents said it could go nuclear before anyone could stop it.
Hong, carrying a sign that read «No Trump, No War,» said a new conflict would unite the country in tragedy.
«North Korea and South Korea,» she said. «All together, we will die.»