For some local Korean-Americans and military families, the standoff between North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and President Trump is more than just a high stake game of chicken. Kim has said he could launch missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam as a show of force, with Trump promising an immediate response by the U.S.
The Augusta Chronicle talked to some area residents who have family living in the Korean peninsula or are stationed there about their level of concern about the situation.
Ye Sun Wiltse came to the U.S. from South Korea in 1974 and served 20 years in the military. She landed in Columbia County because of her husband’s military work at Fort Gordon.
“I think the media is making it a lot more of a big deal than it is,” Wiltse said. “North Korea has always been kind of aggressive; they have always threatened South Korea.”
Despite the overtures, Wiltse said North Korea knows it is no match for America.
“The only reason they have not invaded South Korea again is because of the American presence there,” she said. “It seems to me North Korea has been launching bombs, missiles, trying to show their strength but they are not.”
Wiltse said she was impressed by the president’s tone toward North Korea.
“Our politicians have always been trying pacify them with deals, money and aid,” she said. “I am very happy that our president is very strong. The only way to deal with bullies is with real strength.”
“I am actually pretty happy our president is sending a very clear message that if you mess with us, it will be the end of you,” she said.
Business owner Kihwan Kim returned from a visit to South Korea just over a month ago.
There, about nine out of 10 friends said they were accustomed to North Korea showing out and did not fear an invasion, Kim said.
“It’s been going on so many years like this,” he said. “They don’t fear and it’s not going to happen.”
Kim said the youthful Kim Jong Un is making threats to attract attention and aid for the impoverished nation, but if he pushes too hard will be put in his place.
“My opinion is somebody needs to be giving him the lesson,” he said.
Augustan Eugene Yu emigrated with his family from South Korea in 1972, when he was 15.
And the semiretired businessman says he is “100-percent satisfied” with President Trump’s hardened stance against North Korea.
“Finally, we have a person like Donald Trump,” Yu said. “I think he did it perfectly. I’ve never seen any of the past presidents dealing with North Korea like Donald Trump.”
He said the president’s increased application of pressure on North Korea has been long in coming.
“I am sick and tired of the people who say they’re the experts on this situation,” Yu said. “If they’re such experts, this should’ve been taken care of 10 years ago.”
Yu said he believes North Korea is bluffing in its latest round of threats toward the U.S.
But he also said he thinks the White House’s biggest obstacle in dealing with North Korea is a lack of support from South Korea, who elected a liberal president, Moon Jae-in, in May. Moon has favored entering into new talks with the North.
“Recently South Korea elected a very left-leaning president,” Yu said. “They are not really cooperative with the U.S.”
Jennifer Rayle, whose son’s Kip Humphries, 21, serves in the Navy and is currently on a submarine in the Pacific, said the tension between the countries worry her.
“I saw something posted on Facebook about a possible nuclear sub out there and I’m worried because my son’s in a sub,” she said.
Rayle, who was accompanied by her son’s girlfriend, Estela Alvarez, 20, on Tuesday, said they last contacted Humphries two weeks ago.
During that time Alvarez said they talked about living adjustments, but with recent tensions surfacing she tries to stay alert with the news.
“That’s the closest I can get to him,” she said. “We probably won’t hear from him not for a few months at least.”
For Autumn Williams, 21, her father’s return from his deployment to South Korea last month brought the issue into perspective.
“It’s just a mixture of feelings,” she said. “It’s more so educating because at the end of the day things like this are always going on and I feel like there’s always stuff behind the scenes that we don’t know about even now with all the CNN stories.”
Former North Augustan Adrienne Shealy Stubbs, a resident of Seoul, South Korea, says people there don’t live in fear of North Korea.
“Nobody really worries about it. They all think he (Kim Jong Un) is a joke and they just carry on with their normal lives,” said Stubbs, who graduated from North Augusta High School in 1997. She has has lived in Seoul for a year with her husband Christopher, who’s in the Army, and their children, 2-year-old Everett and 8-month-old River.
“I really don’t even think about it. There are some spouses who worry, especially before they get over there. But when they get here they see it’s nothing like our news media portrays,” said Stubbs, who is currently in the U.S. for a vacation, showing off her children to family members.
Still, she and her husband know conflict could change everything, and they’re prepared to react to the worst.
“We have bags packed. We have stuff ready to go to the plane and get out of here,” if the word comes, she said. “But my husband would have to stay and at that point I would be very concerned.”
The couple chose to live off post in a 34-story high rise “to get the full Korean experience,” and they plan to stay three more years. By that time, Christopher Stubbs will have 21 years in the Army and can retire.
A typical day for Adrienne Stubbs and her children involves going to outdoor playgrounds or indoor activities at a kids’ cafe or museum when the air pollution is particularly bad, Stubbs said.
Aside from dirty air, occasional protesters and propaganda flyers floated down the river by North Korea, life in Seoul is pretty good, Stubbs said.
“It may sound crazy, but I feel really safe over here,” she said. “The city’s safe. There’s little to zero crime here … even their protests are peaceful.”
Staff writers Joe Hotchkiss, Susan McCord, Nefeteria Brewster and James Folker contributed to this article