Suki Kim is an investigative journalist who has done some incredible reporting out of and about North Korea, some of the best/only real reporting anybody outside of North Korea has ever read. She actually spent six months living in North Korea ostensibly teaching English to the sons of the regime’s elite, but in reality taking notes (which she had to hide from everybody she encountered) for a book that she published in 2014. She’s spoken to defectors who fled the country. I wouldn’t presume to know a twentieth of what she knows about North Korea. On the other hand, I’m not sure she’s got a great grasp of basic war and peace type stuff. In The New Republic (on sale cheap, per issue or you could buy the whole thing if you like) today, Kim makes, to borrow a phrase, a very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care:
It appears to me quite logical that North Korea will keep lying to its own people, to the world, to itself to secure its ways. But what about our lies? Why does no one ever talk about the obvious solution of an intervention? What is the real reason for pretending that anything else will work to denuclearize North Korea when it is clear that North Korea has chosen nuclearizing as the only chance of its survival?
It’s nuclear war, Ms. Kim. That’s the reason no one ever talks about the obvious solution of intervening in North Korea. I hope that clears things up for you.
In fairness to Suki Kim, maybe she doesn’t mean military intervention. Maybe she means the kind of intervention where we invite North Korea over for a nice dinner as a pretext to get it in a room with all its friends and loved ones, and Dr. Drew of course, so that we can all convince it to get professional help (if it’s neither of those two, then I have no idea what she’s talking about). But on the assumption that she does mean military intervention, then I feel like somebody should point out that Seoul, a city of about 10 million people, is a scant 35 miles away from the North Korean border, as far from North Korea “as Palo Alto is from San Francisco.” Tokyo, a city of about 13.5 million people, is about 800 miles from Pyongyang. And North Korea has atomic bombs. Yes, they probably don’t have hydrogen bombs, but, say, have you heard about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Those atomic doohickies will do a pretty fair amount of damage, even though they’re totally last gen tech.
Not once in this piece about the joy and necessity of doing war on North Korea does Suki Kim even nod at the possibility (probability?) that at least one and probably both of those cities would cease to exist except as future archaeological sites. Why? Why would somebody publish a piece like this that didn’t at least try to handwave away that fairly big elephant in the room. It’s not like North Korea doesn’t have missiles capable of reaching Tokyo, and they could probably nuke Seoul via trebuchet if push came to shove. Sure, ha ha, North Korean missiles suck and aren’t accurate…except we’re talking about a kind of warhead that’s fairly forgiving if your aim is off by a couple of miles. And yes, it is true that North Korea has not “tested” its ability to deliver an atomic payload via missile (how would you even test such a thing without, you know, actually nuking somebody?), but are we really prepared to chance it? More importantly, since they’re the ones who might be dying in this scenario, is the average resident of Seoul or Tokyo prepared for us to chance it?
I can absolutely sympathize with the frustration that comes from understanding what Kim Jong-un and his maniacal regime are doing to the millions of people living in North Korea, and how you might start demanding that somebody Do Something about it. But sometimes there’s no Something that can be Done, at least not militarily, at least not without risking a simply inconceivable number of lives. This seems like one of those times.
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