How you can start a conversation about North Korea (and why you should)

Submitted by Beth Hallowell, PhD, a cultural anthropologist and the Communications Research Director at AFSC.

It's not every day that you wake up and think, "you know what, let's start a conversation about North Korea," but that's exactly what will help us build lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Why? Because there is a toxic narrative in the U.S. that all of North Korea is inherently violent, even crazy. This narrative ushers policymakers towards political "solutions," like sanctions, which look tough but fail to produce diplomatic breakthroughs. Meanwhile, analysts and peacebuilders increasingly say that engagement is the only way forward.

This doesn't surprise us at the American Friends Service Committee -- our research shows that engagement can and does work. Cultural and educational exchanges, for example, build connections between individuals that help improve relationships from the grassroots upward. Academic research backs this up: nonviolent forms of social change have been shown to last longer than military interventions, while cultural changes like how the media portray an issue can have a huge impact on public opinion. One huge problem the U.S. relationship with North Korea today is that people in the U.S. feel threatened by North Korea's repeated nuclear tests. Recent opinion polls show that the U.S. public considers North Korea to be one of the top threats. The media stoke our fears by constantly bombarding us with images on the evening news and online. Too often, they fail to explore how effective, nonviolent forms of engagement could work. Fortunately, we've noticed recent shifts in how this conversation is playing out. That's where you can help.

Talking about North Korea isn't exactly a standard dinner conversation to have with your kids, but there are five easy things you can do to help us change how people talk - and hopefully, how they feel - about North Korea.

1. Check out our recent blog post on how the media are part of the problem. Share the post with your media-savvy friends.

2. Seen any coverage of North Korea that is racist, xenophobic, or militaristic? Tell us about it in the comments or share the link with us on our Facebook page. While you're at it, follow us on Facebook and the Korea Peace Network too, for updates on this issue.

3. Are you on Instagram? Check out @EverydayDPRK for photos about everyday life in a place that few people from the U.S. ever get to visit.

4. Interested in diving deeper? Then check out our new report on engaging North Korea. Share it with people you know who might be interested in learning about an old issue from a new perspective.

Starting a conversation about North Korea is a key way to help people in the U.S. feel less afraid and to change this narrative. It may sound like a small thing, but it's an important first step in changing people's hearts and minds.