A graduate of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, George Cassidy Payne is a SUNY Adjunct Humanities Instructor and domestic violence counselor. He serves on the National Council of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the nation’s oldest peace and justice organization. In 2014 he founded the online educational resource called Gandhi Earth Keepers International.
UPDATE: On April 27th, a version of the essay was republished in the Buffalo News.
Nuclear War Can Be Stopped
Although the landscape may seem insurmountable and endless to travelers and soldiers alike, North Korea’s national boundaries pale in comparison to its two giant neighbors in the northeast and west. The attention it receives on the international stage is entirely out of proportion with the nation’s geographical stature.
Likewise, the brinkmanship displayed by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un is entirely out of proportion with the interests and needs of the planet. The beating of the war drum by the White House and the chorus of support from the mainstream news propaganda machine is actually taunting common sense with the acceptability of thermonuclear holocaust. In a region that could easily escalate into World War III, the president is escalating his rhetoric every day.
I think all Americans would be wise not to underestimate the military capability of North Korea. Not only do they possess a nuclear deterrent, they are indoctrinated with a prophetic worldview that makes war with America inevitable. North Koreans are being prepared to fight with everything from hand tools to automatic weapons. They are going to fight from cave to cave, hilltop to hilltop, farm to farm, river to river, street to street, and house to house. It will be a catastrophic bloodbath that will eclipse the death toll of the first Korean War by millions. They have intercontinental missiles that can be fired from mountainous bunkers that are impenetrable. They have giant standing infantry corps in every major urban center. And they have armed tank corps and a competent air force.
They are also a nation with a proud history. As is evident in the infrastructure and design of the North Korean capital, North Koreans take great ownership over their allegiance to the artistic and political vision of the Democratic Republic. They believe in the advancement of their systems, and they long for the opportunity to showcase their unique genius. This is a nation that was able to build a nuclear arsenal. This is a nation that has been able to remain independent in the shadow of two immense, imperial conquerors in China and Russia. This is a nation that is demanding the obsessive attention of the American president.
With that said, as I write this, the United States has 30,000 service members stationed in the Korean Peninsula. In the past few days Trump has deployed the USS Carl Vinson, a 97,000 ton nuclear carrier to the Sea of Japan. Meanwhile, China has amassed 150,000 soldiers on the Korean-Chinese border. In case there is a refugee crisis, they are willing to drive back the Korean masses with deadly force. Everywhere in the region the threat of a preemptive strike looms.
What if China attacks first? What if South Korea moves in? What will Russia do? How will Japan defend its sea? What will happen if there is another Korean War with superpower proxies? More than a million people died the last time. How many more million will die when the weapons are intercontinental and nuclear?
These are all good questions. However, why does this script need to follow a preordained path? Trump may be a trigger happy, belligerent, ignoramus who does not understand the consequences of his actions, and the same can be said about the bellicose, gluttonous and politically vain Kim Kong Un. But why does the world need to allow these two delirious goats to lock horns with nukes while drunk on the elixir of their own self importance? Why does the world need to sit by and watch this spectacle?
The big question is: Why does World War III need to happen here? After all, this is a nation that is in the dark. Why not work with China and Japan and South Korea and Russia to help bring them into the light? Why must we all succumb to the darkness together?
Is North Korea a menace. Absolutely. The nation’s track record is dismal in the area of human rights. But the most effective way to engage people living in dictatorships is to show them why liberty and equality are enviable values to pursue over the quasi spiritual values of emperor worship and Communism. This must be done on a grandly subversive scale. Rather than a policy of “strategic patience,” cyber-attacks, economic pressure, and the threat of war, why not try something new and interesting like creative diplomacy? Why not trade with North Korea? Why not negotiate for peace with North Korea? Why not make North Korea a business partner? Isn’t that what you are good at, Mr. Trump? Why do American interests need to inherently conflict with the interests of North Korea?
Who said this must end with thermonuclear disaster when it could begin with a New Deal for both countries?