Walls with Barbed Wire?

Dear Korean,

What's with all the barbed wire in Seoul? I hear nothing but positive comments on the safety and low crime rate in Korea, so I wonder why are the fences and walls surrounding apartments, 'villas' and homes are topped with barbed wire?

S. Eron

Probably the most accurate answer is -- why not? While Korea does have relatively low crime rate and good public safety, it is far from being totally free from crime. Petty thieves scaling the wall is not unheard of, so it is not a bad idea to have barbed wire on your wall.

If one really strained to give a "cultural" answer, one plausible theory would be that not long ago, Korea was under military dictatorship, which often implanted militaristic culture to Korea's everyday life. That probably allowed Koreans to tune out the presence of barbed wire and consider it to be a normal part of the scenery. But this is just a theory that the Korean made up just now -- take it for what it is.

One related note is -- in Seoul, there are many legitimate and highly important places that could be a potential military target. Aside from the obvious ones like the presidential residence, there are a number of safe houses used by Korea's intelligence agencies that hold important people. (For example, Hwang Jang-Yeop, the creator of North Korea's juche philosophy who defected to South Korea, lived in such a safe house until he passed away recently.) Also, there are legitimate concerns that North Korea would attempt to infiltrate Seoul and kill the president and/or commit terrorism, as it happened in 1968. So a lot of places in Seoul are areas of legitimate military interest, which might be protected with barbed wire.

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