Our nuclear stand-off with North Korea shows no signs of abating. On the contrary, every day or two, it seems to get worse – with no end, or off-ramps, in sight. President Trump says or tweets something aggressive and shocking just to taunt Pyongyang, to which North Korea responds in juvenile kind.
This bizarre spectacle, based on public trash-talk between nuclear powers, has become so commonplace that it seems almost normal. It is nothing of the kind. It’s not normal for our president to openly state that he will “totally destroy” North Korea – implying the nuclear annihilation of 25 million people – as he did before the United Nations last week.
Neither was it normal for Ri Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s top diplomat, to state that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric amounted to a “declaration of war” on his country, as he did at the beginning of this week, adding that North Korea reserves the right to shoot down American aircraft, even in international airspace.
Of course, such threats have something to do with the fact that our president amplified his UN saber-rattling with a tweet over the weekend in which he threatened Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un – whom he regularly refers to as “Rocket Man” – and his entourage with death: “they won’t be around much longer.”
Pyongyang’s threats ought to be taken more seriously than Trump does. This, after all, is an intensely nationalist regime, little understood by outsiders, grounded in hatred, fear, and loathing of “imperialists” – especially the United States – and Donald J. Trump seems bent on proving 70 years of North Korean propaganda correct about what dangerous, irresponsible people American war-mongering capitalists are.
The Kim dynasty has a well-honed habit of doing things no other country on earth would dare do. Back in 2010, one of their submarines sank a South Korean warship, blowing it in half with a torpedo and killing 46 sailors. The idea that Pyongyang might shoot down U.S. warplanes is entirely plausible. Indeed, they’ve done it before, in April 1969, when a North Korean MiG-21 blasted an unarmed U.S. Navy EC-121 spy plane out of the sky, without warning, 90 miles off the North Korean coast, killing 31 Americans in the deadliest attack on one of our spy places in the whole Cold War.
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