By | Philip Santos
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un should be best friends. When I read about escalating tensions between Trump and Kim, I can’t help but see two short, chubby kids fighting over who gets to play in the sandbox. The sandbox tale typically ends with a long-lasting friendship after two people discover how much they have in common. Trump and Kim both employ inflammatory statements, exaggerate oppositional views, resort to strong arm tactics and utilize name calling on a regular basis. This is why U.S. relations with North Korea have become so frightening. We have two similar archetypes locked into a childish war of words, which is precisely why we don’t need to go bunker shopping just yet.
North Korea agreed to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing programs” in 2005 during what was called the “six-party talks.” Clearly, that didn’t happen, but it shows us that the polar extreme of today’s situation wasn’t so long ago. More recently in 2015, North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear testing in return for the cessation of the annual U.S.-South Korea joint-military exercises. The U.S. rejected that offer. The takeaway from this is that North Korea has come to the table before, and I think that will continue to be the case.
What has pushed North Korea away from the negotiating table and into the war room is what we see Trump doing today: name calling and ridiculing. Former president Bush labeled North Korea as part of the “axis of evil,” The Interview portrayed the plotted assassination of Kim and now Trump has gone and said we would “totally destroy” North Korea. These events prompted displays of aggression by North Korea, ranging from withdrawal from disarmament talks to testing missiles. The common theme amongst these events is that they were reactionary and some might even say defensive. The U.S. has “totally destroyed” North Korea once before during the Korean War.
Curtis LeMay, head of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command during the conflict, would later boast in an article from the Guardian that the U.S. bombing campaign killed about 20% of the population.
“We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” LeMay said.
When the President trumpets about “totally destroying” North Korea, he’s rubbing the pain of history into a wound that hasn’t ever healed. If Trump can keep a lid on statements like that, we’ll be just fine.
I feel a bit crazy for thinking this, but I think North Korea’s actions are somewhat rational. First consider that, as previously mentioned, the U.S. has demolished North Korea before. The track record since then doesn’t get any better – U.S. weapons have become more powerful and plentiful as a result of endless decades of war. Secondly, the U.S. has a long history of foreign intervention, even when there weren’t necessarily direct threats. I have a book called Killing Hope by William Blum that examines every U.S. Military and CIA intervention since World War II. It was printed in 1995 and has a chapter for each country the U.S. has intervened in. There are 55 chapters. Kim isn’t irrational for being weary of the U.S. His hostility makes a lot of sense. I find these indicators of ration as reasons for relief, because I think Kim understands that any attack on his part would result in the destruction of his country. For that reason, I don’t see him authorizing an attack on foreign countries.
So why all the showmanship then? Well, the kid throwing a tantrum wants to be heard. Having nuclear power means you have more to say at the table and it might be the only way for North Korea. It may be savvy of U.S. to take North Korea out of corner time, sit down with them to hear their side and maybe even apologize for the hurt that’s been done. But can you see Trump, a man who still eats well done steaks swimming in ketchup, changing his nature to make this possible? I think he’s a playground bully who’d rather see the sandbox filled than change or apologize – and that is what we need to be afraid of.