Kim Jong-Trump: A ver­sion of Dr. Strangelove

Pres­i­dent threat­en­ing to at­tack North Korea if it makes any more threats to U.S.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

“I’m not say­ing we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, Mr. Pres­i­dent, but I do say not more than ten or twenty mil­lion dead, de­pend­ing on the breaks.” So said Gen­eral ‘Buck’ Turgid­son, urg­ing the U.S. pres­i­dent to carry out a nu­clear first strike, in Stan­ley Kubrick’s 1963 film ‘Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb.’

But no­body in Kubrick’s movie talked like Kim Jong-un (“Amer­i­can bas­tards would be not very happy with this gift sent on the July 4 an­niver­sary,” he crowed, cel­e­brat­ing North Korea’s first suc­cess­ful test of an ICBM). They didn’t talk like Don­ald Trump ei­ther (“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”)

Kubrick’s film came out the year af­ter the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis, when the world went to the brink of nu­clear war af­ter the Soviet Union put nu­clear mis­siles into Cuba to de­ter an

Amer­i­can in­va­sion. It was a ter­ri­fy­ing time, but nei­ther U.S. Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy nor the Soviet lead­ers used vi­o­lent lan­guage. They stayed calm, and care­fully backed away from the brink.

So Kubrick’s fic­tional lead­ers had to stay sane too; only his gen­er­als and civil­ian strate­gic ‘ex­perts’ were crazy. Any­thing else would have been too im­plau­si­ble even for a wild satire like ‘Strangelove’. Whereas now we live in dif­fer­ent times.

Trump may not un­der­stand what his own words mean, but he is threat­en­ing to at­tack North Korea if it makes any more threats to the United States. That’s cer­tainly how it will be trans­lated into Korean. And Py­ongyang will as­sume that the U.S. at­tack will be nu­clear, since it would be even cra­zier to at­tack a nu­clear-armed coun­try like North Korea us­ing only con­ven­tional weapons.

Is this where the world finds it­self at the mo­ment? ‘Fraid so. And although a nu­clear war with North Korea at this point wouldn’t even muss Amer­ica’s hair — the few North Korean ICBMs would prob­a­bly go astray or be shot down be­fore they reached the U.S. — it could kill many mil­lions of Kore­ans on both sides of the bor­der.

A mil­lion or so Ja­panese might die as well (that would de­pend on the fall­out), and a few tens of thou­sands of U.S. sol­diers in west­ern Pa­cific bases (from tar­geted strikes). In­deed, as the scale of the po­ten­tial dis­as­ter comes home to North Korean strate­gists, you can see them start to play with the idea of a “limited nu­clear war.”

North Korean plan­ners have an­nounced that they are “care­fully ex­am­in­ing” a plan for a mis­sile at­tack on the big U.S. base on Guam. In that way they could “sig­nal their re­solve” in a cri­sis by only hit­ting one iso­lated Amer­i­can mil­i­tary tar­get. Their hope would be that such a limited at­tack would not un­leash an all-out U.S. nu­clear counter-at­tack that would level North Korea.

‘Limited’ nu­clear war typ­i­cally be­comes a favourite topic when­ever strate­gists re­al­ize that us­ing their cher­ished nu­clear weapons any other way means unimag­in­able lev­els of death and de­struc­tion. It has never been cred­i­ble, be­cause it as­sumes that peo­ple will re­main se­verely ra­tio­nal and un­emo­tional while un­der at­tack by nu­clear weapons. Think­ing about limited nu­clear war, while un­re­al­is­tic, is ev­i­dence that the plan­ners are start­ing to get re­ally scared about an all-out nu­clear war, which is just what you want them to be. Nev­er­the­less, we are en­ter­ing a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous phase of the process, not least be­cause the other two ma­jor nu­clear pow­ers in the world, China and Rus­sia, both have land bor­ders with North Korea. And nei­ther of them loves or trusts the United States.

What “process” are we talk­ing about here? The process of com­ing to an ac­com­mo­da­tion that lets North Korea keep a nu­clear de­ter­rent, while re­as­sur­ing it that it will never have to use those weapons. Be­cause that’s what th­ese North Korean mis­siles and nu­clear war­heads are about: de­ter­ring an Amer­i­can at­tack aimed at chang­ing the regime.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son briefly said that the U.S. was not seek­ing to change the North Korean regime last week, although he was al­most im­me­di­ately con­tra­dicted by Pres­i­dent Trump. In the long run, how­ever, that is the un­palat­able but ac­cept­able way out of this cri­sis. In fact, there is no other way out.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.