Are North Korea’s leaders crazy?

Sept. 2017 Korea nuke
Days after the U.S. and South Korea threatened North Korea with “war games,” Kim Jong Un inspected what North Korea called its first hydrogen bomb. On Sept. 2, the powerful bomb was exploded in a test in the China Sea. The resulting 6.3 earthquake was 100 times the size of the quake caused by the country’s first nuclear test, 11 years ago.


Much has been made—and quite astutely—of connections between the current lead-up to a potential war with North Korea and the events before the Iraq War: the collusion of mainstream media with a president that earlier they had largely disliked; massive fear-mongering about their weapons; and a narrative about the brutality of the regime. Yet the image of Kim Jong Un, and his administration that is crafted by American propaganda is also reminiscent of the image created of Japan during World War II. It is an Orientalist depiction of a supposedly irrational people—a racist conception that the U.S. is now using to justify yet another potential war.

The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, and continue to be, justified by the claim that Japan would have never surrendered otherwise. Indeed, there is a principle in the code of Bushido, a major element of Japanese culture, that precludes surrender. And yet, was this actually a principle the Japanese government would have followed?

Winston Churchill explicitly said, “We shall never surrender!” But his statement was treated as a rhetorical rallying cry. Surely, as a rational actor, Churchill did have a breaking point. The Nazis never reached that point, but we perceive Churchill—a white European—as essentially acting in the best interest of his country, calling for resistance even in the face of long odds against a powerful enemy, not as a madman from a warrior culture, incapable of seeing the reality of his situation beyond a code of honor from the Middle Ages. The Japanese, however, were portrayed as bound by this code and unable to reason past it.

The same racist attitude is now being applied to the administration in North Korea. A careful look at history can demonstrate North Korea as a rational actor. And, to be clear, we do not mean “rational” in the sense that it is respectable or to be admired; the current ruling regime of North Korea is hardly admirable. To be “rational” means to be capable of political calculations in pursuit of a goal, the first of which is self-preservation.

The country suffered a brutal occupation by Japan, which it freed itself from, only to suffer a bombing campaign from the U.S. that killed well over a million people. This, of course, was the same U.S. involved in a list of regime changes so long it might have made the British Empire blush.

We can only assume that North Korea is rationally afraid of the United States. It is, therefore, a rational act to obtain weapons of deterrence, the most powerful being nuclear weapons. We oppose nuclear proliferation, but if the U.S. has an arsenal that could annihilate the world in the blink of an eye, and a history of aggression, it is not hard to see why other countries—especially those on America’s bad side—would seek to arm themselves.

If we treat North Korea as a rational actor, it is hard to imagine Kim Jong Un striking first, knowing how deeply outgunned he is. But, remember, Kim Jong Un is not portrayed as rational but “crazy,” like the Japanese in World War II. He isn’t driven by self-preservation, but a fire-eyed hatred to destroy. After all, don’t all North Korean school children grow up being taught to hate the United States?

In order to promote fear of North Korea, the U.S. propaganda machine must make a first strike by North Korea seem plausible, and to do so, they must present Kim as irrational. Isn’t it convenient that the old narratives of irrational Asians are so prevalent? (Other American enemies do not get depicted as such. Putin, for instance, is depicted as conniving, deceptive, and frightening—but rational.)

Socialist Action is in opposition to all imperialist war, including any potential strike on North Korea. No such act is necessary for the well-being of the American (or any country’s) working class.


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