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Several weeks ago the United States was fixated on North Korea. Those headlines have faded beneath Charlottesville and Hurricane Harvey coverage, but Kim Jong Un’s threats to murder millions have not.
Oddly, our nation’s molders of opinion frequently depict the North Korean dictator as childlike. Tom Nichols, who teaches at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard Extension School, says Kim and his regime are “in a juvenile state of constant attention-seeking.” But we in the United States, with our short attention spans, may be the true juveniles.
We’re a lot like the people William Butler Yeats described in his poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.” He said world war took Britons by surprise because they “had many pretty toys when young. / ... O what fine thought we had because we thought / That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.”
They had not died out. They won’t, until Christ returns. A century ago Woodrow Wilson displayed his liberal theology when he spoke of “a war to end wars.” Public intellectual Francis Fukuyama 25 years ago, in his briefly hot book titled The End of History and the Last Man, pointed to “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
Is Donald Trump willing to be a one-term president if that’s what it takes to get this right?
There is no “final form” until God brings down the curtain. Until then we remain broken actors on a broken stage, objectively acting within God’s plan but subjectively making up our lines moment by moment.
While some college student snowflakes worry about microaggressions, policymakers have to plot terrible equations: Yes, order the D-Day invasion in 1944, and sign death warrants for thousands of Americans plus many others. Storm Okinawa in 1945, and 12,000 Americans (plus more than 100,000 Japanese) die.
If you’re president in 1945 and have received a study contending that a U.S. invasion of Japan will mean 400,000 to 800,000 U.S. and 5 million to 10 million Japanese deaths, do you order dropping nuclear bombs and killing 200,000?
Longtime WORLD readers may remember my column—just before the 2003 Iraq War—headlined “Evil times.” It bemoaned the imminent invasion of Iraq, which seemed necessary based on the evidence that Republicans, Democrats, and Europeans all believed. We hoped U.S. action would save more lives than it lost.
Did it? We’ll never know for sure, and we’re in a similar position with North Korea—except we do know for sure that Kim possesses weapons of mass destruction and talks about using them. We’re in another evil time. Barack Obama psychoanalyzed America’s opponents and thought if we played nice they would also. We know that’s not true, but that knowledge does not tell us—or more importantly, President Donald Trump—what to do.
We do know some things. We know North Korea has nuclear weapons plus powerful cannons aimed at South Korea’s capital and largest city, Seoul, only 30 miles south of the demilitarized zone that splits Korea in two. This means North Korea holds Seoul hostage.
We know war postponed could mean the destruction of Seoul plus U.S. cities. But that doesn’t tell us whether we should take action likely to lead to X number of deaths now, when peace is still a possibility, or postpone action and make it more likely that the eventual death toll will be 10X or 100X.
Pity, and pray for, leaders who have to make decisions of that kind. It’s not a task for children, or for those who talk one way on one day and an opposite way on the next. It’s not a task for popularity-seekers. If a president’s chief drive is to be liked, he’ll kick the can down the road, because any decisive action he takes will produce casualties, and his opponents will be able to say that if he hadn’t acted we’d have lived happily ever after.
The United States clearly should move more rapidly to put missile defense systems in place. Beyond that, if North Korea shows that it has ballistic missiles that can hit the United States with nuclear bombs, should we strike them pre-emptively? Is Donald Trump willing to be a one-term president if that’s what it takes to get this right?
What does getting it right mean? I do not know, and I hope Secretary of Defense James Mattis does. But since he’s not God, let’s recognize that he also will be guessing rather than knowing.
I do know of one right step for all of us to take now: Pray.