There’s nothing like a just-before-going-to-sleep screening of the 1965 Sidney Poitier/Richard Widmark film The Bedford Incident to really put your mind at ease regarding nuclear war. Oh, you haven’t seen the flick (or read the 1963 James Poe novel of the same name)?
Well, it’s really just Moby Dick, except Ahab is an American guided missile destroyer captain and the whale is a Russian submarine armed with nuclear torpedoes. For those who wonder what the practical application of military buzzwords like “deterrence” and “provocation” actually look like, it’s a disturbing film.
It’s a film I hope Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii’s freshman 2nd District Congressional Representative, will watch in the near future (or screen again if she’s already seen it). Especially given her April 11 House floor remarks on North Korea. Those remarks, distributed to members of the Hawaii press corps by her own office, seem rather alarmist, even when considering the chest-thumping rhetoric we’ve been hearing from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un lately.
“Today, we are seeing an increasingly belligerent, hostile stance by the North Korean regime toward its perceived enemies,” Gabbard said in her remarks. “For some, this may sound like a far-off annoyance, saber-rattling coming from the East. However, nothing could be farther from the truth for families in my home state of Hawai‘i and in Guam, who sit as named threats by the increasingly aggressive and unpredictable regime led by Kim Jong-un.”
Gabbard must know as we do that people in Hawaii aren’t exactly making a mad dash to Costco to stock up on rice (well, not more so than we do already) in response to Kim’s threats. But that didn’t stop Gabbard from ratcheting up her own rhetoric:
“Along with Guam and Alaska, Hawai‘i has been placed in the crosshairs of this intensifying threat,” she continued. “It is crucial for the United States, and Hawai‘i in particular, to take threats from North Korea seriously. We cannot be complacent. We cannot afford a mistake that puts the lives of our families at risk.”
Going by this speech, you’d think a North Korean invasion flotilla was just a few hours from landing at Waikiki. Yes, North Korea has put out statements over the last week threatening to launch nuclear strikes and turn the region into a “sea of fire,” but they’ve made threats like that for years. When coupled with the fact that every serious analyst (including, oddly enough, those at our own CIA) say that North Korea does NOT currently have the capability of hitting Hawaii with a nuclear-armed missile, the threats take on a more curious, even humorous appearance.
For those actually on the Korean peninsula, of course, threats from any nation that employs a very large standing army and has done things like torpedo a South Korean warship without warning and uses phrases that include the words “sea of fire” are anything but humorous. But missing from Gabbard’s speech (and most media discussions of North Korea’s threats that include the descriptors “bellicose” and “mad”) is any perspective on why that grotesquely impoverished nation would further bankrupt its already pathetic state to build nuclear weapons.
As far back as 2006, when North Korea held its first (though ambiguous) nuclear test, Slate.com’s very sober defense writer Fred Kaplan found the news bad, but certainly not apocalyptic.
“The combination of Kim Jong-il and a nuclear arsenal is a nightmare,” Kaplan wrote in an Oct. 9, 2006 post. “It doesn’t mean he’s going to fire A-bombs at the United States or, for that matter, at South Korea or Japan. Kim may be a monster, but he’s not suicidal; his top priority is the survival of his regime, and he must know that a nuclear attack would be followed by obliterating retaliation.”
Of course, Kim Jong-il is now dead and his scion-successor is obviously a lot younger than his old man, but his nation’s absolute self-interest in keeping itself from getting nuked by American bombs and missiles remains true. After all, North Korea’s fears over the survival of its regime are all too rational.
Shortly after U.S. President George W. Bush included that nation in the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” speech, U.S. tanks, warplanes and troops invaded and occupied Iraq, toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime. Though Bush cynically told the U.S. public (and the world) that we were invading Iraq to protect ourselves from a possible attack from weapons of mass destruction, it was the non-existence of such weapons that made the invasion and regime destruction so relatively simple (the resulting occupation was, of course, quite different).
A North Korean nuclear arsenal gives pause to any American president seeking to use military power to, as Gabbard put it in her floor speech, “break the cycle of threats that has existed for far too long.” While this doesn’t mean the world should get used to the idea that Pyongyang is now part of the “nuclear club,” it should hopefully convince more officials that diplomacy, calling for the dismantling of all nation’s nuclear arsenals, is more important than ever.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons