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Korean peninsula: If not on the brink of war, then what?

Analysis: In Seoul, the pressure is on to get back to business as usual.

South Korean Army Howitzers fire rounds during military exercises in Pocheon on Dec. 23, 2010. (Dong-a Ilbo/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea —  For a brief moment, it seemed as though the two Koreas were on the verge of another war. With both sides promising to destroy the other in case of another attack, who would doubt the crisis was anything but critical?

But it wasn’t the March sinking of the South Korean navy ship, killing 46 sailors, that pushed the peninsula over the edge. The incident faded quickly into history, with an avalanche of fairly incontrovertible evidence that North Korea was to blame.

What could possibly happen next? An attack on South Korean soil? Exactly.

The North Korean bombardment last month of hapless Yeonpyeong Island, only 7 miles south off the North Korean coast, seemed to mark the point of no return.

Here was an assault on South Korean soil, the first, it was said, since the signing of the truce that ended the first Korean War in July 1953. It was one thing for North Korean gunners to fire on a military target, but quite another to fire on a civilian village of about 1,400 people as they went about their daily lives of fishing and farming.

To the great disappointment of the journalistic hordes who flapped down on Korea post-Yeonpyeong, there is no war here.

The incident was just that, an incident. And it’s over.

Nor is it even accurate to describe it as the first assault on South Korean territory since the Korean War. North Korean special forces staged numerous small assault across the demilitarized zone, killing scores of American and South Korean troops, occasional civilians as well, in the first decade or two after the Korean War.

So, what of the current confrontation? If not a peninsula on the brink of war, then what?

In South Korea, in the United States and at the United Nations, the pressure is on to get back to business as usual.

South Korea’s opposition Democratic Party is denouncing recent war games ordered by conservative President Lee Myung-bak as “provocation.”

In Korea, the biggest story today was not the fate of the Yeonpyeong’s 1,400 former inhabitants, but the opening of a rail link from Seoul Station all the way to Incheon International Airport, enabling passengers to get to the airport in slightly more than 30 minutes as opposed to 60 to 90 minutes by bus.

The streets, sidewalks, department stores and shopping districts of the capital were jammed, with old and young pursuing holiday sales, parties, drinks and coffees against a background of brightly lit Santas and sleighs.