Does Kim Know What Lies Ahead?
As the U.S. simultaneously struggles to take on the gun control issue and not take on a war with North Korea, an incident related to the former underscores concerns about dealing with the latter.
On April 10th, two boys, aged four and six, were playing in the town of Toms River, New Jersey. The younger boy went back into his house, returning with a .22 calber rifle. Playfully aiming it at his older friend, he fired, killing the older boy.
The four-year old was a young child lacking the maturity to understand the deadly nature of the weapon held in his hands. Irresponsible parents had failed to teach him, absent responsible conduct, guns can discharge, claiming human life.
Despite early childhood photographs of a very young Kim Jong Eun dressed up as a little general, Pyongyang's current leader never served in uniform. Yet in 2012, five months before his ailing father's death, Kim, overnight, became a four-star general. Today, at age 30, the world's youngest head of state lacks the maturity to fully understand the military and political powers he wields and the consequences of irresponsibly wielding them. Like the four-year-old New Jersey boy, Kim -- having inherited the world's fourth largest army (which has never fought a war but believes it can win one) -- now plays with a loaded gun with a hair-trigger. As such, it is capable of being irresponsibly discharged. A misread of intentions on either side of the DMZ could easily bring that about.
Long gone from Kim's army are soldiers who fought in the Korean War which ended sixty years ago this July. For "Boy Kim" and his generals, the Latin phrase "Dulce bellum inexpertis" ("war is sweet to those who have never fought") aptly applies. Never having experienced the horrors of the battlefield gives rise to a bravado only silenced when the bullets start to fly.
Kim's bravado recalls memories of Muammar Gaddafi. Bravado turned to violence when, on April 5, 1986, Gaddafi supported the terrorist bombing of a German discotheque, killing U.S. servicemen. Both bravado and violence ended ten days later after President Ronald Reagan ordered an airstrike against Libya. Coming close to being killed in the strike (he escaped after tipped off by Italy), Gaddafi saw the light, swearing off terrorism and eventually even surrendering his weapons of mass destruction.
Probably unknown to Kim now (and to the U.S. then), U.S./North Korean combat engagements took place during the Vietnam War. Pyongyang had pressed Hanoi to allow it to send its pilots to learn U.S. air combat tactics. Hanoi reluctantly agreed. Just two months later, after every engagement with a U.S. pilot resulted in the loss of a North Korean pilot flying a North Vietnamese plane, Hanoi sent Pyongyang's pilots packing as it could ill afford more aircraft losses. Today, an obelisk stands in front of fourteen North Korean graves in a cemetery outside Hanoi -- a reminder of the price Pyongyang paid for its earlier adventurism against the U.S.
The North Vietnamese pilot responsible for training the Koreans reported they proved unwilling to learn. They chose to engage American pilots as they had during the Korean War, even though tactics and technology had drastically changed. This same ignorance was demonstrated when North Korea recently released a U.S. map, supposedly depicting a missile strike against Colorado Springs, Colorado, showing the target 900 miles off mark.
Pyongyang has long had a plan of attack against South Korea. Years ago, South Koreans began discovering huge tunnels dug under the DMZ by the North -- through which to drive tanks -- left unfinished on the South's side, only to be completed in advance of an attack. So far, Seoul has uncovered four tunnels but many more are believed to exist.
The North has also ordered thousands of South Korean police and military uniforms -- to be worn by their agents entering the South when the attack occurs. Their mission is to disrupt good order in the South as South Koreans become confused over who is friend and who is foe.
It is interesting to see how Kim's bravado today contrasts with the image fellow students held of him while attending the English-language "International School" in Gümligen, Switzerland.
They describe him as a quiet student with a great sense of humor -- two traits little evident today, unless the U.S. map depicting missile routes was an attempt at humor. Despite being short and overweight, he reportedly was a good basketball player who was "fiercely competitive [and] very explosive." One classmate chillingly described him as a "play maker [who] made things happen." Another added, "He hated to lose. Winning was very important."
There is some belief that Kim's belligerence is a product of his relationship with Iran. It is well known that Iran has been nurturing a relationship with the North for many years. The world got a brief view of it in 2007 when Israel conducted a daring air attack to destroy a nuclear facility being built inside Syria. Designed and built with North Korean assistance, the facility was funded by Tehran. Iran had secretly commissioned its construction as an alternative site to its own nuclear installations, hoping it would escape international scrutiny. A flow of funds into the North from Iran for Pyongyang's technology and other assistance has encouraged Kim to "follow the money!"
But based on the insights of young Kim shared by his classmates, he indeed seems to have undergone a noticeable personality change. One wonders whether an alleged March 2013 assassination attempt against him, reported by South Korean intelligence, could be responsible. Apparently, a gun battle erupted in Pyongyang due to a military power struggle, possibly triggering his newfound belligerence. If so, his tough guy persona towards the West could be for internal consumption -- both to improve his stature with the military and to keep opponents at bay as they too ponder where confrontation with the West is heading.
What is disconcerting is that, as Kim plays with a loaded gun capable of being irresponsibly discharged, he may not even know where it is heading himself.
James Zumwalt (http://www.jamesgzumwalt.com/) is a retired Marine infantry officer who has written several books, including one on North Korea's Kim dynasty.