North Korea is not just a military problem, but a moral one

In 1969, I had two experiences in Korea that color my perceptions of the ongoing crisis there.  One day, while on infantry patrol in the demilitarized zone separating South and North Korea, I looked through binoculars and could clearly see an enemy country where I knew death awaited if I dared step a few feet closer.  The next day, I stood on a street in Seoul, the modern capital city, where millions of civilians went about their daily lives, not all that differently from how Americans do the same in any major city.  It is said that ten thousand North Korean artillery guns are aimed at that city and could within minutes kill a hundred thousand or more people.

Today, while we can peer only dimly through the fog of geopolitics, there is apparently something dramatic going on inside North Korea.  Its dictator, Kim Jong-un, has agreed to meet with President Trump.  Moreover, Kim has apparently voiced his willingness to give up his nuclear weapons.  He has reportedly traveled to China.  Through all this fog, we can only speculate about what is happening and where it will lead.

But one thing is certain.  The Kim regimes have for decades brutalized the North Korean people beyond anything we can imagine.  There are more atrocities going on at this moment than we can list here, but some of them deserve our close attention.

By diverting North Korea's scarce food supply to its military, the tyrants have, with grim calculation, starved to death hundreds of thousands of their people, perhaps many more than that.

Political dissent of even the mildest sort is quickly crushed.  Not only are the dissenters themselves put to death, but their entire families are eliminated, and indeed, sometimes entire villages are punished.

North Korea keeps tens of thousands of its people in what can only be termed death camps.  The very few escapees from those prisons have described daily torture and daily murder, even gratuitous killings that serve no purpose.

We cannot list all the horrors that define North Korea.  Merely living in a country where everyone is continually terrorized by the knowledge – that they live only as long as the regime tolerates their existence – must have a mind-numbing effect, a lifelong trauma.  These are people we see in film footage – people who are pretending to weep when commanded to mourn, and pretending to revel when commanded to celebrate the regime.  They dare not reveal insincerity, not even for a moment.

We cannot imagine it.  And it is in this that the worst problem of all exists in regard to our policy on North Korea.

To be sure, if we can wrest from North Korea its military arsenal, without engaging in the slaughterhouse of warfare, that will be a stunning geopolitical achievement, one the world may joyously celebrate.  The military benefit is clear and undeniable.

But we do not expect that Kim will abandon his nuclear ambitions without first securing his own means of survival.  He is surrounded by generals, bureaucrats, and loyal acolytes who do his murderous bidding, without question, without hesitation.  They do so only because Kim keeps them well fed and in luxurious accommodations.  Those in the inner circle well know that as soon as they lose power, they will be savagely torn apart by those they have tormented for so long.

Kim is their insurance policy.  As long as Kim retains power, they retain power.  And Kim retains power only so long as he can threaten, terrorize, and hoodwink more powerful countries into supplying his regime with food, money, and industrial equipment.

He cannot likely do this without rattling his sabers.  With them, he and his two dead forbears have roared like lions, despite being mice.

Surely, Kim knows all this.  So why is he offering up his nukes?  What can he expect in return?  What about his ruthless henchmen?  Will they continue to cower in fear of him?  Or will they be forced to cast the die, to strike at the king?

Kim will undoubtedly negotiate to retain his power.  He will never, under any circumstances relinquish his iron-fisted grip.

Therein lies the moral problem for America and for the world.  How do we prevent a destructive war while never putting our name to the type of deal that, in 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain triumphantly waved about as a guarantee of "peace in our time"?

How many Jews did we trade for the momentary illusion of peace with Hitler?  How many Korean peasants will we sacrifice for a deal with Kim Jong-un?

Millions of lives are at risk either way, whether through open warfare or through making a deal with the devil.  Who among us will sign his name to the death warrant of a million or more people? 

Military strength is a necessity if we are to have any hope of saving them.  But power devoid of moral wisdom is a sure guarantee of catastrophe.  Pray that our leaders will, in the darkened study of a late night, lean forward over their desks, cradle their heads in their hands, and spend a few hours agonizing over the terrible responsibility that is now theirs.  Then, once inspired by that greatest of all authority, may they rise from their deliberations, make their plans, and set forth to execute them, never wavering until final success is achieved.

Image: Jgaray, Nicor, Coronades03, P388388, Oppashi via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1969, I had two experiences in Korea that color my perceptions of the ongoing crisis there.  One day, while on infantry patrol in the demilitarized zone separating South and North Korea, I looked through binoculars and could clearly see an enemy country where I knew death awaited if I dared step a few feet closer.  The next day, I stood on a street in Seoul, the modern capital city, where millions of civilians went about their daily lives, not all that differently from how Americans do the same in any major city.  It is said that ten thousand North Korean artillery guns are aimed at that city and could within minutes kill a hundred thousand or more people.

Today, while we can peer only dimly through the fog of geopolitics, there is apparently something dramatic going on inside North Korea.  Its dictator, Kim Jong-un, has agreed to meet with President Trump.  Moreover, Kim has apparently voiced his willingness to give up his nuclear weapons.  He has reportedly traveled to China.  Through all this fog, we can only speculate about what is happening and where it will lead.

But one thing is certain.  The Kim regimes have for decades brutalized the North Korean people beyond anything we can imagine.  There are more atrocities going on at this moment than we can list here, but some of them deserve our close attention.

By diverting North Korea's scarce food supply to its military, the tyrants have, with grim calculation, starved to death hundreds of thousands of their people, perhaps many more than that.

Political dissent of even the mildest sort is quickly crushed.  Not only are the dissenters themselves put to death, but their entire families are eliminated, and indeed, sometimes entire villages are punished.

North Korea keeps tens of thousands of its people in what can only be termed death camps.  The very few escapees from those prisons have described daily torture and daily murder, even gratuitous killings that serve no purpose.

We cannot list all the horrors that define North Korea.  Merely living in a country where everyone is continually terrorized by the knowledge – that they live only as long as the regime tolerates their existence – must have a mind-numbing effect, a lifelong trauma.  These are people we see in film footage – people who are pretending to weep when commanded to mourn, and pretending to revel when commanded to celebrate the regime.  They dare not reveal insincerity, not even for a moment.

We cannot imagine it.  And it is in this that the worst problem of all exists in regard to our policy on North Korea.

To be sure, if we can wrest from North Korea its military arsenal, without engaging in the slaughterhouse of warfare, that will be a stunning geopolitical achievement, one the world may joyously celebrate.  The military benefit is clear and undeniable.

But we do not expect that Kim will abandon his nuclear ambitions without first securing his own means of survival.  He is surrounded by generals, bureaucrats, and loyal acolytes who do his murderous bidding, without question, without hesitation.  They do so only because Kim keeps them well fed and in luxurious accommodations.  Those in the inner circle well know that as soon as they lose power, they will be savagely torn apart by those they have tormented for so long.

Kim is their insurance policy.  As long as Kim retains power, they retain power.  And Kim retains power only so long as he can threaten, terrorize, and hoodwink more powerful countries into supplying his regime with food, money, and industrial equipment.

He cannot likely do this without rattling his sabers.  With them, he and his two dead forbears have roared like lions, despite being mice.

Surely, Kim knows all this.  So why is he offering up his nukes?  What can he expect in return?  What about his ruthless henchmen?  Will they continue to cower in fear of him?  Or will they be forced to cast the die, to strike at the king?

Kim will undoubtedly negotiate to retain his power.  He will never, under any circumstances relinquish his iron-fisted grip.

Therein lies the moral problem for America and for the world.  How do we prevent a destructive war while never putting our name to the type of deal that, in 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain triumphantly waved about as a guarantee of "peace in our time"?

How many Jews did we trade for the momentary illusion of peace with Hitler?  How many Korean peasants will we sacrifice for a deal with Kim Jong-un?

Millions of lives are at risk either way, whether through open warfare or through making a deal with the devil.  Who among us will sign his name to the death warrant of a million or more people? 

Military strength is a necessity if we are to have any hope of saving them.  But power devoid of moral wisdom is a sure guarantee of catastrophe.  Pray that our leaders will, in the darkened study of a late night, lean forward over their desks, cradle their heads in their hands, and spend a few hours agonizing over the terrible responsibility that is now theirs.  Then, once inspired by that greatest of all authority, may they rise from their deliberations, make their plans, and set forth to execute them, never wavering until final success is achieved.

Image: Jgaray, Nicor, Coronades03, P388388, Oppashi via Wikimedia Commons.