Sunday, September 10, 2017

200 Years of War

(Post title taken from this song.)

The song above is a personal favorite, one of those that cycles through the Google Play list I switch on at writing time. I used it as a marginally clever title designed to lead in to the tumult between the world's two pre-eminent Glorious Leaders (Putin is The Guy In Charge You Don't Fuck With as opposed to Glorious Leader, and if you made a bet on how long it would take to find someone who knew the President of China off the top of their heads, you'd be correct to measure it in weeks). The premise was going to be how we're more likely to end up with two hundred hours of war than years, or months, or weeks. Then I started listening to the lyrics.

Let's be clear about something: as meaningful as music can be, if you're taking deep messages out of an EDM song, you need to get a little more knowledge in your head. But two lines seem apropos.

Fight till we are no more
A curse on the streets of gold

In Barbara Demick's book on North Korea (which is so good, in a just world she'd be able to retire off it), one of the most extraordinary details is how the regime focuses the people on hating the United States for their role in the Korean War. This goes beyond 'damn the Americans' rhetoric blasted out over loudspeakers or shunted through state-run media. Children are taught lessons in school based around America being the great enemy; math questions are, for example, "If yesterday you shot five American bastards, and today you shoot three American bastards, how many American bastards have you shot?" Killing Americans make up some of the lyrics to nursery rhymes. In terms of importance to the national ideology, hating the U.S. is second only to worshiping the current Kim in charge as a god.

Those two lines of the song struck me because they are, in effect, what North Korea is training its people to do and why. I'm coming around to the notion that Kim Jong Un isn't a lunatic. North Korea as a society is batshit, but he's a rational actor doing what's necessary to retain control of a country that went off the rails decades ago, hit rock bottom in the famine of the mid-90s, and has spent the next twenty years finding new ways to keep digging.

The consequences of this, versus Kim being a legit nutball, are hard to ascertain. If he was crazy, then you treat him like the homeless guy on the corner who can't stop talking to himself: mostly avoid him, occasionally talk him down when he looks ready to smack people with his empty 40 oz. If he's making the most logical decisions for a crazy place, though, is there a point when he has reason to start launching bombs?

Ed over at Gin and Tacos made a point that might linger in the back of people's minds if they're paying attention to the situation, but which needs to be put front and center: if this keeps escalating, South Korea is fucked. For all the shit North Koreans learn to talk about the U.S., they draw a very tight connection between the two countries. The capacity of North Korea to hit the U.S. with a nuke may be coming soon, but to treat that as the moment this situation becomes critical is to not give a shit about anybody who lives in the Eastern Hemisphere.

As Ed points out, Seoul (or at least the capital area) is home to twenty-five million people. Americans can't even comprehend how tightly packed their population. You don't need nukes to make things terrible there, just a ridiculous artillery launch and the entire population of North Korea capable of carrying a rifle conscripted into an invasion force.

Even if the final outcome is as positive as possible--the peninsula unites under the current South Korean government, and somehow trying to take care of twenty-five million refugees doesn't short-circuit the economy (seems fair to assume everyone in North Korea would be, in effect, a refugee)--it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where their death toll isn't in the millions. The only one that doesn't involve dumb fucking luck is one where the threat of war is on the horizon for long enough, and taken seriously enough, that South Korea evacuates the Seoul area. But that would wreak havoc on the economy, and where are you going to put that many people for an unknown amount of time?

It's hard to admit that we don't have total control over a situation with a country that's gone medieval in all but its war technology, but that's the situation. North Korea will a) lose any war it fights and b) leave a major body count in its wake. So far, b has kept anyone from smashing them. Fingers crossed that we can keep it going a little longer.

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