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On Trump’s eruption, Kim Jong-Un’s nuke plans, and why we have two Koreas

We can’t keep overreacting to every bizarre Trumpian eruption — we’ll just be freaked out all the time.

Kim Jong-Un is much more worried about the rest of the world attacking him than he is about attacking the rest of the world.
KCNA/via REUTERS

Why is there a North Korea anyway (or a United States for that matter)? And will there continue to be a North Korea if Kim Jong-Un continues to disobey and annoy Donald Trump?

We can’t keep overreacting to every bizarre Trumpian eruption — we’ll just be freaked out all the time. I’m not sure how to pick when to go nuclear (no no, definitely a bad choice of metaphor there, should’ve said just “go ballistic” or maybe just “go nuts”) but I can’t bring myself to freak out over President Trump’s “fire and fury” fulmination toward North Korea.

We should be worried that we have a president who, in the middle of his campaign, wondered aloud what was the point of having nuclear weapons if you can’t use them. That was an idiotic thing to say. If there’s any point to having them, it’s so you won’t have to use them, which sounds ridiculous but is the essence of the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. And yes, the acronym for that is MAD.

You’ll note that the only time atomic weapons have been used, they were used by us and we were the only ones who had them. Once they are distributed to a few more powers no one can use them without risking their own destruction.

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But we should be figuring out by now that Trump just says stuff. And as soon as we start to come down off the last ridiculous thing he said, he says the next one.

Of course it’s worrisome that North Korea apparently has, or soon will, both working nuclear explosive devices and missiles that can deliver them far away. But I also don’t take too seriously the idea that Kim Jong-Un wants to start anything. As crazy as he sometimes seems, I believe he is much more worried about the rest of the world attacking him than he is about attacking the rest of the world, and with good reason. In fact, on that basis, it seems pretty rational (for a weird dude who really does have powerful adversaries) that he would want to have deliverable nukes, as a deterrent. Of course if we’re dealing with crazy people, none of this makes as much sense as I wish it did.

The issue of status-quo boundaries

The other thing that often strikes me as crazy is the importance we attach to nation-states and currently existing boundaries. I mean yes, if you try to change the boundaries you will usually get a war, so that’s a good reason to at least feign respect for the status quo. But the nations defined by those boundaries are mostly what I consider false constructs, in the big scheme of history.

Our U.S. boundaries are the result of a series of bizarre previous occurrences, many of them fairly recent. There was no such “country” as the United States before the Europeans landed. Then we bought a bunch more land (the Louisiana Purchase) from people who didn’t really own it or live on it. About a fourth of our territory was subsequently taken from Mexico (by force of arms) as recently as 1848, and now we get all hung up on enforcing a border that wasn’t a border until then. Very convenient.

Just a few years ago Yugoslavia, which we grew up thinking was a country, turned out to be seven countries after a particularly horrible civil war. Czechoslovakia? Nope, not a real nation in any cosmic sense, just a temporary merger of Czechs and Slovaks put together by the geniuses in charge of making new countries after World War I, but at least that’s one that managed to break itself up without a war. Iraq, a nation? Don’t make me laugh.

But we often act as if God drew the boundaries on the map and is prepared to defend them with lightning bolts.

Why a North Korea?

Which (believe it or not, I actually had a plan to get to this point) brings us to the question: Why is there a North Korea? There never was until quite recently (1945). And even when Korea became two Koreas, it wasn’t because anyone intended it, because no one did.

I’ve written the bizarre and somewhat hilarious tale a couple of times, so I’ll just link to a previous version at the end of this paragraph, but before you click through (or after), just consider that if the world somehow blows itself over North Korea, it will be (in some ludicrous sense) because in August  1945 – the exact month that the only atomic bombs ever dropped were dropped (by you-know-who) — a U.S. colonel with the wonderful name of “Tick” Bonesteel, and Lt. Col. Dean Rusk (who later became secretary of state) were suddenly told by their superiors to find a line somewhere near the middle of the Korean peninsula where the Russian troops coming down from the north and their U.S. allies coming up from the south could rendez-vous and declare Korea to be liberated from Japanese occupation.

But in case you don’t click through, I want you to at least know that when I first wrote a semi-humorous version of the tale — in 2010! – it started with this sentence:

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If the world gets into a totally stupid existentially threatening mess, the odds are decent that North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability will set it off.

This is pretty bad. I’m reduced to quoting myself. Nonetheless, if you need a refresher on why we have two Koreas, and especially if you’re nervous that the world will end because it does, here’s the link.