U.S. government should take North Korea’s threats seriously

Illustration by Aaron Logan

In 2011, alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was questioned by the FBI. According to an April 21 article in the Guardian, an unnamed foreign government “had concerns he was linked to Islamist terrorism.” The FBI apparently did not agree and sent Tsarnaev on his way. An April 21 Telegraph article by Peter Foster reported that months later Tsarnaev repeatedly visited a known militant in a mosque while traveling abroad.

Many Americans are beginning to realize that our government imagines threats where none exist. I’d like to suggest that it likewise fails to perceive danger when it’s actually present. I needn’t remind you, for instance, who armed the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s.

As someone who doesn’t believe that it’s America’s job to police the world, I’m skeptical when a foreign military threat is alleged. North Korea, however, is a full-fledged nuclear power that constantly sacrifices its own well-being for its insane dogma. I don’t think there should be any doubt that if there’s one nation on earth that possesses both the technological capability and suicidal insanity needed to attack the U.S., it’s the hermit state.

It’s often said that many North Koreans live without paved roads. While this is true, the state’s leaders have caused this destitute poverty by spending about a third of the nation’s income on its military, according to a January 2011 Reuters article. This enormous investment has paid off: North Korea’s recent test of its three-stage Unha rocket was called “surprising” and “successful” by NewsAU in December 2012, and according to a March 29 MSN article, an Unha rocket could strike anywhere in California.

Since North Korea is widely recognized as a nuclear power, any debate over whether the country could hit California with a nuclear bomb is really a debate over whether it can combine two weapons it certainly has. If you ask me, then, we ought to be spending more time taking the state’s threats seriously and less time laughing about Kim Jong Un’s pudgy appearance.

It goes without saying that it would be irrational for North Korea to attack the U.S. Yet James Holmes, a promising neuroscience student and the son of a mathematician, did not act rationally when he massacred moviegoers in July 2012. A quick glance around the world reveals that there is no magic force field preventing senselessly violent people from sitting in government. North Korea in particular did not become a pariah state by rationally responding to incentives. There’s no reason to assume it’s not simply the spree shooter of the international community.

A look at North Korea’s culture is not reassuring. The country lives and breathes a garish, hive-like brand of neo-Marxism. Its government owns the largest stadium in the world, Rungrado May Day, in which executions are handed out for even the minutest of crimes and conducted in the packed stadium like sporting events. According to an October 2007 Daily NK article by Yang Jung A, in one instance a factory owner was executed in front of 170,000 people for forging paperwork.

In a 2007 paper, Columbia University’s Samuel S. Kim argued that North Korea is best characterized as a theocracy; its juche doctrine gives its leaders godlike status. A recurring theme in juche is the identification of officials as eternal. It’s hard to think of a better way that Kim Jong Un could become truly eternal than by starting a nuclear war.

Of the arguments made by optimists regarding the Korea debacle, the weakest and most common is that “North Korea’s threats are nothing new.” This is simply not the case. In a March 7 statement, North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman announced, “we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest,” Reuters reported. On April 3, another statement from the regime promised that its nuclear strike would be “merciless,” according to the Huffington Post. The gravity and specificity of this rhetoric, and the fact that it’s unaccompanied by specific demands, is unprecedented.

Moreover, even if this assertion were true, it wouldn’t detract from my concerns. A classmate of yours having made weekly threats about going on a shooting rampage is not cause to be flippant when he makes the threats again this week.

In our culture, it seems that every time some horrible slaughter occurs, a person of the gunman’s acquaintance remarks that they considered him incapable of harming anyone. With us providing Japan and South Korea tens of thousands of troops, we may have made ourselves the target of just such a gunman. If we wish, on any level, to learn from our mistakes, it’s time to have a serious conversation about North Korea’s threats.

Ian Huyett is a senior in political science and anthropology. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.