Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Korea has been the only divided country left in the world. North and South Korea are the only remaining subjects of the great experiment with Communism that the world has subjected itself to for over 50 years, an experiment that has run its course. Despite the North and South sharing the same language, culture, customs, and even family names, they are in many ways completely opposite ends of the spectrum. One of those ways is in technology.
Both countries have had significant technological developments in the past fifty years, but the North has used their technological development to spread fear to, and demand things from, their neighbors. They use technology only to support their bombastic rhetoric, which alone would have been overused to the point of powerlessness already. But they have developed nuclear technology in the form of nuclear reactors that create weapons-grade plutonium, and in nuclear bombs, which they have tested more than once. They have developed long-range rocket technology and have applied it to make missiles that are capable of hitting their neighbors and, they claim, some islands of Alaska. And while they have announced twice now that they have launched satellites into orbit, once in 1998 and once this year, they clearly have failed both times.
South Korea also has nuclear, rocket, and satellite technologies, but they have taken them in a different direction. South Korea has developed clean nuclear energy which they use to power 45 percent of their country's total electrical needs. These nuclear reactors do not produce weapons-grade nuclear material, but they do produce almost half of the power necessary to drive the world's 13th largest economy. South Korea already has six satellites in orbit as well, put there with the help of other space-faring nations. And this year the country is preparing to launch its first large-scale rocket - not as a weapons test, but to reach space on its own. In late July the country will launch its first rocket into space and join the ranks of other respected space-faring nations.
This sharp contrast reminds one of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," which begins with three intriguing lines:
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood..."
In the poem the narrator was sorry he could not travel both and be one traveler. But Korea, divided into North and South, has become two travelers and traveled both roads - two divergent roads of technological development.
While North Korea constantly threatens to turn various neighboring cities into seas of nuclear fire, South Korea is exporting its nuclear power technologies to other nations. While Kim Jong-il launches rockets into the ocean in order to make other countries give his country economic aid, Lee Myung-bak launches celebratory model rockets to open a new space center with the help of smiling, well-fed schoolchildren. And while North Korea uses the excuse of launching a satellite into orbit to make its missile tests more diplomatically palatable, South Korea is hoping to put additional satellites into orbit with its own spacecraft.
Among these two mirror-states, North Korea is definitely taking the road less traveled by. However, this particular road is full of starvation, want, bombast, and a stance of constant war. The South has taken the more popular route, and in this case it has made a world of difference for its people. Nowhere else are the choices more similar and yet opposite; at no other time in history have two countries more obviously illustrated right and wrong.
In the Robert Frost poem, the author expresses regret at not being able to take both paths. On this peninsula, however, we as a world should express regret at allowing both paths to be taken for so long. This self-inflicted experiment has run its course, and one path has been traveled down too far. It is time to bring it to a close, and move on to the next chapter in this world's history - one without Communist dictatorships.