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

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.

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.

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:

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.

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/10/2017 - 11:14 am.

    Rather than…

    Rather than dropping bombs on them we should be dropping iPads and internet connections for every man, woman and child in North Korea. Let them see the life outside of their known world, the economic conditions in the South, the example of Germany 25 years after reunification. All is certainly not ideal in these places; but far ahead of what their government has enabled over the past 70 years. Of course Kim Jong-Um will label this all as “fake news”. Given their mutual hate for fake news and love for golf, one would think Trump and Kim could work this out. Time for Dennis Rodman shuttle diplomacy….

    • Submitted by Jack Lint on 08/10/2017 - 12:13 pm.

      Smuggling culture

      This happens to some extent. There are people who have left North Korea who sneak back in with bags of USB Memory sticks containing the favorite shows from South Korea. These are handed around and people watch them in secret. (Something similar happens in Cuba, but it’s more of business.) Given Trump’s love for media, you’d think he’d ramp this up by supporting the smugglers.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/10/2017 - 12:23 pm.

      Would it Help?

      It’s a great idea, but consider that the people of North Korea have been subjected to a continuous barrage of brainwashing for over sixty years. Would anything about the outside world sink in? Would they believe anything positive? Anecdotally, I’ve heard that the outside world scares the people of North Korea stiff. As unthinkable as it seems to us, defectors are even asking to be repatriated, because they can’t handle life outside the North.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/11/2017 - 03:35 pm.

      Excellent idea

      Seeing as how so many Republicans are so thoroughly convinced and vocal about America being a nation founded on Christian principles — most recently, Evangelical Republicans in particular, some of our president’s most loyal supporters — a person would think the fundamental Christian principle of “Love thine enemy” would (somehow) make an appearance in the “public debate” on this issue.

      Oddly enough, through organic happenstance, Dennis Rodman has turned out to be the most successful and most loved unofficial Ambassador in the history of the relationship between NK and the US.

      It won’t happen, of course (because all the supremely intelligent non-Dennis Rodman types who understand all the rabbit hole nuances of diplomacy would not, under any circumstances, allow it to happen — better to have a war), but I’ve thought for a couple of years that, if it could be pulled off, it might work wonders if Rodman could (somehow) convince the beloved leader and whoever he wanted to bring with him, to come with him for a complete red carpet tour of America, starting with a behind the scenes tour of Hollywood, Disney World, the NBA, New York (Hamilton, maybe?) and then on to a royal reception at the White House where he and Don and Dennis could shake hands and have a few conversations about how the U.S. has no interest whatsoever in messing up his life and how the U.S. would be more than happy to coordinate with the U.N. to provide all kinds of food aid (delievered directly to EVERYone in NK by UN “blue helmets”), housing assistance for the masses and whatever kind of assistance (expertise and financial) it might take to help NK start participating in what the rest of the world’s got going on to whatever extent the beloved leader was comfortable with.

      And then he and Dennis could get back on the plane, smile and wave good-bye to the thousands of smiling and waving Americans holding up heart-covered signs and balloons and, when he and Dennis actually landed and made it back to NK alive and sat down to watch the miles of video from their recent mind-blowing trip, it COULD be a (slightly) different and better world.

      (And, of course, the president could take full credit for whatever good came of it and claim to be the ONLY president in history who had been able to find a “true path forward” with the previously unsolvable Hermit Kingdom problem, “Without firing a single shot! No shots at all.”)

      Oddly enough, through organic happenstance, Dennis Rodman has turned out to be one of the ONLY Americans who has been able to actually “Love thine enemy” in a way that has, for whatever reasons, made the beloved leader MORE than comfortable enough to deal with an American in a way that approaches the normal way in which countless Americans deal with each other “on game day,” or when they’re getting together to watch the latest greatest movie.

      Unfortunately, not many other Americans (Christian or otherwise) seem to have been able to figure out how to do anything but the opposite, and “here we are.”

      And, “for all you skeptics and non-believers out there,” here’s a story I came across a while back on an obscure web site you might find interesting (or oddly entertaining) . . .

      “Rodman’s Revelations

      “After his controversial trips to North Korea caused an international firestorm, the NBA Hall of Famer mostly shunned the media. Now Dennis Rodman is ready to talk.”

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/10/2017 - 12:03 pm.

    Okay.So more than 70% of Americans don’t believe anything said by the President or the current White House.

    But, the problem is: What do people outside the US think of what Trump says? What does that grown-up child who leads North Korea think of Trump’s words? Does he know that Trump is speaking off the top of his head, and that his head is almost completely empty of knowledge of what he’s speaking about? Does he know to discount Trump’s every word, as we do?

    Most of us are now listening to Trump with a combination of disbelief and terror at what he’s suggesting.

  3. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 08/10/2017 - 01:49 pm.

    Trump got “played” by a tin-pot dictator

    All Trump had to do was calmly say that attacking the US would be suicide. Nothing more, then just move on.

    Instead he takes the bait and engages in a war of words – which is the only war North Korea has a chance of winning (or even a draw).

    If there ever was a time to “speak softly and carry a big stick”, this is it.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/10/2017 - 01:53 pm.

    God Help Us All!

    Trump is a reactionary and gives no forethought to the consequences his loose words can have. After his extemporaneous comments to North Korea, I can only hope that Trump was not given the correct code for the nuclear football. Congress needs to escalate their impeachment process before a majorly impaired president does something crazier than his normal crazy. The words “president and Trump” do not belong in the same sentence. If Trump’s North Korea tirade doesn’t change some Trump supporter’s thoughts about supporting him, nothing will. Trump is a man (loose definition of the word man) without any credibility, thinks of himself as the great negotiator, lies daily from sunrise to sunset, thinks he can lead via tweets, and has no business being in the office that was formerly occupied by a series of real Presidents. Only once will a foreign leader need to miscalculate what Trump says and take the wrong action with catastrophic results. We can’t afford to have a loose cannon in the White House. I’m not sure anyone could make George W. Bush look presidential, but Trump has accomplished that feat already. The presidency has not seen the likes of a President Trump. Congress needs to pass legislation to make sure it never happens again. The new law needs to state candidates must pass a phycological assessment before being able to run for an office that has the powers of the president.

    Our first clues about Trump were on display during his campaign. He was rude, crude, condescending, bullying, and not just politically incorrect but just plain incorrect. America need not be a testing ground for imbalanced individuals to test out their crazy ideology. Why can Trump only work with his family members? Because he can dictate to them. Trump is finding out dictating is different than governing. He doesn’t realize Congress is an equal power to the Executive branch of government.

    We can’t afford to focus on the problems of just one person’s run of craziness for the next 4 or 8 years. Our country has real problems, which need to be solved to help ALL the citizens of the US, not just the GOP’s special few. God help us all!

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/10/2017 - 02:32 pm.

      Which is why…

      Robert Mueller is no doubt accelerating his work to its’ logical conclusion: impeachment.

      A majority of regular citizens, the deep state, otherwise known as dedicated career civil servants, The Ds and a reluctant group of Rs can see that he simply cannot be trusted in this job and, fortunately for the integrity of the process, he is actually guilty of enough “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” to be sent on his way. Pence is GWB without charm and with GLBT anxieties. It’s the best we can hope for.

      • Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 08/11/2017 - 10:42 am.


        How can Trump be guilty of treason? Please explain.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/11/2017 - 11:34 am.

          Perhaps Not Treason

          Trump may not–probably will not–be found to have committed treason. There is a strong possibility that he could be convicted of “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

          I’m not sure if it’s a consensus opinion, but there have been strong arguments in the past that the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” are not necessarily violations of criminal statutes.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/11/2017 - 03:12 pm.

          Very simple

          By demonstrably favoring Russia’s interests over ours.

  5. Submitted by Marc Post on 08/10/2017 - 03:18 pm.

    Republican War

    When a Republican is in the White House, there will be a war. It’s good for the fossil fuel industry. It’s good for the military industrial complex. Money will flow to Republican supporters who are the only “winners” in a war. What will anyone else gain by it? What better way to justify spending what we do on killing.

    It also provides a distraction and an excuse to label anyone opposed as a traitor. You’re either with us or you’re against us. Remember? Have we already forgotten the last R in the White House and the liars that launched those wars?

    They could even declare martial law. Another win (so much winning!) for the Rs.

    It’s not just NK either. Don’t forget that China is their close ally and neighbor. They won’t sit on the sidelines.

    When we elected a Republican, it wasn’t a matter of if. It’s only a matter of when and with who. If not NK, then Iran or Syria or some other weak victim we can bully. It will happen.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/10/2017 - 03:40 pm.

    Fire and Fury

    “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
    Shakespeare said it.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/10/2017 - 04:35 pm.

    Just because Trump doesn’t do “homework” or “background”…


    I have found (from unhappy experience, sometimes) that showing unpleasant emotions in business in Korea can be unexpectedly counterproductive. It can be tempting to cross the line of civility since, for example, a Korean is more likely than a Westerner to stay on the line while being yelled at over the phone. Koreans will often appear to maintain their cool (and even a smile or laugh!) in an awkward situation, but this apparent calmness should not be mistaken for compliance or agreement. Verification of intent may require waiting for actions, rather than words.

    Being aggressive with a smile rather than a frown, using extra words to avoid coming out and saying things directly, yielding on small points and even behaving in passive aggressive ways could all be more effective negotiating techniques in a Korean setting than a bulldozer approach. (Nevermind that “bulldozer” is the somewhat popular nickname given to some Koreans who’ve been successful in business, such as former Korean President Myung-Bak Lee (who was less successful with this approach in politics of late)).

    Westerners doing business in Korea would be advised to handle awkward situations with a delicate hand and with as little direct confrontation as possible. It’s not that wrong must be overlooked, but a solution that doesn’t require people to admit error overtly can go a long way toward keeping important relationships going. Even if everyone knows what happened and the outcome is the same, the path toward that income in Korea is likely to have more bends and turns than it would in a similar situation in the West and if you stay cool, important relationships may just survive the turmoil.

    (end quote)

  8. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/10/2017 - 05:54 pm.

    Here’s thought, for our Republican-dominated Congress: You guys have already, and with a kind of stealth, passed laws to prohibit President Trump from loosening the sanctions Congress placed on Russia–as punishment for what they did to our 2016 election, but which Trump refuses even to mention. The GOP is aware of his bias toward Russia and is afraid of it.

    Congress has also passed rules that prohibit President Trump from firing AG Sessions during the August vacation break (they are still “in session,” with somebody getting up and speaking to an empty chamber every couple of days), and from firing the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, whose investigation into Trump’s campaign collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 election so infuriates Trump.

    They’re quietly tying his hands, and we’re all thankful for that!

    Can’t Congress pass a resolution or law that prevents President Trump from ordering any military attack on any country, most especiallly North Korea? You know, build some kind of huge procedural wall between President Trump and nuclear disaster?

  9. Submitted by William Beyer on 08/10/2017 - 06:02 pm.

    You need to keep quoting yourself – we’re the United States of Amnesia.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/10/2017 - 11:43 pm.

    Here’s my theory

    I think it’s a little too coincidental that N. Korea has made more progress with it’s missile and warhead program in the months since Trump got elected than they did in the previous two decades. Remember; according the brain trust in the White House at the time these warheads and missiles were supposed to be the biggest threat facing nation on Sept. 11, 2001, and that was 16 years ago.

    I think the N. Korean’s have been getting help, and I think that help has been coming from the Russians, and it’s exactly the kind of thing Putin would do. A Nuclear N. Korea would be of little concern to the Russians in the short term while it causes all kinds of problems for Putin’s enemies. It humiliates Trump for couple nickels, and draws attention away from Russian military antics and weapons programs. N. Korea is also twisting US allies into a pretzel of conflicting agendas and objectives at a time when we need a unified front. No one knows what’s going on, or what the US is going to do, the only reliable constant seems to be Trumps ineptitude.

    Meanwhile Trump continues with his man-crush on Putin, praising him for being so tough on America with his counter sanctions. Trump isn’t going to see this coming until it’s completely out of control because he’s focused on making everyone else in the world an enemy while Putin dances around like hes’ invulnerable.

    Now I have absolutely evidence, I’m just saying this is my theory.

  11. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 08/11/2017 - 06:45 am.

    Waiting Breathlessly

    For the usual defense from some of the conservative stalwarts. Oh, ya, what about Hillary’s 33,000 deleted emails that put the United States at risk? And then following it up with: oh, ya, how about when Obama said everyone could keep their health care? Even more astounding that the original fire and fury was the idol’s performance at his golf club yesterday and, “Maybe it wasn’t tough enough.” Republicans need to start putting country first instead of being convinced by Fox and its more crazy counterparts that it’s basically a competition where the important thing is that “they” don’t win. That sentiment is certainly there among Democrats and progressives but not in the same nasty way.

  12. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 08/11/2017 - 10:27 am.

    A Short History on North Korea

    As Korean war went on the US and the UN worked out an armistice with North Korea. It was quite a long document that set down the demilitarized zone and any number of other things, which included paragraph 13d. This was a peace treaty but for a short time it effectively ended the Korean war. However, in the same year 1953 North Korea nullified the agreement and it has gone back and forth every since. In 1958 the US moved nuclear missiles into South Korea effectively subrogating the armistice by violating article 13d which prohibited either side from the introduction of nuclear weapons and missiles. North Korea has announced that it will no longer abide by the armistice at least 6 times, in the years 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2013. In 1994 the US under President Clinton, which was supposed to stop Pyongyang from advancing there Nuclear program. This U.S.-North Korean agreement will help to achieve a long-standing and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.” -President Bill Clinton. It is not true that Clinton gave North Korea nuclear reactors and 5 billion dollars. What they did do is form a consortium with Seoul, Tokyo, and other allies to carry out construction in North Korea of two light water nuclear reactors costing an estimated $4 billion. These new reactors would be much less capable of producing weapons- grade fuel than the North’s current graphite reactors They did this in spite of North Korea’s propensity to renege on agreements. This was an agreement that in hindsight puts us were we are now and that is North Korea has over the years reneged on every agreement and has now made weapons grade nuclear material. South Korea does not have their own nuclear weapons. Since the Korean War, the country has been under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella — an assurance that it would be protected by U.S. nuclear weapons if needed. That safeguard remains even though the United States moved its nuclear weapons out of South Korea in 1991 as part of a bid to persuade North Korea to allow the IAEA to inspect that country’s nuclear sites. At the time, Pyongyang and Seoul also jointly committed to making the peninsula free of nuclear weapons. Obviously our government was taken for ride by North Korea. I don’t think at this time the President and congress has much choice but to back North Korea down, simply because there leader thinks we are weak and rightfully so base don our history.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/11/2017 - 12:23 pm.

      Back them down?

      Obviously we’re not going to back them down. N. Korea IS a nuclear power, and they WILL have nuclear ICBMs… there’s nothing to back down, it’s done. We’re going find a way to live with a nuclear N. Korea because we have no choice, it’s that simple.

      We can argue who’s responsible for this, but I think the idea that somebody should have been “tougher” at some point in the past is mumbo-jumbo. By definition in this instance all “tougher” can mean is some kind of military strike that would have re-ignited open warfare, and THAT was never in the cards for a number of obvious reasons. The idea that a “tough” stance of some kind would have brought the N. Korean’s to “heel” somehow without catastrophic consequences is simply a neo-con fantasy.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/11/2017 - 03:11 pm.


      As Paul Udstrand indicates further below, the armistice was with China (which entered the war when we neared the Yalu River boundary between China and Korea), not with North Korea, which didn’t really exist until the armistice.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/11/2017 - 12:59 pm.

    Another historical note of interest

    Looking back it’s always been something of a mystery as to why the Chinese actually crossed over an joined the war in the first place. This is the real question you have ask if you want to explain why there is a North Korea- today. After all, were it not for the Chinese Korea would have been “unified”.

    It’s not easy to explain the Chinese action, it was a costly and dangerous move that brought them into direct warfare with the US and it’s allies. At the time, China’s own nuclear capabilities were (and actually remain) quite limited. China was really relying on Russia for nuclear cover, and that wasn’t as solid as a lot of policy makers assumed at the time. Why not just secure their own border on their side of the Yalu River and leave it alone? Sure, NK provided a buffer between a US backed ally and their own border, buy why take the chance? If the Soviet’s could live with an iron curtain, why couldn’t the Chinese live with the Yalu River? There has never been any indication that UN or US forces were going to press on into China, and N. Korea had stared the war by invading the South so it’s not like the Chinese found US troops on their border because of Western expansionism. Why not just hunker down and wait it out?

    After years of being puzzled about this I finally stumbled across and explanation a few years ago. James Bamford actually discusses it in his book: “Body of Secrets”. It turns out the Chinese were nervous about having another US client or ally on their border because the CIA had been running nasty covert operations across the border with India. According to Bamford, having another direct border with another US ally on the Yalu River would have been like opening a second front. Both these borders are in relatively remote regions for China, but they’d already positioned 300k troops on the Yalu as a precaution, so they decided the risk was worth it in Korea in to keep the US at arms length, or if they got lucky, even push us off the peninsula all together. This might have been one of the most catastrophic examples of “blow black” for covert operations in history. It’s possible that we wouldn’t be in this situation today had the CIA not been mucking around the Indian border 65 years ago.

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