By Armando Simón
When North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un weeks ago backed down from launching a missile towards Guam, the collective view of politicians, pundits and generals in this country was that the dictator had finally gotten the message, and, more importantly, that he would be acting more responsibly henceforth. After all, the United States has enough firepower to erase North Korea from the world map. However, it now seems that we are back to square one with him playing with an atomic warhead.
One of the commonest mistakes that both historians and politicians make in examining the actions of an authoritarian foreign ruler is assuming that the dictator is a rational human being. There is a tremendous resistance by both historians and politicians to consider the possibility that the dictator may be bat shit crazy. Or stupid. Elaborate theorizing and rationalizing are formulated by both in order to come to grips with that particular dictator’s actions. Yet, they often fail to take into consideration that the man may be totally delusional and/or completely obsessed and/or extremely paranoid and/or stupid. It may be that initially, when the individual was seizing power (either through a military coup, a power struggle inside the elite, or pandering to the masses) and consolidating it, he made rational, intelligent decisions, but once in power — and surrounded by fearful or adoring sycophants — he met with no resistance to some of his crazier and crazier decisions and everyone around him bustled to accommodate him. There was no “reality check.” Daffy Khadaffi immediately comes to mind.
But, take for instance, Saddam Hussein. Twice he was faced with an overwhelming military and diplomatic coalition that could (and eventually did) remove him from power and ended his life. Faced with that possibility or deciding to face reality and evacuate his forces from Kuwait or have no restrictions on arms inspections, he stupidly opted for defiance. We know the results.
The problem with the nuclear scenario MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is that the underlying, crucial, premise is that both sides will act rationally and intelligently. The Achilles Heel in the scenario is: but what if one side is irrational. Or stupid? This is not as absurd as it sounds. Mao Tse Tung had no concept of nuclear war, something which Khrushchev tried to explain to him. And Fidel Castro actually wanted a nuclear war.
And now we have Kim Jong-un. I would suggest that in considering the problem one should set aside the speculation (or anticipation) as to what Kim may be thinking, what he may be planning, “what is it that he really wants” and instead plan on what our actions should be, independent of Kim, and on a worst case scenario.
Take it from someone who has lived in a totalitarian society: it is like living in a lunatic asylum where the lunatics are in charge of every facet of the institution — and they are all floridly paranoid. Most persons who have not lived in such a society have a tremendous difficulty understanding it and the persons in charge.
Additionally, I would also suggest that under no circumstance should we contemplate an invasion of North Korea, even if its forces are annihilated through air strikes. That could become another tar baby, as is the present day case with Afghanistan and Iraq. But, more importantly, invading the north would automatically trigger a response from China; one must study the history of China in this regard; it has always seen Korea as both a vassal state and a buffer state.
A possible alternative is that, if the north’s military is crippled and the south wants to invade the north, inform China that America will not take part and permanently withdraw from the peninsula altogether (thereby saving billions of taxpayer dollars), since we will no longer have a reason to have bases there. The absence of foreigners and the presence of fellow Koreans would make the process easier. But under no circumstances should America invade the North.
That in itself would be stupid.
Armando Simón is a retired college professor and is the author of A Cuban from Kansas, The U, The Only Red Star I Liked Was a Starfish, The Cult of Suicide and Other Sci-Fi Stories, Wichita Women, The Zapheads and Other Science-Fiction Stories, as well as numerous stage plays. They can be obtained at Amazon, Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble.