In recent months, North Korea’s despotic Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, has continued his pursuit of nuclear weapons, and ballistic missile platforms capable of delivering them to targets all around the globe, but a distinct shift in rhetoric coming from the region has begun to alter our American perspective of the situation.  In the minds of many, heightened tensions with North Korea could be attributed to America’s controversial and conservative president, because those who disagree with Donald Trump would rather attribute all of the problems this country faces to his spray tan, rather than approach each with an objective and analytical mindset.

The thing is, North Korea has been an issue since well before Trump took office, and the situation we find ourselves in now is nothing more than the natural escalation of Kim’s rule.  The only elements of this scenario that have really changed during the Trump presidency are how close Kim finally is to achieving his goal, and how much attention we’re paying to the situation in the media.

Recognizing that they stand little chance of winning a staring contest with multiple carrier strike groups and nearly 30,000 American soldiers bolstering South Korean defenses just south of the demilitarized zone, North Korea decided to follow Vladimir Putin’s lead a few months ago, and start working to take charge of the narrative.  Instead of working tirelessly to present the image of a military peer worthy of fear and respect (as they have so comically attempted in the past), North Korea is now trying to paint a very different picture: one where they admit to being smaller and less powerful – in order to pretend they’re the victim of geopolitical bullying, rather than being subject to the same rule of law that governs most modern nations.

In short, North Korea is pointing its well-honed propaganda machine outward for a change, and it’s beginning to work.  Kim, or at least his advisors, seem well aware that they don’t need to win a fight on their shores to defeat America, they just need to alter how the American people see a conflict with them.  A strategic military victory in the Pacific could even bolster American support for war with North Korea… but if there’s one thing modern American culture truly hates, it’s a bully.  By making it seem like our government is that bully, North Korea, as well as other competitors like Russia, can begin to deflate American support for a war before it ever develops.

So let’s take this opportunity to look back on some of North Korea’s statements to the world at large before they started pretending they’re the victim of a Trump-led conspiracy intent on ruining their chances at financial security (by way of strong arming trade deals through nuclear threats, as Kim hopes to do).

In 2009, North Korea’s government issued a statement to announce that it had “tremendous military muscle and its own method of strike able to conquer any targets in its vicinity at one stroke or hit the U.S. on the raw, if necessary.”

In 2013, the North Korean government released images of Kim and his top military advisors pouring over documents with a map in the background that read, “US Mainland Strike Plan.” The image was accompanied in state-owned media outlets with the description: “He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in south Korea,” a KCNA report in English said.

Another statement in 2013 read, “Now that the US is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, (our) revolutionary armed forces… will exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors.”

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” the statement read, warning that war could break out “today or tomorrow.”

In July of 2014, the director of the general political bureau of North Korea’s military claimed, “If the U.S. imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival … our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon — the sources of all evil.”

In February of 2015, North Korea declared, “Since the gangster-like US imperialists are blaring that they will ‘bring down’ the DPRK (North Korea) … the army and people of the DPRK cannot but officially notify the Obama administration … that the DPRK has neither need nor willingness to sit at negotiating table with the US any longer.”

It added that the North was capable of bringing about the “final ruin of the US” with its “precision and diversified nuclear striking means.”

Let’s be clear, this is neither a complete list, nor is it a list of their most egregious threats against the United States – it’s literally just a collection of the most easily accessible threats North Korea has levied in the past few years.  You could devote the rest of your day to finding examples of North Korea threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes against America and its allies, or the propaganda videos Kim’s regime has released depicting the destruction of U.S. cities.  The thing is, none of this surprises any of you, because you’ve heard it all before.

So why are we starting to second guess whether or not North Korea is a dangerous enemy, not only of the United States, but to stability in the Pacific?  Is it because our internal political disputes are more important that our own actual physical safety?  Or is it because we’re so saturated with media content, that we can be easily persuaded to change our minds about things we once knew with certainty?

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Maybe they’re just that good at PR.

Don’t be persuaded by the “everything America does is bad,” rhetoric, and don’t fall into the “if we just left bad guys alone, they’d stop being bad!” logical trap we hear from our society’s great thinkers (like Katy Perry).  Instead, look at the evidence, and decide for yourself.  It’s easy to find a thousand think pieces, podcasts, and essays written about how uncomfortable left-leaning folks are with Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button…

So we should ask ourselves… shouldn’t we be more concerned with this guy’s nukes instead?

A war with North Korea isn’t inevitable, nor is it in our best interest… but we must remain unwavering and resolute about allowing Kim to develop weapons of mass destruction, otherwise we’re approaching the diplomatic negotiating table with a weak hand and little hope for success.


Images courtesy of KCNA, Reuters

Editorial cartoon courtesy of Robert L. Lang