As President Trump and Kim Jong Un play nuclear chicken with one another, I offer this brief lesson in history with the hope that it will encourage them both to sit down and chat with one another before the whole thing gets out of hand.
During the Korean War of 1950-1953, troops authorized by the United Nations from more than a dozen countries—including more than 1,200 Ethiopians and a contingent of 44 soldiers from Luxembourg—came to the aid of South Korea after North Korea, with the tacit approval of China and the Soviet Union, tried to unify the peninsula under one flag.
Millions lost their lives in a bloody conflict whose outcome was the stubbornly argued agreement that the boundary between the two nations be restored to roughly the same location it occupied before the fighting started. Defining this border today is a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) whose name belies the tens of thousands of troops who face off against one another on its opposing sides—including roughly 30,000 Americans, several thousand shy of the number who lost their lives there during the early 1950s.
Despite the proximity of these troops, or maybe because of them, the DMZ has been witness to several tense moments during the past 60 years. It has also become a tourist attraction of sorts as people from around the world gather there to get a glimpse of the most irrational place on the planet; in terms of pure irrationality, however, a few locales closer to home have begun to challenge the DMZ’s standing.
There was no real peace treaty signed following the Korean War, only the promise to stop shooting at one another and agreement on the boundary. No military activity or munitions are permitted in the two-and-a-half-mile-wide zone, but it has been suggested by those who study these things, that the opposing parties may not be honoring this particular part of the agreement.
The most extraordinary accusation is that North Korea has bored huge tunnels under the DMZ which would facilitate a modern version of their 1950 incursion into the South. A clandestine invasion such as this has been on the minds of South Koreans for a long time. Absent a formal treaty, some of those same scholars suggest that the Korean War never really ended.
You may have heard recently that the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. This is not completely accurate. Given all the recent angry rhetoric, it seems prudent to explore any options that might prevent the inconvenience of nuclear holocaust, so, hard as it may be, imagine this:
There is a building that straddles the border between the Koreas at Panmunjom. Military personnel from both sides face one another across a border which can be crossed by simply stepping over a concrete step that looks to be about four inches high and twelve inches across. If a meeting is desired, an American official on the southern side simply needs to holler across the border and request a sit-down. A bullhorn is available if the matter is urgent. If the North agrees to meet, representatives can enter the building and sit at a table which also rests upon the border. Neither side need leave friendly soil to engage the other.
I think Trump and Kim should seriously consider sitting down at this table. Of course, Trump would have to use the bullhorn to set this all up; I’m sure someone could show him how to use it and given Trump’s uncanny ability to speak “off the cuff,” combined with his experience at insulting world leaders, Kim would probably be there in no time to defend his honor. Following some inevitable saber-rattling, the two leaders could take a seat and engage in some real-time diplomacy.
For Trump’s part, he might remind Kim that dropping nuclear bombs on people can ruin whole neighborhoods; and that the only person in history who has actually done this lived in the same house Trump lives in now. He might add that those bombs exploded with a great deal of actual fire and fury only a few hundred miles from where they were sitting.
Kim might mention that exceeding the fire and fury of World War II suggests a modern conflagration that would have to exceed the 60 million fatalities attributable to that war. Wiping North Korea off the map and taking all of its citizens with it would not even get him halfway there so Trump’s fire and fury would have to be deployed elsewhere to make up the difference.
Once Kim informs Trump that there aren’t enough North Koreans to reach his fire and fury threshold, maybe the president could find a way to dial back the whole thing. Or, and this is the tricky thing, maybe his ego would be sated with the annihilation of a mere 25 million North Koreans. Diplomacy is not rocket science, after all.
Finally, since the nuclear football is never far from the president’s reach (you never know when it might be time to rain down a little hellfire on someone), The Donald could open up the suitcase right there on the table and show Kim the command post of a real nuclear arsenal. The downside to this is that Kim might demand a demonstration and there’s no telling where this could lead.
No matter the outcome, just sitting down together might inspire each leader to see the humanity in the other. Now that I mention it, just seeing a little humanity from these two might do the whole world a load of good, missing as it has been for so long.
Even if their egos somehow got in the way and things didn’t work out, at least, in that bright glare of global annihilation, we would have that image of Trump and Kim at the Table.
Jimmy P. Morgan is a semi-retired History teacher who writes about World Affairs, Social Justice, Politics and Education. He can be reached at JimmyPMorganDayz@gmail.com.