When a Maniac Gets His Hand on the Nuclear Button
The problem with intelligent, rational, persons---and it is a common problem---is that they often become befuddled when confronted with stupid, irrational, aggressive individuals and/or stupidly stubborn persons. Invariably, the rational persons attempt to reason with their counterpart, to understand the motivation and the reasoning underlying his words and actions, or, just as futile, attempt to convince the erratic person that he is acting unreasonably. Ironically, by doing so it is the aggressive, stupid and stubborn irrational person that usually ends up getting his way (that is, winning).
The attempt to make sense out of nonsense is a dead end approach.
In the realm of international politics, we saw this during both Gulf Wars. In the first war, President Bush Sr. formed a powerful international military and diplomatic coalition which told Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait, the country that he had invaded and sacked. When the deadline passed, he remained defiant, leaving Bush and many others befuddled, wondering and speculating what Hussein was thinking and hoping for. When the deadline came and went, his military was crushed like a grape and he barely survived.
During the sequel, we saw a repetition of the stupidly stubborn mentality at work. This time, having a much weaker military and faced with demands from an equally stupidly stubborn opponent who was itching to start a war, a rational, intelligent, Hussein would have bent over backwards to avoid conflict and thereby stay in power, but he remained defiant, surrounded by sycophants who were either of the same cut as him, and/or, were too afraid of his reaction if they stated facts.
Oftentimes, the only way to stop stupid, irrational, aggressive individuals is with brute strength---crude and unpalatable, to be sure, but effective. And this is true both in the international arena and on an interpersonal level.
And now we see a North Korean dictator, surrounded by his own sycophants (who are either fanatics or are terrified of him) playing with (nuclear) fire, seemingly ignoring dire threats of retaliation from an American president. In this unequal absurd scenario, we see American pundits and analysts trying to make sense of Kim Jon Un’s actions and words from an American perspective. It is a futile endeavor. Yet, I put out the following as a possible aid:
For decades, the Kim dynasty has shot down South Korean civilian airliners, sunk South Korean ships, assassinated South Korean politicians, captured an American Navy ship, engaged in counterfeiting currencies from various countries (including America’s), kidnapped civilians from different countries (Jordan, Japan, South Korea, etc.), engaged in drug trafficking, and killed American soldiers with hatchets at the demilitarized zone without any significant repercussions. And, true again, there have been U.N. resolutions condemning those acts and forceful warnings of repercussions by American presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, Trump. Next.
You can draw your own conclusion.
And now let me switch to another period of time which will make you, the reader, a bit more nervous.
During the Cold War, when both superpowers had thousands of nuclear bombs aimed at each other, the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction gradually crystallized. Mutually Assured Destruction’s premise was that if one superpower engaged in a first strike, the opposing force would still automatically retaliate with thousands of its own nuclear weapons. The end result of those thousands of detonations in each country (or, really, either country) would be mutual, utter, destruction. The dictator of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, for all of his many negative traits, instantly grasped the danger of a nuclear war.
So we see that the premise was that rational leaders would not engage in nuclear warfare. But what if that is not always the case? What if a dictator who is certifiably a lunatic and surrounds himself with like-minded minions (like, for example, a Muammar Gaddafi) comes to power in a nuclear country? What if he is a religious fanatic who truly believes that if he kills millions of people in Europe or North America in a nuclear jihad and then when the West responds and destroys his country and ends his life, he will be a martyr and be rewarded by Allah in the afterlife with 40 virgins that he can rape? This may sound absurd to the reader but I can assure you that this type of thinking exists. But we don’t have to speculate; we can go back to history.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the two murdering psychotics of Cuba, Castro and Che (so beloved by liberals everywhere), urged Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to start World War III even though it would have meant the utter destruction of Cuba and Russia, such was their blind, stubborn, hatred for America (which we now see in North Korea and in Iran). Castro was quoted as saying, "Let the world end, so long as I play an important part in it." Tension was very high at the time for all involved, including the ground troops. When a U-2 plane flew overhead in Cuba, one of the Russian officers on his own initiative activated a SAM and shot it down, which could have been the spark to set off WWIII. (Castro once claimed to have shot it down, but that has been disproven as bragging on his part; nonetheless, he was furious with Russia for not initiating a nuclear war and for resolving the crisis without even consulting with him, according to Oleg Gordievsky’s history, KGB).
Now, then, taking the above into consideration, when you consider human beings, you have to conclude that it is only a matter of time until some lunatic jackass will start a nuclear war somewhere in the world.
And that should keep you up at night.
Armando Simón is a retired college professor who lives in San Antonio and is the author of A Cuban from Kansas, The Only Red Star I Liked Was a Starfish and The U. His books can be obtained at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.