I confess to not knowing that much about Korea. I was too young to have any memories of the war we fought there. I did know an elderly man who was a member of a senior golfer’s association who played in tournaments in South Korea. Gene was an avid golfer — a country club champion for multiple years and quite a good teacher of the game though all of his expertise and patience. He loved his visits to South Korea and often entertained us with anecdotes.
It wasn’t until I facilitated a book club on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson, that I began to take interest in North Korea. Unlike the attractive, multicolored picture of South Korea painted by Gene — modern, free, quite western in thought and deed — Johnson’s extremely well-researched book on North Korea painted quite a different landscape. Stark, disturbing, cruel black and white images of the most extreme totalitarian regime describe the mental illustrations conjured by reading it.
With last week’s saber rattling between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, it is not surprising I have been doing a lot of thinking about that faraway and dangerous place.
While it is quite easy to poke fun at Kim, what is happening now is truly no laughing matter. North Korea has 15 nuclear weapons, a standing army of 1.2 million soldiers and a reserve force numbering 7.7 million. Short- and long-range missiles round out its arsenal, and recent tests appear to signify the U.S. is in its sights. Make no mistake; North Korea poses a definite threat. But it is far from being a new threat. One of the first pieces of advice outgoing President Barack Obama gave to incoming President Trump was to consider North Korea to be his No. 1 priority among threatening nations.
Last week, Congress and the United Nations, spearheaded by our ambassador Nikki Haley, imposed strict sanctions on North Korea, prompting reactions from both Trump and Kim Jung Un. Ratcheting up the rhetoric, Kim threatened to attack Guam, where two U.S. military bases and 168,000 Americans reside. Trump threatened “fire and fury” unlike any the world has seen before.
With disapproval of the president’s language coming from both sides of the aisle, our secretary of state explained it is language that Kim understands, whereas the language of diplomacy seems to go right over his head.
As incongruous as it seems, I agree with both sides. Diplomacy is necessary, but sanctions and talking haven’t deterred either Kim or his father before him from making constant progress in their nuclear programs. Maybe no-holds-barred threats will be more effective.
All I do know for sure is it’s scary.
Power versus tact? My thoughts keep going back to what all golf pros know. Power alone will never win. No matter how strong one drives, without a finessed short game, victory will not ensue. You need them both.