On Tuesday I was supposed to teach Plato’s Republic. We were going to overview how it impacted the framers of the United States Constitution and why the American government looks the way it does.
That did not happen. Saturday’s false alarm had changed everything.
The students came into my classroom buzzing. They had not seen each other since Friday (Monday was a holiday), and were eager to share their stories. I decided to provide them that space.
North Korea’s militarism and animosity can be nerve-wracking even without a false missile alert. But think how nearby South Korea must feel.
North Korean Central News Agency
“We got into the bathtub and put a mattress over us.”
“I was still asleep.”
“I was at practice, calling my mom.”
“I went outside; figured if this was it, might as well enjoy the light show.”
“I still have nightmares.”
We did a quick poll of the class, and a little less than half took action when they received the phone alert. The other half either did not know what to do, or were able to deduce the false alarm due to a lack of sirens and the lack of local TV coverage.
Then it was my turn to teach.
I brought the students’ attention to my world map on the wall. It is a little different from most maps since I cut it down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and retaped it so that the Pacific is in the middle. We looked at the distance between North Korea and Hawaii. And we looked at what lies within that distance.
Someone pointed out the obvious: “That’s a lot of ocean.”
I discussed with my students why it’s unlikely Hawaii would be the primary target of a nuclear strike.
There are two tactical lines of thinking when it comes to a nuclear strike: the first is to hit military installations, destroying the enemy’s combative power, and the second is to hit a civilian population to cause panic and demoralize the enemy. In both those instances, North Korea has clear primary targets in South Korea.
It became the most engaging class session on the Korean War I have ever taught. My students had not understood that the war never really ended, but was only on hold through a cease-fire.
I discussed with my students why it’s unlikely Hawaii would be the primary target of a nuclear strike. We then took the chance to research South Korea’s preparations for an attack from the North: notably the massive bomb shelters built into Seoul. It became a lesson in empathy: the 40 minutes we spent scared of an incoming bomb has become an almost daily part of life for South Koreans.
It is of vital import that our youth recognize this fact. The potential threat, and the noise our lawmakers make out of it, has overshadowed the realities of our situation. Adults may be able to weed this out, or normalize it; but it is not so evident to children and teenagers.
“But,” I concluded, “what if I’m wrong?”
We finished the lesson discussing the realities of preparing for any disaster. Discussion ranged from the need to check emergency supplies to preparing emergency plans in case family is separated.
I shared the lesson I personally learned: check Twitter. I was able to alert my family of the false alarm after the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted the all-clear. It would take many others an additional 20 minutes to learn that information.
At the end of the day, a letter was distributed to students from Superintendent Kishimoto relaying the Department of Education’s position in case of another missile warning. I hope that my students, and now my readers, are able to read it with a little more context.
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Ethan ʻOnipaʻa Porter is a Social Studies instructor at Campbell High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in Hawaiian Studies and Political Science and
a Certificate in Secondary Education, Social Studies, both from the University of Hawaii Manoa.