I've seen a number of opinions over the last few weeks, which argue that ultimately, we've nothing to fear from Kim Jong-Un, and that he'll back down in the face of the American nuclear deterrent.
I hope I am wrong, but I have my doubts about this.
We know next to NOTHING about Kim. There are rumours that he was schooled in Switzerland, but this has never been substantiated, and it feels unlikely to me, based upon the little that has emerged of his character. This is a guy who has never been told 'No', who exhibits a dangerous combination of an inferiority complex, mixed in with a huge streak of narcissism, and it worries me immensely.
I was thinking about this, this morning. As a historian, Kim reminds me in some ways of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm II is mostly remembered for generally getting the blame for starting the First World War (although I don't propose to get into that here). He was undoubtedly a deeply destabilising factor, but there are, as always, REASONS for this.
Wilhelm II's grandfather, Wilhelm I, and his father, Frederick III, both died in 1888, a year which became known in Germany as the Year of the Three Emperors. Frederick III, in fact, reigned for only 88 days. In essence, the grandfather, a man born in the eighteenth century, who had fought in the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815, was succeeded by a much younger man, in the grandson, who held very modern ideas, and who wanted to make his mark. Echoes of history here.
Wilhelm II was 29 when he became German Emperor, and one of his earliest actions of note was the dismissal, in 1890, of the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who had dominated German politics, in one form or another since 1862. Wilhelm II clearly saw him as a rival (sounding familiar) and moved to eliminate his political influence entirely (although Bismarck got to live out a peaceful retirement, and wasn't executed by firing squad, a la Kim).
Wilhelm II also had his pet projects. He instituted a personality cult (although this was modest by later 20th century standards), and was absolutely pivotal to starting a naval arms race in the North Atlantic (again, does this remind you of anybody?). He was also highly prone to making emotionally-charged and provocative speeches (and who is singing from this hymn sheet today?).
Something Wilhelm II went to great lengths to hide, and which clearly damaged him psychologically, was his withered left arm, which in adult life was 6 inches shorter than his right arm. It is actually rather difficult to find a photograph which demonstrates this, as he was almost always photographed with this arm either behind his back, or resting on the pommel of his sword. To me, Kim also shows signs of emotional damage, in his behaviour, although if there's a physical reason behind it, I'm not aware of what it is.
This is by no means an attempt to make a direct analogy. The point of it is to underline that history has always been full of pivotal statesmen, who may not always act rationally. Wilhelm II was a flawed man, not an evil one. He did not, for example, order the assassination of his own brother, and nor did he have Kim's evident sadistic streak. He would send messages via newspaper interviews, not by the state sponsored murder of foreign nationals (Otto Warmbier RIP).
Back to my original point, we know nothing about Kim, the evidence we have suggests that he is not a rational actor, and yet many continue to believe he will 'see sense', simply because they would.
I fear we're making a big mistake if we don't take this very seriously indeed.
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As brutal, unempathetic, unsympathetic, and savage as the fat boy may be... I don't think anyone has solid grounds for calling him "irrational".
In fact, given the power structure that he inherited, Kim has shown a frightening degree of RATIONALITY in **holding on** to that power.
Cold, murderous, purely mercenary rationality... but, rationality nonetheless.
Even his more provocative actions are easy enough to understand once we remember that the DPRK's citizenry is genuinely convinced that their country has been valiantly at war with the big, bad American bullies for, what, 67 years now?
He knows we won't attack unless our hand is truly forced. We can't abide the bloodshed of millions in Seoul as collateral damage, and the fat boy knows it. But if he launches enough missiles into the ocean, then he'll get the REACTION he wants from our leadership — which he can then broadcast all over state media as trumped-up (hehe look how I did that) "proof" of the perpetual US military "threat" on the DPRK's doorstep.
In fact, given your last paragraph, it seems you're conflating RATIONAL actions with MORAL actions — or, at the very least, with actions that are NOT IMmoral.
I mean... Dude. You do get that THE WHOLE REASON why "morality" is even a thing, is that it directly conflicts with rationality in lots and lots and lots of ways... right?
If "evil" were the opposite of "rational" — as your last paragraph (and, by extension, this entire piece) strongly seems to imply — then the concepts of "good" and "evil" wouldn't even need to exist. They'd be redundant.
What, exactly, has Kim done that is irrational?
Good, good point about morality / rationality.
I do think his recent brinkmanship has become increasingly irrational, personally. A year ago, I would have agreed with you, that he's going to get away with it, and would have been able to portray himself as the 'winner' in this confrontation.
I'm just not so sure now.
I'd have to know more about DPRK-China relations before I could even **think** about trying to make that judgment conclusively.
I mean... How the fuck is anyone gna even have clue no. 1 what's going on behind the scenes with THOSE two countries. That'd be like trying to figure out what happens behind the white and black smoke when a new pope gets elected... it's just all a bunch of mystery and speculation, for the rest of the world.
Considering China just came down (officially, at least) on the side of these most recent sanctions, the North may well be speeding up the progress of its nuke program — or, at least, the **appearance** of said progress — just as much to form a credible threat to China as to the US.
I think China's main interest is in having a quiet Korean peninsula as its neighbour. Preferably one that's divided into two antagonistic parts, as long as things don't heat up.
It just feels to me that the latest Kim doesn't understand this in the same way as his father and grandfather.
I could see them cutting him loose.
"I could see them cutting him loose"
^^ He probably can, too.
If he figures they'll eventually want to do just that... well, it would be pretty rational for him to think they'd be less likely to ACTUALLY cut him off, if he ostensibly had a nuclear arsenal aimed squarely at Beijing, Shanghai, and/or HK.
I'm stocking up on tinned fish, bottled water and dried food.
I suppose it's always a good idea to have an emergency stash for... y'know, miscellaneous emergencies... but, I'm not realistically seeing the yookay getting drawn into this one to any significant extent.
No, me neither, but the knock on effects might be bigger than anticipated.
"knock-on" = a phrase I just learned, right now. ahah.
Even in the case of actual war, I doubt it would last long enough for Europe to get dragged in. I could only see that happening if China were invested enough to risk going to war with the US... and, as much as they appreciate not sharing a direct border with US-allied S. Korea, I very sincerely doubt they'd actually go to war to protect their little buffer zone.
For me, it's more a case of if a nuke or two get set off, massive disruption to the world economy etc.
I also don't see China going to war with the US over this, but laws of unintended consequences etc. Those worry me.
My naive intuition is that it's farfetched to think a protracted global economic depression would ensue... but, my understanding of world financial markets is, let's just say, less than sterling. (heh, "sterling"! #lookhowididthat )
Oh, by the way, you know that economic depressions are actually GOOD for people's health — in 1st world countries at least?
Do you know, I didn't know that, and that is a very interesting factoid indeed. Makes a lot of sense, when you think about it.
I wonder if the same would still hold true today?
I have no doubt whatsoever that it would be even MORE true today... considering that even today's welfare class (in our countries, at least) has a standard of living, access to health care, etc. that only the upper-middle-class and above — and perhaps even just the upper crust — would have enjoyed in the '20's and '30's.
Tx for the MHLuv <3