This week’s news has been dominated by the escalating and dangerous rhetoric between President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. It’s not been pretty.
We were at war with North Korea from 1950-1953; the war was concluded with a cease fire, not a surrender. Technically we are still at war.
In the 64 years since the cease fire North Korea has become more and more isolated from the rest of the world. At first they were closely allied with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. The dissolution of the USSR moved China into the only true ally of North Korea.
As with (let’s face it) all communist nations, North Korea faces horrific poverty. Several times they’ve refused to negotiate with the free world and accepted famine as a cost of maintaining their independence. We can’t know exactly how bad it was, but there is reason to believe that up to 2,000,000 North Korean citizens starved to death between 1993 and 1999.
Most of us have looked on this with a mixture of horror and anger. Those unlucky enough to have been born there did not deserve their fate and we recognize that their suffering resulted from the poor leadership of Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), his son Kim Jong Il (1941-2011), and his grandson Kim Jong Un (b.1983).
The Kims have always favored their fate above the people they lead, but things took a decisively bad turn in 2003 when North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons.
Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) to Barack Obama have recognized that they needed to be the adult in the room. They’ve known that a little boy with a loaded gun needs to be taken seriously and they’ve looked for ways to ensure that whatever Kim led North Korea, he would be placated.
And by and large it’s worked. North Korea has rattled sabers, made threats, and generally frightened much of the rest of the world. But it hasn’t delivered on its threats.
But last November we elected another little boy. It’s generally understood that good leaders command respect while poor leaders crave affection. We’ve understood for 64 years that North Korean leaders have craved affirmation, but late last year we elected a President who does the same thing.
And while our little boy previously argued that we should negotiate with North Korea he has now decided to meet Kim’s juvenile rhetoric with juvenile rhetoric of his own.
Last Wednesday he threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen” but didn’t explain what that meant. It’s a little like “You had better do what I want or else!” It’s never clear what “or else,” or for that matter what “fire and fury” really means.
And while Kim Jong Un’s threats make clear his targets (Guam), our little boy continues to make vague threats that nobody can interpret.
Many of us found his threats alarming and even his Secretary of State hoped to walk back his remarks.
Last December I wrote about my fear that our little boy would not be prepared for a complex international crisis. Nine months later I fear this crisis has landed.
I pray these little boys listen to the adults in the room, but I have no confidence they will.