With a "gift package" of an intercontinental ballistic missile pointedly fired on July Fourth, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sent the U.N. Security Council scrambling into emergency session and handcuffed Uncle Sam.
Despite President Trump's recent declaration that he would not allow North Korea to develop ICBMs that could strike the U.S. mainland, it probably will happen. Kim already has nukes — something else that was not supposed to happen — and nothing short of war will deter him from ICBMs. Are we ready to go to war over a threat, and one that's not immediate?
America was willing for war in June 1950 when North Korean forces swarmed over the 38th parallel separating the communist north from the democratic south. It was the opening battle scene of a drama that would be known as the Cold War. When a truce was called three years later, more than five million soldiers and civilians had died, including more than 35,000 Americans.
Despite the casualties, it was the forgotten war. But I'm old enough to remember it. Television was in its infancy, so it was not a living-room war as Vietnam would be. There were no mass protests. Newspapers were not dominated by war news, because America's economy was booming and people had other things on their minds. Parents worked, children played.
After back-and-forth incursions by both sides, a truce was called, followed by a six-decade stalemate.
Because of Kim's Veg-O-Matic haircut, his friendship with NBA nutbag Dennis Rodman, and his penchant for starving his people and murdering his relatives, we tend to think of him as a madman.
He is not. He would be crazy to not want nuclear weapons. If you give up your nukes, like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, you can wind up on a slab in the morgue. Kim knows that. North Korea wants offensive nuclear weapons for the same reason Iran does — as a deterrent against its bigger enemies. It is perfectly rational. Even his harassment of the U.S. — the way kids tease a neighbor's dog chained up in the yard — has the twisted logic of swelling his ego.
Negotiations are pointless. So are veiled threats of military action. We can't afford to be the ones who shoot first.
The Swiss-educated Kim is a stranger to morality, but on the world stage he is shrewd and calculating. I can't say he read The Prince, but he operates on Machiavelli's premise that "it is far safer to be feared than loved."
He is feared by his own people and by his main adversaries — the United States, Japan, and South Korea.
There are only two ways to stop Kim, says Kent Suh of North Philadelphia, a past president of the Korean American Association of Greater Philadelphia: a military strike on North Korea's military bases, or getting China to cut off fuel to North Korea. Suh, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1971, understands that if the U.S. attacked North Korea, Kim would attack South Korea, "and that's why the United States government hasn't done that."
If a war started, he says, if the U.S. "needed me, I would sacrifice my life." Suh is 81.
The launch of the two-stage ICBM surprised our intelligence agencies, which ought to be tired of being caught by surprise by North Korea.
North Korea has maybe a dozen nukes. If it gets a workable ICBM, it will have a few that eventually could reach the U.S.
Our nation has more than 5,000 warheads. Kim knows that if he fires one at us, we can answer with 1,000.
The reality is that missiles on the ground in North Korea don't threaten us very much.
The cost of trying to take nuclear toys away from Kim now is high, and it will be paid by South Korea and possibly Japan, already within range of North Korea's guns and missiles.
We can live with the threat of North Korea's missiles. Kim knows this. He is safe from the U.S. military as long as all he does is threaten with words.