As North Korea Displays Missiles, Some Perspective

Remember how about 24 hours ago everyone was sure – sure – that North Korea was going to nuke Seoul, launch “sarin-tipped” missiles at Japan, and/or wipe Hawaii off the face of the earth on Saturday, the 105th anniversary of founder and former leader Kim Il-sung?

Yeah, well they didn’t. As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, all they did on The Day of The Sun, was parade some missiles around on tanks…

Kim1

…march….

March

…fly around…

Kim2

…ride horses…

Kim3

…and dance…

Kim4

“Goose-stepping soldiers and marching bands filled the square, next to the Taedonggang River that flows through Pyongyang, in the hazy spring sunshine, followed by tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and other weapons,” Reuters writes, recounting the festivities, adding that “unlike at some previous parades attended by Kim, there did not appear to be a senior Chinese official in attendance.”

Here’s where it gets funny. Read these bullets (also from Reuters):

  • North Korea showed two new kinds of ICBM enclosed in canister launchers mounted on the back of trucks, suggesting Pyongyang was working towards a “new concept” of ICBM, said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.
  • The Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) were also on parade. It was the first time North Korea had shown the missiles, which have a range of more than 1,000 km (600 miles), at a military parade. Displaying more than one of the missiles indicates North Korea is progressing with its plan to base a missile on a submarine, which are hard to detect, said Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review.

Meanwhile, in my backyard, I had barbecue and do you know what I did? I got a dolly and I rolled out the new lizard space rocket I’ve been working on in the basement, that’s what I did:

Lizard

(Alan Lightman)

People were impressed, let me tell you what.

The point isn’t to downplay the significance of rising tension on the Korean Peninsula. Rather, it’s just to say the same thing I’ve been saying for days. Namely that this isn’t about actually going to war for Kim. This is about perpetuating a narrative about an eternal, epic struggle between Pyongyang and Washington. That narrative helps to preserve the illusion that keeps Kim’s regime relevant to North Koreans. If that illusion goes, so does his grip on power. I wrote about this twice on Sunday (here and here). Consider (again) what Stratfor said this week:

North Korea has many reasons to mount a credible retaliation to any action taken against it, not only to maintain the appearance of a powerful actor on the global stage but also to ensure domestic stability. A weak response from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s administration could undermine its legitimacy among the country’s public or perhaps prompt a palace coup.

In other words, the only way North Korea is actually going to attack anyone is if they get attacked first and even then it would only be to ensure that no one in North Korean sees Kim as weak.

That’s why the hyperbole that comes from Pyongyang sounds so ridiculous to Western audiences. It’s because it is ridiculous. But it doesn’t seem that way from the perspective of a North Korean who doesn’t know any better. When Kim says things like “the US is a gang of cruel robbers” who are trying to “blackmail” him, the rest of the world is tempted to laugh. And that’s just fine with Kim. Because the rest of the world isn’t his audience. To his people, that absurd line fits with the story: Washington spends its every waking hour trying to thwart the geniuses in Pyongyang.

I argue that Donald Trump is inadvertently making that absurd fantasy a reality.

So as you read the various media reports about the party in Pyongyang’s main Kim Il Sung Square, do remember that some of what they showed off were concept designs. Again: concepts. You can have a “concept” of anything.

Finally, just to drive home the point here, this is what State news agency KCNA said in commemoration:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was so fascinated by his personality as to say that Kim Il Sung is greater than that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln put together, eulogizing him as the great sun god of human destiny.

That’s what I mean when I say no one should even bother indulging this.

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2 thoughts on “As North Korea Displays Missiles, Some Perspective

  1. Didn’t really make sense for there to be a weapons test on Kim’s birthday when he was going to be busy with the usual festivities. But North Korea’s weapons have to get better someday and the “powers that be” have decided he can’t have the same class of weapons that they use. Can’t bribe the man who has everything with a cargo plane full of freshly printed Fed notes so it’s hard to see how it won’t end with a bang

  2. This is two chickensh*t teenagers pushing each other in the parking lot, as their friends hold the arms they scream “let me go, let me go” knowing full well it’s all about the show. Could these fools escalate this very lunacy into death and destruction, of course they could and anyone who doesn’t think so is very foolish. The point is cooler heads should prevail ….BUT… I want congress to weigh-in, I want to hear the Joint Chiefs calming this situation the fu*k down. I don’t want to leave to these two spoiled brats as they compare penises (no pun inten…. hell yes pun intended).

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