North Korea: Should we act now or wait?

It seems possible that plans are already being implemented to invade North Korea.  I am not speaking of contingency plans; I am speaking of a date certain, a definite schedule, with step number one being the recent flyover of B1-B bombers near the North Korean border.  I am not, of course, privy to any such information, but President Trump seemed supremely confident when he made his assurances that (inexact quote) "we will handle North Korea."

The reason for all this is that the Norks (as the North Koreans are informally referred to in military parlance) have nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which pose as close to a clear and present danger as we dare to allow without taking decisive, pre-emptive action – immediately.

The only constraint now is feasibility.  Are we able to attack and win?  Can we accept the consequences of action versus those of inaction? 

The consequences might be cataclysmic.  North Korea reputedly has thousands of artillery guns in caves, within firing range of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea.  Seoul is a huge metropolis with some eight million or more inhabitants.  I've been there, and it is easily comparable to most large American cities.  Those artillery weapons can be expected to deploy within minutes, to fire an overwhelming barrage, and to kill as many as a million people within the first hour of a major war.  There can be no doubt that the Norks would do this in the first moment they perceived an existential threat.

There can also be no doubt that even if the North Koreans would hold their fire, their Iranian allies are committed to bringing about worldwide chaos and destruction as part of their apocalyptic religious beliefs.  The collusion between North Korea and Iran is deep and demonstrable and poses no less a threat to us, perhaps more so, than the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

As if all this were not complicated enough, there is one more feature of this tangled web that is understated.  That is the fact that North Korea operates political prisons among the most inhumane in recent history.  Satellite photos confirm the location of one mega-complex that holds a quarter-million people.  Defectors and escapees report that the inmates are routinely tortured, starved, and subjected to abject humiliation on a large scale.  Summary executions (murders) are commonplace.

It is one thing to read about such places, but the old adage, out of sight, out of mind, seems to operate here.  We are rightly horrified but not moved to action in the same way as we would be if we witnessed firsthand a neighbor child being abused in his front yard.  In such a case, we would demand that the police protect the child, or we would intervene ourselves.  But we do not personally see the atrocities in North Korea (and elsewhere).

Therefore, we have the luxury of intellectualizing the matter.  Do we have a right to interfere?  Do we have an obligation to do so?  What if we tried to help, but our good intentions resulted in a war with much greater suffering than is already the case?

In any event, it seems at the moment that we are finally being forced into action, regardless of the outcome.  Our own lives are at stake, and those of our children.  No doubt the South Koreans justifiably fear the outcome.  Fear?  My Korean friends express chilling dread.

Ten years ago, the cost of action would have been far less, but far more immediate at the time.  Today, the likely costs are both far greater and no less immediate.

Oh, to have the wisdom of Solomon!

It seems possible that plans are already being implemented to invade North Korea.  I am not speaking of contingency plans; I am speaking of a date certain, a definite schedule, with step number one being the recent flyover of B1-B bombers near the North Korean border.  I am not, of course, privy to any such information, but President Trump seemed supremely confident when he made his assurances that (inexact quote) "we will handle North Korea."

The reason for all this is that the Norks (as the North Koreans are informally referred to in military parlance) have nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which pose as close to a clear and present danger as we dare to allow without taking decisive, pre-emptive action – immediately.

The only constraint now is feasibility.  Are we able to attack and win?  Can we accept the consequences of action versus those of inaction? 

The consequences might be cataclysmic.  North Korea reputedly has thousands of artillery guns in caves, within firing range of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea.  Seoul is a huge metropolis with some eight million or more inhabitants.  I've been there, and it is easily comparable to most large American cities.  Those artillery weapons can be expected to deploy within minutes, to fire an overwhelming barrage, and to kill as many as a million people within the first hour of a major war.  There can be no doubt that the Norks would do this in the first moment they perceived an existential threat.

There can also be no doubt that even if the North Koreans would hold their fire, their Iranian allies are committed to bringing about worldwide chaos and destruction as part of their apocalyptic religious beliefs.  The collusion between North Korea and Iran is deep and demonstrable and poses no less a threat to us, perhaps more so, than the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

As if all this were not complicated enough, there is one more feature of this tangled web that is understated.  That is the fact that North Korea operates political prisons among the most inhumane in recent history.  Satellite photos confirm the location of one mega-complex that holds a quarter-million people.  Defectors and escapees report that the inmates are routinely tortured, starved, and subjected to abject humiliation on a large scale.  Summary executions (murders) are commonplace.

It is one thing to read about such places, but the old adage, out of sight, out of mind, seems to operate here.  We are rightly horrified but not moved to action in the same way as we would be if we witnessed firsthand a neighbor child being abused in his front yard.  In such a case, we would demand that the police protect the child, or we would intervene ourselves.  But we do not personally see the atrocities in North Korea (and elsewhere).

Therefore, we have the luxury of intellectualizing the matter.  Do we have a right to interfere?  Do we have an obligation to do so?  What if we tried to help, but our good intentions resulted in a war with much greater suffering than is already the case?

In any event, it seems at the moment that we are finally being forced into action, regardless of the outcome.  Our own lives are at stake, and those of our children.  No doubt the South Koreans justifiably fear the outcome.  Fear?  My Korean friends express chilling dread.

Ten years ago, the cost of action would have been far less, but far more immediate at the time.  Today, the likely costs are both far greater and no less immediate.

Oh, to have the wisdom of Solomon!

RECENT VIDEOS