(USA TODAY) -- Iowans with ties to the Korean peninsula say they are watching closely as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes threats to attack South Korea and the United States.
Many say the threats are worse than what they've seen in the past, and they're tracking headlines with concern. But they're not yet deeply worried about the safety of family members back home.
"You cannot discount a crazy person with lots of firepower, especially nuclear," said Drake University business professor Inchul Suh, who grew up in Busan, South Korea. "But on the other hand, all the threats they are making I think is more of a show than a real threat."
His conclusion: "It's all bark, no bite."
North Korea has been railing against U.S.-South Korean military exercises that began in March and are set to continue until the end of this month. The United States and South Korea insist the exercises in South Korea are routine, but the North calls them rehearsals for an invasion and says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself. The North has also expressed anger over tightened U.N. sanctions related to a nuclear test in February.
The North's military warned this week that it has been authorized to launch a nuclear attack against the U.S.
Inside South Korea, the reports are less ominous, according to Iowans with relatives there. Newspaper coverage in South Korea has at times been more muted than in the United States, The Associated Press reports.
"All of my friends and family in Korea, they don't really care about this news," said Sang-Seok Yoon, a Korean language professor at the University of Iowa.
But some Iowa observers fear South Koreans may be taking the threats too lightly. Jinjoo Hong, president of the Korean Language Club at Iowa State University and a senior education major, said, "I know there have been many threats over the years, but this time, I think they crossed the line already. I think there are real actions this time."
Youngwan Kim, a political science professor at ISU, also worries that South Koreans aren't taking the possibility of war seriously "because they have lived for the last decades with this constant threat from North Korea."
South Koreans, he said, "definitely think this is an overreaction of Western media."
Many Iowans with ties to Korea believe that the warnings in recent weeks stem from the efforts of Kim Jong Un to solidify his image.
"The best way to stabilize Kim Jong Un's power is to show off his power to other countries and also to his own," said Youngwan Kim, who grew up in Busan.
Kim Jong Un, said to be 30, came to power after his father died in late 2011.
Most analysts believe the North's escalating provocations are meant to coerce South Korea into softening its policies, win direct talks and aid from Washington, and strengthen Kim Jong Un's image at home.
The belief that the United States will intervene on behalf of South Korea has calmed nerves, said John Lee, acting president of the Korean American Society of Iowa.
"Anybody older than 50 who was close to the Korean War understands what's going on," said the Chuncheon native, who has lived in Cedar Rapids for 27 years. "Most people believe in the strong ties between the United States and Korea. If a war breaks out, a lot of people already know the South can win."
The U.S. continues to maintain 28,500 troops in South Korea, and 50,000 more are in nearby Japan.
Despite its threats of nuclear attacks, the North is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount nuclear bombs on long-range missiles or aim them accurately. It also could be years before the country completes the laborious process of creating enough weaponized fuel to back up its nuclear threats.
Seoul-native Yong Chin Pak, who has taught martial arts at ISU for 40 years, said his son works in South Korea, and his wife will be traveling there later this month.
"If I'm worried too much, I'm not going to let her go, and I will call him back immediately," he said. "But I don't think it's going to happen."
To Pak, the current situation is nothing more than a "young man trying to show off."