Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump Threatens To Kill (At Least) 25.3 Million People

[Note to Readers:  This was meant to be a short response to Trump's comment at the UN this morning about destroying North Korea.  But as I read the whole speech, (which you can read here) I realized that there was a lot more to it than just that comment.  Though that comment certainly stands out.  Analyzing the whole talk is worthwhile.  My initial reaction is: 

  • There are a lot of worthwhile aspirational ideals
  • There are lots of contradictions between those ideals in some places and what he says in other places.
  • There is nothing particularly thoughtful or detailed.  
  • There are some parts that might be revealing of how Trump thinks about the world (though I suspect he tends to 'feel' rather than 'think')
When I tried to find some factual reference for the consequences of the US attacking North Korea, I found a long New Yorker article dated yesterday by Evan Osnos who was in North Korea in August.  The article itself offers a lot of context for North Korea's behavior, for our (mis)interpretations or them and theirs of us.  

So I'm going to stick to the comment on destroying North Korea in this post, recommend the New Yorker  article to readers, and maybe be able to review the speech and the article in separate posts.]

Post starts here:

Trump doesn't exactly say he's ready to kill 25.3 million people.  I doubt he has any idea of the population of North Korea or has visualized what his threat would mean. Here's what he actually said:
"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about; that’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do."
There are SO MANY different angles one could (and should) address this.  I'm just going to look at the implications of "totally destroying North Korea."  

1.  North Korea had 25.37 million people in 2016.  But experts argue that an attack on North Korea cannot be undertaken without North Korea also attacking South Korea, whose population was estimated to be 51 million in 2016.  

From a long New Yorker article by Evan Osnos, dated September 18, 2017: 
"The Obama Administration studied the potential costs and benefits of a preventive war intended to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Its conclusion, according to Rice, in the Times, was that it would be “lunacy,” resulting in “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties.” North Korea likely would retaliate with an attack on Seoul. The North has positioned thousands of artillery cannons and rocket launchers in range of the South Korean capital, which has a population of ten million, and other densely populated areas. (Despite domestic pressure to avoid confrontation, South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in, has accepted the installation of an American missile-defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or thaad.)
Some two hundred thousand Americans live in South Korea. (Forty thousand U.S. military personnel are stationed in Japan, which would also be vulnerable.) A 2012 study of the risks of a North Korean attack on Seoul, by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, estimates that sixty-five thousand civilians would die on the first day, and tens of thousands more in the days that followed. If Kim used his stockpiles of sarin gas and biological weapons, the toll would reach the millions. U.S. and South Korean forces could eventually overwhelm the North Korean military, but, by any measure, the conflict would yield one of the worst mass killings in the modern age."
Were Trump to really attempt to 'totally destroy North Korea' he would find himself moved high onto the top ten list of the world's mass murderers - along with Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.

There are many ways one can look at this statement.

  • Is it just bluster?  
  • What kind of language is appropriate in the UN?  
  • How will the UN members react?
  • How will North Korea react?
  • Does Trump's behavior give license to others to act badly?

All of these could be discussed seriously.

  • Are there times when bluster is appropriate and inappropriate.  One could argue that Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump might have a lot of similarities and thus can understand each other's bluster.  But that's open to a lot of debate.  
  • One could argue that the UN is overly stuffy and people say what's polite and never confront serious issues and thus some bluster is needed to shake the place up.  I think that might be true on some issues, but frank talk does not equal bluster.  
  • Maybe, as the rest of the paragraph suggests, this 'totally destroy' language is simply to provoke the UN to do its job of ensuring peace.  

I would note that Kim Jong Un might rather like the nickname "Rocket Man."  From the New Yorker  article:
"On an embankment near a major intersection, workers in gray coveralls were installing an enormous red sign that praised the 'immortal achievements of the esteemed Supreme Leader, comrade Kim Jong Un, who built the nuclear state of Juche, the leader in rocket power!'”

Go read the New Yorker article, it's got much more meat than I can add here.  

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