What about North Korea?

Korean War Memorial
Buffalo Sister City 2017 Exchange Student at Korean War Memorial at Canalside

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I’m alarmed.  For work and for curiosity, I’ve spent many years following Asia; politics, culture, history, I went so far as to teach myself Chinese so I could read their papers, I was put into the Korean language program at the Defense Language Institute.

I spent a short time, in Korea, reading breaking news in Chinese and Korean and telling my bosses what I thought it meant.  I don’t claim to be a great brain on Geo-politics, but I’ve followed it and macro-economics for several decades.  Given my background, unqualified as it is, I’m growing more dismayed daily.

Korea and American friends
Buffalo Sister City Korean Exchange Students with Buffalo State Program Director’s Kid

In a nutshell, our President is taking us into schoolyard fights with the world’s biggest bullies.  Putin – Russia’s President, and Xi – China’s president are not lightweights.  They are well liked in their respective countries, by the people running around who are still free to speak in public unencumbered by chains, bolted doors and caskets.  Like the cold war, right now we are flirting with proxy conflicts in Syria and North Korea.  Both of these countries are not global threats themselves, but their benefactors are.  Russia props up Syria, Xi props up North Korea.  They prop them up because they are buffers against the democratic threat to their rule.

By massing military forces in close proximity to Syria and North Korea, we are that much more likely to brush up against Russian and Chinese military forces.  North Korea is not going to retaliate against the U.S.  It’s unlikely they have the ability to even reach Hawaii with an ICBM if their last missile launch is any indication.  Here’s how it could go down, North Korea tests it’s nuke, Trump orders a strike taking out X, Y, Z military facilities, Kim Jong Un has a tantrum and orders strikes on Seoul.

Cool Building.JPG
Samsung HQ, Seoul, Republic of Korea

What happens after that?  Most Americans have little to no contact with South Koreans or Korean-Americans.  So on the whole they probably could care less.  I’ve had Americans ask me in 2012 if South Korea is still a third world country.  One politician asked if we should do a clothes drive to send clothes to them.  South Korea is not in any way a third world or even a developing nation at this point.

Picture New York City, now clean it up, change the cooking smells and add about twice the traffic.  Replace the subway system with a more extensive one and add about 1,000 more high-rise apartments.  South Korea isn’t just the land of the Morning Calm, it is also the land of Samsung, Kia, Hyundai, & LG.  South Korea’s pop culture is so cool that it is a major export around the world.  Even the Middle East can’t get enough because Korean dramas are romantic, but they have little to no sexual content.

Over the past 70 years that we’ve been friendly with the South Koreans, they’ve come as immigrants settling in huge numbers in LA, NYC and New Jersey.  The largest overseas Korean-American population outside Korea is in Los Angeles.  This is to say nothing of the millions of adopted Korean kids, the mixed American-Korean families and all of our ex patriots currently living in Korea, most of them teaching English, the next largest group being our military and government contractors.

Korean Marines.PNG
South Korean Marines, Vietnam

South Korea matters the United States for a lot of reasons.  They criticize us, but they are loyal, fierce allies.  They fought with us in Vietnam.  They stand at the most dangerous intersection in the world, resolute, holding the line against authoritarianism and repression.  For centuries this country has been bullied, but always they maintained their national identity, their language, often in the face of occupation and oppression.

Me and my mixed family, Katie and Cory, my Korean-American Siblings

To the average American who doesn’t care, please consider this, and consider calling your state’s senators and representatives.  During the Korean War, the U.S. military accounted for approximately one million Chinese fighting on the side of the North Korea.  During these battles, some of the most gruesome and hard fought in U.S. history, we were beaten back in spite of the fact that those Chinese soldiers had improper clothing and were poorly equipped with military materiel.  Unclassified Chinese documents revealed that estimate was more like three million Chinese fought in the Korean War.

Mao Tse-tung (founder and president of Communist China), is believed to have asserted that Americans don’t know the difference between a Chinese and a Korean.  He had approximately three million vanquished Nationalist Soldiers left over from the Chinese civil war.  The thinking of the time was it was better to let the Americans kill their left-over Nationalists than waste Chinese hardware and food on them.  The period of the Korean War coincides with the Great Leap Forward when 20-30 million Chinese perished from persecution and famine.

China and Me
Me in Beijing, 2008.  “I saw a building this big!’

In 2017, China has a population imbalance, too many men are coming of age and unable to find wives.  They are restive and the last thing the Chinese government wants is for them to turn against their own government.

China isn’t the backwater it was in 1950.  They have aircraft carriers, conduct beach-landing exercises that look a lot like what our Marines do.  They have fancy planes and they are really good at cyber warfare.

We don’t want to fight a war with North Korea, it will turn into a much bigger thing, something we may not be able to control.


6 thoughts on “What about North Korea?

  1. Having had no particular skills or knowledge of the difficulties and danger of the NK situation, #45 is now following, for better or worse, the strategies of the generals while pursuing his own ‘art of the deal’ conceits with Xi (a ‘North Korea tax’ on Chinese commerce if they don’t help corral Kim). We may not be in range just yet, but Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing(!) certainly are. With NK expecting a first strike, the risks of miscalculations and mistakes are huge. The horrific calculus of first strike strategy is in play here; and we still aren’t taking it seriously enough.
    We dropped a big pressure bomb in Afghanistan apparently to try to frighten NK into standing down their nuclear operations – which shows how badly we are misreading their intent – NK is already ‘all-in’ at this poker table.


  2. Having lived in China on the border of North Korea, I would say that the biggest fear for China is the hordes of refugees that will spill across their border and overwhelm their infrastructure in the Chinese-Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Liaoning. China has already placed 150,000 additional troops near DanDong and Yanji and have presumably put their naval resources in Dalian on high alert to deal with the swarm of boat traffic that will hit the Bohai. I don’t think that Xi has much to gain by throwing in with North Korea. They have always been a burden and a bore. During the “War of American Imperial Aggression on the Korean Peninsula” Mao put troops in Korea because he thought Stalin was going to have his back (and you are right, he didn’t want a bunch of experienced troops sitting around and questioning his mandate of heaven). Today, DPRK offers cheap(er) factory labor, coal, access to fishing grounds and not much else. Considering the Chinese just turned back most of the DPRK’s coal, I think they are sending a clear message. Now they just have to shut off their pipelines and it is as good as a green light for soft-regime change. There are members of the military class in Korea that would like nothing better than to maintain their oligarchic status and remove boy wonder from his post.


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