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America’s Strange Relationship with North Korea

The news has been frightening lately. North Korea is threatening to launch missiles at Guam, where we have a major military presence. They are angry at our joint military exercises with South Korea in the region, and at the economic sanctions we have placed on them for their missile tests.

President Trump vowed to retaliate with “fire and fury and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” You don’t have to be an expert to interpret that as a threat of nuclear war.

This could end badly for several countries. All it takes is for one side to make a mistake. Retaliating against a perceived but unreal threat or forcing an unhinged dictator into a corner could result in real, deadly consequences. Where does it end? Where did it start? The short answer is that the Korean War never really ended.

Korean War on Pause

The Korean War lasted three years. Millions of people from several countries were killed in the fighting. It ended in an armistice, a cease fire. The Korean peninsula was changed forever. Technically, the North and South are still at war.

North Korea suffered merciless bombing from U.S. forces and lost an estimated 1.3 million of its 9.6 million population. South Korea lost 3.25 million of its 20 million people. The United States lost 33,000 service members and the Chinese, who entered the war to protect their fellow communists in the North, lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The North Koreans were left a country ravished by war and destruction.

Unhealed Wounds

The United States dropped around 635,000 tons of bombs, napalm and explosives on North Korea in the three years of fighting.

This wasn’t easily forgotten by the North Korean government or its people. Their suffering of our attacks during the war is used as fear mongering and propaganda so that North Koreans hate us. The government keeps its people in constant fear that the United States will attack and bomb them just as it did in the Korean War.

The boy king is often pictured surrounded by his countrymen. (KCNA)

Most Historians agree that the Korean War started because Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, invaded the South. North Korea tells its people that the United States attacked the North and started the war. They have convinced the people that the Kim family must stay in power in order to protect and preserve North Korea.

These reasons are used by North Korea to justify its nuclear program. They have tested many times, resulting in several failures. But they appear to have the technology to produce a handful of nuclear weapons which could reach United States territories if not the mainland. They feel their nuclear program will discourage an American attack.

Today’s Tension

So they hate us, and their people are taught to hate us. There have been several tense moments between the U.S. and North Korea and between North and South over the years. The current crisis stems from joint military operations conducted by the United States and South Korea, which the North sees as plans for an invasion.

North Korea threatened the United States with a missile strike, and President Trump threatened in return. Supporters claim that Mr. Trumps needs to “speak their language” when dealing with North Korea. In other words, don’t respond to threats with seemingly weak economic sanctions and the like. Threaten them in a manner they will respect.

Detractors see this as reckless and immature behavior. Threatening a young, ruthless dictator with nuclear weapons may produce unintended, disastrous results. You don’t want Kim Jon-Un to feel he is trapped in a corner and has to attack to save his regime or save face politically. As the tension rises, mistakes and mishaps could result in the deaths of many people.

North Korea may not attack us but may decide to launch devastating missile strikes into South Korea or Japan. It may not have the capability to hurt us directly, but it certainly has the military might to lay waste to its unfriendly neighbors.

Risk of War

All that considered, the possibility of war still remains low. The fact is, if we attack North Korea, they will attack South Korea and Japan, especially if they can’t hit us. If they strike first — at us or at our allies in the region, they will face certain destruction and an end to their regime. Kim Jong Un may seem crazy, but he’s not suicidal. He wants what he has, and he wants to remain in power.

North Korea’s threats are generally prefaced with “If the United States attacks us…” They have been making them many times over the years. We can’t ignore North Korea’s threats, but we can take them at face value.

The biggest risks come from misunderstandings and overreactions. Hyperbole and tough talk have been traded in both directions, making many of us wish both of these leaders would just keep quiet for a while.

It’s a good idea to make it clear to North Korea that an attack on us will result in certain destruction. But trading barbs with an enemy who is already aware of that seems pointless and reckless. It’s imperative you give your enemy a way out and don’t force him to respond.