Last night I watched an episode of Star Trek called “A Taste of Armageddon” (Season 1, Ep. 23). In it, two planets have been at war for 500 years, but they no longer send weapons to destroy each others’ cities. Instead, a linked computer system models the attacks and determines casualties. These casualties then have 24 hours to report to a “disintegrator” to be killed. It’s clean, neat war, without the carnage.
This episode reminded me of our conundrum with North Korea. The two Koreas have been at war for 23,356 days since the Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953–just a few weeks shy of 64 years. And while nobody reports to a death chamber, there have been casualties along the way, which continue to this day.
In Star Trek, Kirk destroys the computers that simulate war and calculate casualties. This, in the treaty which preserves the state of war between the two planets, would result in “automatic escalation” to real weapons. In doing this, he forces the two sides to negotiate in order to avoid Armageddon.
If you read the rhetoric about North Korea and America’s options, this sounds mighty familiar. Any attack, no matter how surgical, seems to bring the argument that the North will respond with Armageddon. Eleven million residents of Seoul will die, we will face “catastrophic” war (as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has repeatedly said).
Charles Krauthammer wrote “we have kicked the North Korean can down the road. We are now out of road.” Examining the evidence, he concluded that we must accept a nuclear, ICBM-armed North Korea. We must accept them the same way we accepted a nuclear-armed China, or a nuclear-armed Russia.
North Korea is within China’s sphere of influence, like Mexico is within America’s. Just like America wouldn’t want Chinese troops, missiles and nuclear launchers in Mexico, to China, having American troops, or a close American ally sitting on its border is a non-starter. So China is caught between a rock and Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions.
So we sit and wait for this to unfold, in a stasis where nobody really wins, but the war continues.
I might suggest that someone needs to be Captain Kirk here and destroy the calculus computers. We need to face facts that the status quo is unsustainable, and in fact immoral. One day, North Korea will attack the South, after winning concession after concession due to its nuclear hegemony. And then, we will be faced with real Armageddon, or surrendering the south to the Juche-inspired north.
A war, in any capacity, in the Korean peninsula, is going to be bloody and awful. Liberals and doves in South Korea whine that President Trump has made their country less safe, as if sitting within range of 4,000 chemical-round-capable artillery and rocket batteries is or has ever been safe. We’ve spent 64 years calculating casualties, but nobody has reported for disintegration.
The reckoning will come. I don’t believe all Kim wants is to be left alone. I believe he wants the long game, to rule the Korean peninsula–all of it. If he doesn’t attain the goal, his successor will, or the next one after that. The Kims are very well trained to maintain ideological discipline (which is one reason Kim Jong Nam was assassinated), without regard to blood, friendship, or mercy.
Giving up and accepting a nuclear, ICBM-armed north is tantamount to surrender for the south. They are trapped in their nice, clean war right now, like the leaders in the Star Trek episode, so they don’t see the problem.
We haven’t dealt with North Korea because (a) until the 1990’s it wasn’t really a global security threat, (b) if there was a resumption of a large-scale shooting war, we would certainly win, and (c) we had bigger fish to fry. None of those things is true anymore. A nuclear north changes everything.
America must deal with North Korea, and I’m afraid our only option is to risk all-out war to do it. Obviously, Trump won’t telegraph his intentions, so we won’t see an announcement. But the north is watching very closely. I believe if Trump, Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson have come to the same conclusions I (and others) have, a strike is imminent.
It’s very possible all this talk about “catastrophic” war, negotiations with China, and more sanctions is simply preparation for a military option. Or it could be preparation for acquiescence. As much as I respect Charles Krauthammer, he’s dead wrong. Acquiescence is indeed unthinkable, because it will inevitably lead to war–a war that will pull America in the way Pearl Harbor pulled us in to World War II.
We have to face facts and realize that to avoid war, we might need to risk triggering the “automatic escalation” and end the phony war we’ve had for more than six decades. We’re at day 23,356 and counting. Tick tock.