Grandfather Bu-jun passed away in 2011, and Grandfather Jong-soon followed in 2014. One cannot blame those who still remain for being hopeful about the outcome of the summit, especially since Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed back in April to organize a reunion of families divided by the war. The last reunion occurred in 2015. Only 20 have taken place since 2000. And, of course, should Korean reunification ever occur in the near future, imagine what that could mean for these families.
I too am hopeful for peace between the Koreas, though not without a healthy dose of pessimism. And yet, I fear the window for true reunification, the reunification my grandfathers’ generation deserves, may have already closed. Younger generations of South Koreans are increasingly skeptical of reunification, putting them at odds with my grandfathers’ generation. Families divided many years ago are losing the familial ties that used to bind the two countries together and kept the memory of a unified nation alive.
Families divided many years ago are losing the familial ties that used to bind the two countries together and kept the memory of a unified nation alive.
In 1983, KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) aired a live broadcast program called “Finding Dispersed Families,” which sought to reunite separated families in the south. It aired for over 453 hours over the course of 138 days. More than 100,000 people applied to be reunited, and of those, 53,536 people appeared on air. Through the broadcasts, 10,189 families were reunited. The emotional footage of ordinary citizens seeing their family members for the first time in three decades swept through the country.
Neither of my grandfathers applied for the program. Grandfather Jong-soon had received word that his parents were still in the north before the fighting ceased. They were already old, so he reasoned they had already passed. Still, he watched the broadcasts, and while he never cried, my father knew it was cathartic for him.
The world certainly needs a peaceful resolution to this diplomatic standoff, but these families also deserve their own peace.
Grandfather Bu-jun presumed he was the only one from his family living in the south. However, while those broadcasts were airing, he gathered my mother and her siblings together. He told them the names of his siblings — his older brother Cho Hong-jun and older sisters Cho Gan-nan and Cho Ttol-ttol. He said that if he died before “our country” reunited, he wanted his children to locate them.
While too late for my own grandfathers, I do hope that the summit yields positive results and that Korean reunification happens sooner rather than later. Because while younger generations did not have to live with the trauma of the war, there are still some who remember what it feels like to have your entire world shattered overnight. These Koreans, whose perspectives are so rarely represented by the American press, have waited decades for peace. The world certainly needs a peaceful resolution to this diplomatic standoff, but these families also deserve their own peace, which they have craved for so long.
Jun Im is a contributing writer. He was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. in 1995.