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North Korea – Our Favourite Disneyworld Ride

North Korea

When I woke up the other day, I thought that either hell had frozen over, or that I’d been transported to an alternate universe. The reason for this was that every major news outlet, even the two remaining reputable ones, was reporting the DPRK’s test firing of an ICBM. DPRK is, of course, our favourite comedy villain, The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, and ICBM is Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile.

I’m very tempted, at this point, to launch into some highly abstruse alphabet soup, complete with missile designators, performance graphs, finely sliced shades of definition for ‘inter-continental’ and ‘ballistic’, and a semantic disambiguation of the ICBM trope from its actual technical meaning. Thing is, there’s quite a bit of this stuff publicly available right now, and since nobody, journalists included, seems to have read or understood it, I don’t really see why I should bother. Let’s instead boil it down to simple terms suited to what I am reluctantly forced to call the ‘discourse’ on this subject.

Question: Does North Korea currently possess, in the apocalyptic sense all of us Cold War babies understand the term, any ICBMs?

Answer: Almost certainly not.

And there in the answer is what I think is the essence of the problem. For those of us who are accustomed to having their statements listened to and acted upon, and who actually care about this beyond the action of clicking on an article (I’m looking at you, journalists), a flat yes or no on this question is almost impossible to issue. This is because the study of security, international relations, and other related fields, breeds a healthy and not entirely unjustified paranoia. Certainty is a luxury of the ignorant or un-involved. There is a chance, roughly equivalent to the chance that human civilisation was initially formed by fish-shaped aliens, that the DPRK does, in fact, have a functional arsenal of ICBMs. And the existence of this miniscule chance is enough to render it impossible for most of the security and intelligence establishment to say that they definitely don’t. And it is this miniscule gap which Trump, Kim Jong Un, and the world’s media in general has taken to with a crow bar.

The fact is, the DPRK’s last successful missile test was surprising for most analysts. Right up to the point where they’d had enough time to actually analyse the data and come to the conclusion that this wasn’t, in fact, a new missile, but rather a clever mashup of some old ones. And that this test represented not a re-write, but a slight adjustment in the rogue nation’s nuclear timetable. The idea that the DPRK was heading towards developing nuclear tipped missiles capable of inter-continental range is not a new one, and nor is the idea that they’re getting closer. So why the sudden hysteria? The answer can’t be technical – the simple fact is that the projections haven’t actually changed that much. Certainly not enough to justify all this extra noise in both camps. So what is, in fact, the cause?

The answer isn’t as bloodcurdling as many would like it to be, but it is depressing, if that’s any comfort. The fact of the matter is that the drastic increase in chilling DPRK disaster porn is almost certainly being driven by politics (there’s that ‘almost’ again – I can’t help myself). Idiot in Chief President Trump has made up what must by courtesy be called his ‘mind’ to ‘solve’ the diplomatic tangle surrounding the DPRK. In doing so, he has sent a clear message to Kim Jong Un that acting out like a toddler having a tantrum in a supermarket is once again a policy which will generate diplomatic returns, and to the rest of the world that he’s a goddamned idiot. What opening this dialogue does for both leaders is create opportunities to meet and negotiate, while simultaneously pumping out enough rhetoric and propaganda to satisfy their own domestic requirements.

It should be noted that Trump and Kim have key similarities. They both rely heavily on a kind of personality cult to legitimate their power. They both have a requirement to look and act like crazy people in order to satisfy their political bases. And they both have access to a voting public capable of believing they’re on the brink of war in spite of zero pre-positioning or additional mobilisation taking place. So far, so comical.

What isn’t comical, however, is the very real potential for the world to stumble over its feet into an actual armed confrontation by joining in with the hysterical fantasies of megalomaniacs and clickbait generators. There’s ample precedent for this kind of nonsense, and it’s all gut-bustingly hilarious until the coffins start coming home. So while I do understand that the North Korea ride is definitely one of the most emotionally satisfying, I’d urge everyone to please, for the love of all that’s good in the world, just click a few more times. To read more than just headlines. To treat all of Trump’s statements as seriously as we treat Kim Jong Un’s haircuts. And, most important of all, to get off this stupid ride before we all nose it off the rails with our shouty groupthink silliness. We’ve had our thrills and spills, and it’s time to stop before somebody really gets hurt.

Category: Asinine, Violence

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