The Aurelian Column "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."

Kicking the Can of the Kims

There is an old American idiom: “Kicking the can down the road.” It means to postpone dealing with a severe problem again, and again, and again. But eventually there is no more road to kick the can down, and one has to finally, often reluctantly, deal with the unpleasant situation.

Postponing a problem is a traditional, albeit nasty habit of American politicians — especially when it comes to matters of blood and treasure. And a glaring example of just such a long-neglected problem is North Korea. That old, banged-up, highly-dangerous can has finally reached the fence at the end of the road.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was a pretty smart guy. He knew the world. He was skilled at politics and that form of politics practiced with weapons: war. MacArthur knew how to fight a war, how to win it, and how to deal with its aftermath. He didn’t just defeat the Japanese on the battlefields of the Pacific, MacArthur knew how to win their hearts and minds in the aftermath. Upon occupying the once-proud nation that lay in ruins, he set to rebuilding it. Both physically and culturally. MacArthur’s occupation government set Japan on a course that saw the ancient nation achieve economic and social development it had never experienced or even imagined possible. Because of MacArthur, who some historians like to call “American Caesar,” the United States and Japan became two of the closest political and military allies in the world. And more than 70 years after the end of World War II, they still are.

So if it stands to reason that MacArthur understood the political and cultural ins and outs of the Far East, he probably had a pretty good idea of how to deal with North Korea. His opinion on the matter was rather simple: Get rid of it. The longer you wait to take them down, the more of a problem they will become.

However, for good or for ill, MacArthur was relieved of his battlefield command in Korea by President Truman in 1951. The official reason was insubordination. But the truth is MacArthur wanted to win, and Truman wanted to contain. MacArthur wanted to attack China and, possibly, use nuclear weapons in the process. This action would have significantly expanded the conflict, and more than likely have drawn the Soviet Union into the fray. The Korean War would have become World War III.

This prospect terrified Truman, and understandably so. But MacArthur was no dummy. He knew the risks and the high price of such a conflagration. MacArthur also knew that the long-term consequences of allowing North Korea to survive — allied with communist China — could prove to be far worse. At that time the United States had the most powerful military on the planet; a virtual monopoly on deliverable nuclear weapons; the largest industrial infrastructure in history; and millions of battle-tested veterans who could be called into service. MacArthur knew it would have a been a horrible and costly war had it expanded, but winnable.

Unfortunately for the general, Truman was the boss, and the buck stopped with him. So the American Caesar was fired and sent into retirement. A cease-fire was eventually negotiated with North Korea and China in 1953, and communism was “contained.”

That's when the can began to be kicked down the road.

Because only a cease-fire was agreed upon, the Korean War has technically never ended. A peace treaty has been talked about for decades but is probably more unlikely now than it was in 1953. Armies on both sides of the border are always on alert and ready for the war to resume. Over the years shots have been fired, and lives lost in brief skirmishes — including those of a few Americans. But no full-scale conflict has occurred. Yet.

In the 64 years since the smoke began to clear on the Korean Peninsula, the nation known formally as the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea has arguably become the most insane political entity in the history of the world. For several generations, its population has been fed a diet of lies, hatred, cultish indoctrination, and political brainwashing topped off with grinding poverty and near-starvation for all but the select few. As anyone who has been to North Korea, or escaped from it will tell you, it’s a land that makes George Orwell’s
1984 look like a family vacation at Disneyworld.

North Korea has (or is) one of the world’s largest militaries and is on an ever-present war footing — ready at a moment’s notice to fight its civilized neighbor to the south and the U.S. forces based there. Projectiles fired from the thousands of pre-targeted artillery pieces trained in on the South Korean capital of Seoul would take the lives of millions of people within a few hours, if not minutes.

And don’t forget the poison gas stockpiles. They have that too. Lots of it. Artillery shells full of the stuff. And North Korean missiles can deliver chemical death to population centers thousands of miles away.

The Hermit Kingdom, as North Korea is often referred, has been run by a crime family in every sense of the word since its inception. The current boss — grandson of the founder — seems to be far more unstable and ruthless than his predecessors. There are reports that he has a taste for executing those who fall out of his favor in less-than-conventional ways; methods that include the use of mortar rounds and flame throwers.

All this horror aside, and the untold human suffering that has been allowed to occur for so long, another terrifying prospect has been added to the North Korean mix: The country has been permitted to develop nuclear weapons and will soon be able to deliver them using missiles that can hit the North American continent.

Read that last paragraph again. Carefully. And let it sink in.

The sobering reality is that the now nuclear-armed can can no longer be kicked any further. And, sooner or later, the unfinished business of the early 1950s will have to be dealt with.

The inconvenient truth is that the conflict with the world’s most insane state is probably not going to end well. Nobody wants to talk about this. Nobody wants to put a fine point on this. And nobody wants to think about what will likely transpire.

In spite of all the talk about “diplomatic solutions” and “coming to a peaceful understanding” with “the North,” the realistic chances of this occurring are becoming more and more remote by the day. Like a nasty cut on the body of humanity, North Korea has been allowed to fester for too long. Whatever is done about it at this point will probably be quite drastic, and will really hurt.

There are, of course, best-case scenarios for North Korea vanishing like a nightmare. But none are pleasant. Besides a military coup against the mad prince (highly unlikely according to many experts), there is the mass-starvation scenario. This was talked about by U.S. military and political observers back in the 1990s. It was thought likely that one morning millions of starving North Koreans would show up at the border and begin crossing over en mass into the South. A human tidal wave that would continue to flow long after all the barbed wire was trampled underfoot and all the land mines had gone off. Humans, it was reasoned, can only endure so much. Once the North Koreans reached their breaking point the whole sick house of cards would come tumbling down.

But it didn’t happen. And that was more than 20 years ago.

No sane U.S. government administration will tolerate the existence of a North Korea capable of landing a nuclear weapon on American soil with only a few minutes warning. Given a choice of protecting the homeland and its citizenry, or protecting the lives of millions of South Koreans and Japanese, the choice will be painfully obvious — especially to those living in North East Asia.

Could a conflict between the U.S. and North Korea escalate and spread? Well, it could. The military term “fluid situation” means just that. Once the shooting starts, it’s a free for all. A slippery, unpredictable mess. Chaos theory in action. War
always solves something. But usually not what those who started the war wanted to solve.

Douglas MacArthur would no doubt be both horrified and aghast at the current state of affairs and amazed that so much about the Korean conflict has changed while, more or less, remaining the same. The big difference being the stakes are now much higher, and the downside of winning the Korean War are far more down than they were in his time.

But what would have boiled the general’s blood in his veins is the terrible reality that the grandchildren, and great grandchildren, of the tens of thousands of American soldiers who fought and died under his command, are now in danger because containing North Korea was considered preferable to defeating it.

Was MacArthur right? Was Truman right? We’ll see. The final chapter of this sad, sick, shameful story has yet to be written. The truth is it’s more than likely that the North Korean conflict will not end well, for anyone. But it will end. The only question will be how much it will cost, and to whom.

© 2017 Thomas Michael Caldwell. All Rights Reserved. This written work is not to be copied or reproduced without the permission of the author. Links to this page from other websites is permitted and encouraged.