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Mourir pour Sony?

December 18, 2014

President Obama’s big news item yesterday, the normalization of relations with Castro’s Cuba, was a headline that, unlike most, really is worthy of attention. As someone who has favored reestablishing U.S.-Cuba ties for years, believing it offers the most direct route to peaceful regime change in Havana, I felt this was not just big news, but also good.

Yet unfreezing ties with Havana was quickly overshadowed by news of Sony’s cancellation of its comedy film The Interview, which was supposed to have been released over Christmas with much fanfare. The movie, alas, centers on the assassination of North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, who apparently lacks a sense of humor about these things, since his secret services have been fingered by U.S. intelligence, including NSA, as the culprit behind the recent absolutely huge cyber-raid on Sony. Threats of terrorism against theaters that dared to show the movie pushed the studio to a point it could not withstand.

That cyber-raid has proved no end of embarrassment for Sony, which has been revealed to be run by a bunch of amoral cretins who are cowards to boot. To whom this was exactly news one has to wonder. Moreover, this author is inclined to think that the fewer stupid, puerile and unfunny “comedies” Hollywood produces the better, though Pyongyang is a terrorist regime with lots of blood on its hands, so thanks are not exactly in order.

Apparently we are supposed to regard the cancellation of a dumb movie as The Worst Thing Ever, since it involves surrender to an ugly regime and its evil ways. The great and the good are now exhorting President Obama to do something about this outrage and teach North Korea to behave. The hideousness of Pyongyang is no more “news” than learning that Hollywood is full of idiots. What exactly the moral outrage contingent wants Washington, DC. to do about Sony’s prostration before the prophets of juche is far from clear.

North Korea is a bizarre hermit kingdom that’s got nuclear weapons. Its ideology, as I’ve previously explained, isn’t some weird form of Marxism, rather a virulent race-based ultra-nationalism that makes it nearly impervious to the sort of “influence operations” the Pentagon likes to employ. The country’s lack of any real ties with the outside world affords the Kim monarchy family a rare degree of political insulation. Moreover, Pyongyang has been an outlaw regime for so long, in such manifestly crazy ways, that it’s something extraordinary.

Only a few years ago, one of its submarines blew a South Korean frigate right out of the water, well, just because. It’s assassinated enemies in numerous countries, it’s blown up foreign planes and politicians, it’s even kidnapped kids off foreign beaches in broad daylight. Pyongyang gets most of its hard currency from a wide range of illegal activities around the world, while its few embassies in the West are outposts of rough spies who deal drugs and launder money on a grand scale. North Korean intelligence isn’t very sophisticated but it compensates with extreme nastiness.

The geniuses at Sony could have learned all that, since it’s clear their offices have an Internet connection, but apparently they determined rather late that Pyongyang doesn’t get irony, which is the cornerstone of the millennial worldview that produces movies like The Interview. The North Korean regime has killed literally millions of people and would gleefully take out Sony executives and unfunny actors in horrible ways. Unfortunately the studio figured this out after, rather than before, beginning filming.

It’s hard not to notice that Sony was a big fan of exposing secrets before it was theirs that got outed. Only a few months ago, they paid millions for the film rights to Glenn Greenwald’s hagiographic book about the Snowden Operation, the largest leak of classified information in intelligence history. One wonders if Sony execs have reconsidered their position now that they, too, have been hacked.

Will Sony survive this disaster? That’s a good question, albeit hardly one I will be lying awake at night pondering. It’s time to face some facts. North Korea is the most isolated regime on earth. The United States has no missions there to close, no trade to cut off, no diplomatic slights to “message” Pyongyang with. We have no ties with the Kims, so “non-kinetic” options for retaliation are very limited. The regime cares not a whit about its global image — actually they seem to revel in their awfulness — so hashtags and cheap moral outrage will get us precisely nothing except North Korean guffaws.

More importantly, the “kinetic” options before us are terrifying. Pyongyang knows their possession of even a few nuclear weapons is a strategic game changer; it’s precisely why Iran wants The Bomb so badly. I’ve never had much confidence that North Korean nukes would actually work as Pyongyang advertises, but the mere fact that they have some means the U.S. must proceed cautiously.

Even without the nukes — it can never be excluded, this being North Korea, that the whole thing is a giant head-fake — they have enough tubes of conventional artillery dug into the hills north of Seoul, across the fortified DMZ, to lay waste to South Korea’s capital inside a few hours. Any war on the Korean peninsula would mean the end of the ramshackle regime in Pyongyang, but millions of people, many of them civilians, would die in the process.

It’s for this reason that the U.S. military keeps 28,500 personnel in South Korea, to ensure that the 1950-1953 war with the North that never officially ended doesn’t suddenly go hot again. However, there’s only one maneuver brigade, of the 2nd Infantry Division, that’s close to the DMZ, and its role is that of a tripwire, an insurance policy for Seoul to know that it will not be alone if Pyongyang ever goes for broke, since American soldiers will be among the dead in the opening hours of any resumption of real war along that most heavily armed border.

One brigade isn’t a lot of conventional deterrence, however, so to bolster our statement that North Korean aggression, virtual and actual, will not be tolerated, I propose we raise a second brigade without delay. The Pentagon ought to allow people to volunteer expressly for one-year’s service on the south side of the DMZ, to make their feelings clear. There are so many people so deeply morally outraged over The Interview I’m confident that finding a couple thousand eager volunteers will be no problem. I’m sure Sony, or whatever’s left of it,  can be persuaded to pay for this special unit, which will be named the Seth Rogen Brigade, to make clear that America means business. Talk is cheap, Hollywood, it’s time to do something.

In the late 1930’s, French who were less than eager to stand up to Nazi Germany over its rising aggression cited a famous question: Pourquoi mourir pour Danzig? (Why die for Danzig?). As it turned out, not many Frenchmen were willing to die for Danzig, a contested city on the Baltic Sea, and such weak wills ultimately got Paris the German invasion that all French feared.

Fortunately North Korea is no Nazi Germany. Shorn of its nukes, it’s just a sad and sick broke little country that is mainly a threat to its own poor people. Yet this sordid Sony episode illustrates how much disruption to the global commons that one trouble-making rogue state can make. If you’re worried about the example this sets for other unpleasant regimes that are trying hard to get just one working nuclear weapon…it’s because you should.

In the meantime, North Korea will keep acting like its crazy self, and there’s not much anybody, not even the world’s greatest power, can do about it. In the meantime, Hollywood should spend less time sending nasty emails and even less time making stupid “ironic” movies that might get people killed. Nobody is willing to die for Sony — not now, not ever — and for that you can hardly blame them.

34 Comments
  1. Blackshoe permalink

    There are a few things we actually can do to deter/punish the NorKs; we’re just normally pretty reluctant to use them, due to (IMHO):
    -a desire to keep peace channels open and a quixotic belief that we can get a grand, legacy-securing diplomatic deal done (done by two administrations now, so it’s not a partisan thing, it’s more of State Department White Whale they’ve been Ahabing for)
    -ROK apathy in general for the last 10 years or so (or roughly with the start of the Kim DJ admin), coupled with the first point
    -ROK fear of destabilizing the DPRK so much that it collapses and either attacks them anyway (and even if they don’t, the very real belief/fear that the ROK gets stuck with the bill for rebuilding the ex-DPRK no matter what)
    -Japanese fears: sort of like the ROK, with more worry on CBRN attacks; even if the NorK’s nukes don’t work, they’ve probably got plenty of chem/bio and conventional warheads on Scuds/No-Dongs that can hit Japan (noteworthy, in fact, that the first protests and threats against “The Interview” came against the Japanese and threatened their negotiations for the return of some of their citizens kidnapped by the DPRK).

    Most of these options are of various shades of “tailor sanctions that actually work, and then actually enforce them”…but they are out there. Joshua Stanton explains here:
    http://freekorea.us/2014/12/18/if-n-korea-hacked-sony-heres-how-we-should-respond/

    • Sorry, this is window-dressing and will have no more serious impact on Pyongyang than calling in the Ministry of Silly Walks.

  2. quelgar permalink

    No one is willing to die for Sony – fine. But it seems that when it comes to claiming our right of free expression, no risk is too smal. The precedent set here is terrible, and this will keep happening, or perhaps it won’t, as we will self-censor to avoid offending the thugs of the world.

    • You enlisting in SRB then?

      • dougr100 permalink

        Sony let go a bunch of IT people just recently. All North Korea had to do was spend a few dollars in the right directions.

  3. carl permalink

    The problem is, like Danzig, if we aren’t willing to make a line in the sand for people we don’t much care for the evil will keep pushing. This is a situation whereby a foreign power is dictating what free American citizens can and cannot say and what they can and cannot see. This is not a good thing. No, not good at all. It has resulted in even a hard guy like you advocating that free American citizens censor themselves, that they think of how what they say and do-in the United States-will be perceived by depraved killers living overseas before they say or do it. Maybe it is cynical chic, sorta like those Hollywood guys, to say ‘Who wants to die for Sony?’ but there is rather more to it than that.

  4. Alex permalink

    I must disagree on this one–the relative triviality of a Seth Rogen comedy should not be taken as gauging the level of threat that the cyberattack on Sony represents to our national security and to our democratic culture.

  5. listening post permalink

    Thanks John, like that last line, you write irony better than Rogen. I have a question that is tangential but I’d like to know your opinion. How much do you think Bush’s “axis of evil” speech motivated North Korea and Iran’s accelerated push for nuclear weapons?

  6. scrambledjets permalink

    The challenge of convincing Americans to die for Japan’s Sony would only be compounded by calling the unit the Seth Rogen Brigade. He is Canadian.

    • This an international effort. Think Spain, 1936-39.

      • RufustheRed permalink

        Or the re-militarization of the rhineland – 1936.

      • rufus3698 permalink

        Or more appropriate, perhaps, the re-militarization of the rhineland – 1936.

  7. g2-e40754973e487bc932a3e450c3e2341c permalink

    North Korea regime exists only thanks to Chinese support.

    • This. There’s plenty of pressure to be brought to bear on North Korea by way of China. But our gutless “leaders” are unlikely to use it.

  8. carl permalink

    You’ve left something unanswered. You say Hollywood should spend less time making movies that might get people killed. In other words you say American movie makers should, in effect, run things by Kim dynasty censors before they start production. What that is is a partial surrender of American sovereignty not to mention allowing civil freedom in the US to be curtailed by king Kim. And that has already happened. The WSJ reported that a Steve Carrell movie related to North Korea has been cancelled. I like Steve Carrell movies.

    So, is this kind of thing acceptable to you? It isn’t to me. And save the smarmy SRB brigade remark for the dorm lounge discussions. Is that kind of thing acceptable to you and is it something the Americans should just live with?

    • Don’t be an asshole. It’s simple, really.

      • carl permalink

        Oh that was sarcasm. I get it. But it was not an answer. Your posts are wonderfully thoughtful (that is not sarcasm, just an observation), so perhaps you could put some thought into an answer. Tento had some good ideas, maybe you could comment on those too.

      • I have comments to allow people to, well, comment. If I have a formed idea, I write a blog post (or more).

  9. *golf clap*

    I see what you did here! Calling out us rhetorical gunslingers who melt into the background when the appeal goes out for volunteers. Well done, sir!

    That said, and by the principle of division of labor, it’s fair for the citizenry to ask that its government not just rake in taxes and dole out privileges to the well connected, but also to protect the country and its interests competently, assertively, and, if it comes to it, forcefully. It’s fun in our litigious society to ask the lawyerly boundary-case question for interminable debates and shouting matches, but our global rivals and enemies will certainly be testing our resolve to find out where our limits are.

    And it looks as if the Chinese-facilitated Nork hackers are doing just that.

  10. Tento permalink

    Oh please. We have loads of options. In no articular order:

    1) the U.S. buys, at a premium price, the rights to the movie and makes it available to the whole world for free, on-line, in perpetuity.
    2) The U.S. hacks the Norks back, crashing various infrastructure within their country. If they claim it was us we simply say it was some sort of mysterious hacker group.
    3) We put pressure on the Chinese, who do have considerable leverage in North Korea.
    4) Simply state that the U.S. will begin punitive trade sanctions on any nation that hosts a North Korean embassy. Trust me – nobody likes them, and they have no friends. Threaten the talks with Iran if they continue to host the Nork embassy.
    5) Send them James Franco and Seth Rogan, and call it even.

    Give it a little thought, you can probably think of a dozen more things we could do.

  11. Jerome permalink

    I think there is an aspect of this matter you have not considered. The coup de grace for The Interview was the refusal of theaters to show the movie, based upon a terrorist threat to attack the theaters. This was coercion, and it succeeded. If the US government cannot find a way to prevent anonymous foreign actors from coercing American corporations, then there is really no reason to have a US government any more.

  12. Nitpicking police: the title of the May 1939 French article you mentioned was simply Mourir pour Dantzig?. Its author, ultra-pacifist soon to turn hardcore collaborator, would five years later urge Frenchmen to … die for Berlin. In German uniform.

    It was the dawn of opinion polls, and in early July 1939 a survey asked the question ‘If Germany attempts to grab Danzig, do you think they should be stopped, by force if necessary?’. 76% answered positively, the proportion being highest among the 21-30 age group. So I guess the French were willing, and the near 60,000 dead over 31 days during the Battle of France one year later were not a mere coincidence. The French forces certainly were licked, but that’s another story.

    • Indeed it is….and I thought I was the only one who remembered that Hitler’s last bodyguard were French. 🙂 Cheers!

  13. dougr100 permalink

    So Seth Rogen is the most dangerous stoner from Vancouver BC since Tommy Chong?

  14. Asymmetric warfare, including cyber warfare that may also be financial warfare, is what we have to deal with from now on. Sony is one company, however big. But what happens when this now-proven-successful model of a company take-down is replicated? How many take-downs does it take to constitute financial warfare? What is the appropriate nation state response when financial warfare, possibly by way of cyber warfare, actually begins to threaten financial stability – again (remember 2008)?

    These are issues much bigger than Sony or North Korea alone….and we need to start thinking about how to respond.

    And while we’re on the topic: http://www.cylance.com/assets/Cleaver/Cylance_Operation_Cleaver_Report.pdf

  15. Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Read thoroughly ! People like the SONY execs are a significant part of what I consider the much-too-followed “BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE” -who try to mold the world into the Style-du-jour of their liking—and, all too often, succeed—as our young people die.

  16. The Norks were desperate to get their banks and the banks they used off the black list, such as the banks in Macao that they used. Time to cut the Norks off there as well. We can also force the South Koreans to end their engagement with the Norks, which when combined with the banking black list, will cut off all hard currency and access to the world other than what comes through China. Other options are banning international travel of Norks, any common carrier or State carrier that transports Norks will be banned in the U.S., remove all Nork shipping from international waters, and such like this. There are things to do.

  17. Blaster permalink

    Leaving aside that:
    *Sony is a Japanese company
    *Tin-pot crypto-tyrannies nuclear or not, shouldn’t be able to dictate American freedom of speech, however farcical. (See: The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin)
    *Most movie executives are douchebags

    And consider that:
    *(Paraphrasing Neal Stephenson) Film companies are specialized banks, whose products are commodities, internationally marketed, and if successful, profit-generating over very long periods
    *These, whatever the quality, have monetary value *only* if they’re marketed and promoted very openly, unlike, say, specialized machinery
    * Whether a company is wholly American-owned or not, its products and profits have a large impact on the US
    *By some accounting, the film industry is the largest export component of the US economy
    *IMO the DPRK is unlikely to have internal resources to mount such an operation independently
    *Involvement of elements within the PRC, governmental or other is possible, perhaps probable
    *This could be a false-flag operation generated, within, say, Iran, Pakistan, or Russia as unsophisticated-but-impactful pushback against STUXNET-type operations on the part of the US and its partners.
    *PRC, Iran, Pakistan and various Russian-influenced entities have demonstrated capability in this theater
    *DPRK makes itself a convenient target for blame
    *DPRK itself has little in the way of comparable targets for retaliation

    An intelligent, forceful, non-kinetic response is clearly required as deterrence against future operations of this type. Perhaps the NSA and USAF should step up and exercise that on which they’ve been spending all our money.

  18. Guns permalink

    Israeli Debka file thinks there must have been a Sony insider helping North Korea to hack into Sony’s computer systems:

    “A post mortem of this attack conducted by DEBKAfile’s cyber intelligence sources point to a Sony insider. The perpetrator had to have been a staff member with high security cover and direct access to the company’s computers.
    If US intelligence investigators can identity this culprit and establish his (or her) ties to North Korean intelligence, President Obama will have evidence of Pyongyang’s culpability for the cyber attack on Sony.”

    http://www.debka.com/article/24309/The-Sony-hacking-must-have-involved-an-insider-with-access-to-company-computers

    What do you think?

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