Bomb North Korea? No way

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Bomb North Korea? No way

On April 12, an opinion piece appeared in The New York Times, entitled “Bomb North Korea, Before It’s Too Late.” The author, Prof. Jeremi Suri from the University of Texas, Austin, argues that the Obama administration ought to make a tactical strike on North Korea’s missile sites.

To get the bland stuff out of the way: I feel Prof. Suri misunderstands the North Korean threat, particularly with regard to U.S. interests. Despite what the American public has been led to believe by a crazy media reaction, Kim Jong-un does not want to attack America. We all know North Korea’s strategy is one of ramping up the tension, and trying to extract bribes in return for peace. And we know that they don’t actually want to start a war which they would be very likely to lose.

Half of you reading this article will live in or around Seoul, I’m sure. And if Prof. Suri’s wish came true, I expect that you would be joining me in running as fast as possible in a southerly direction. None of us has any real idea what North Korea’s response would be in the event of a direct stealth bomber strike, but if they did perceive it as an existential threat (as would seem reasonable), then Seoul would obviously be in danger of a retaliatory attack.

What upsets me about the NYT piece is the fact that this obviously crazy idea has now been introduced to the American public, via a highly respected newspaper. People are debating it on blogs, and in response pieces. What was unthinkable has now been made into a matter of discussion.

It comes at a time when the international media has generated a sense of severe threat among the public in the U.S., the U.K., and other countries that have historically participated in “world police” type military actions. The American public has been somehow led to believe that Kim Jong-un genuinely might target places as unlikely as Austin, Texas for nuclear strikes. And meanwhile, North Koreans are the new bad guys in Hollywood movies.

Under such an environment, political pressure may build to take action against the North Korean “threat.” Saddam Hussein was removed without actually possessing weapons of mass destruction; Kim Jong-un does possess them, so it is entirely plausible that a body of opinion demanding military action against North Korea will build in the U.S. We should just be grateful that North Korea doesn’t possess oil.

If there were a price to be paid for a strike on North Korea, it wouldn’t be met by Prof. Suri, nor any other American civilian (except in terms of the national budget deficit). As we all know, it would be paid by those of us living in Korea, both South and North. But when people watch CNN and some apparently maniacal dictator with an unpronounceable name pops up, the temptation is simply to yell at the screen, “bomb the bastard!”

From far away, the people living in Seoul are just a faceless mass. They are dehumanised by such thinking, rendered less important than the “core national interest” of the U.S.A, as Prof. Suri terms it. This is, I believe, a consequence of the nature of modern war: a combination of 24-hour war reporting on TV, and the lack of direct experience of war among people lucky enough to come from stable countries, means that the potential victims are stripped of their humanity, making it easier to consider them a fair risk.

I have sent a response to the NYT, hoping desperately that they will publish it. And I will generally try to make as much fuss on this issue before it gains too much traction. I am just an ordinary person, so I have no right to expect anything. But if you agree with me, please try to do whatever you can to respond.

*Daniel Tudor, Seoul correspondent for The Economist
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