The last few weeks have brought to our attention the chilling possibility that nuclear weapons could be detonated in Korea as part of a confrontation between the US and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK).
Following the familiar pattern, this threat scenario has been accompanied in the West with a frightening portryal of DPRK’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Clearly, we are meant to fear this “unpredictable,” “volatile” and “capricious” man, just as we have been taught to fear many stigmatized leaders before him: Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Saddam Hussein, Hugo Chavez, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad.
What’s particularly frightening in the case of the DPRK is that it has nuclear weapons. As we hear it in the West, the world simply cannot tolerate the possession of nuclear weapons by “rogue nations” such as North Korea; the threat of their use is simply too great.
How should we Jesus-followers assess all of this?
First, a confrontation between the US and DPRK is a chilling prospect because one of those parties has a frightening and cruel history of using nuclear weapons in a terrorist fashion against civilian populations. That party, of course, is the US.
Second, let’s remember how Korea has suffered at the hands of the West. This remembering may require a bit of work; we in the West typically are not encouraged to acquaint ourselves with the inconclusive three-year war from June 1950 to July 1953. Nevertheless, when Korea is the topic, shouldn’t we be aware of the fact that three million Koreans died in that war— 20 percent of the population—mostly at American hands?
Here are three relatively short articles to provide some remedial reading:
“Why Do North Koreans Hate US? One Reason—They Remember the Korean War”
“Why North Korea Needs Nukes—And How to End That”
“How Bio-weapons Led to Torture . . . And North Korean Nukes”
Third, we can’t forget what happens to opponents of the US-led empire that do not have nuclear weapons. It isn’t pretty, as survivors in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Venezuela, Libya, Syria and Yemen can testify.
Fourth, it’s important to view all of this within its broader context. The Obama-Trump “pivot to Asia” involves many initiatives to retain US dominance in that part of the world, including a plan to encircle China militarily. Hyping the threat of Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons provides a rationale for a piece of this strategy of encirclement, just as hyping the threat of al-Qaeda 15 years ago provided the rationale for the piece in Afghanistan.
In March, the US took a big step forward in its strategy of encirclement with the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea. This missile system is designed to neutralize China’s missile fleet, thereby eliminating its nuclear deterrent. See here and here for details.
How serious is the threat of war in Korea? I’m not in a position to make an assessment, but can quickly see it is a serious threat for the people of the DPRK. They live in a poor country and constant military preparedness is hugely disruptive of their subsistence economy. Moreover, history gives them every reason to conclude that the US-led empire is fully prepared to regard to regard their lives as expendable. Yet their distress serves US imperial interests and so is likely to continue.
In short, Koreans are pawns, condemed to suffer in imperial war games. How much longer can this test of nerves go on? *
* For the response of the executive director of the Mennonite Church USA to the crisis in Korea, see "An Open Letter about Endless War and Opposing its Advance to North Korea."