As a young Marine, I was taught an important lesson about how to address concerns I had about an objective from a senior corporal that was too salty to mince words.

“Presenting a problem without a solution isn’t helping, it’s bitching.”

He was right — it’s easy to look for issues in a plan and bandy them about with a superior tone, but it’s much more difficult to assess a problem and come up with ways to resolve it. The thing is, if giving up and packing it in isn’t an option, the only alternative is solving the problem, so identifying one is really only half of the equation. Your suggested solutions don’t have to be the right answer, you just need to be invested in finding it, hence the importance of presenting problems to your commander alongside a few possible solutions.

Your leaders may accept your suggestions, or they may present suggestions of their own, but simply raising your hand and shouting, “this won’t work!” isn’t a valuable part of the discourse. If anything, it’s a distraction from the people that aren’t content to simply fail without trying.

Up to this point, I’d imagine that most people agree that simply nay-saying an endeavor does nothing of value outside of providing the complainer with a cathartic outlet for their pouting inner child, but here’s where I may lose you: that’s basically how the American media (and as a result, the American public) have approached the last year of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

As tensions ratcheted up and Trump exchanged quips with Kim Jong Un that reminded me of my childhood years watching Hulk Hogan call people names and threaten annihilation, the media announced that Trump was delivering the United States into the fiery hands of nuclear war. Then, as tensions ratcheted back down, those same outlets and the masses of folks that repackage headlines as their own opinions on social media changed course and instead began announcing that talking with Kim “was letting him win.”

Think pieces and op-eds, analysis articles and pseudo-news, all suggesting that Donald Trump had somehow played into the expert hands of Kim Jong Un by agreeing to engage in a discussion about avoiding what defense experts agree would be the bloodiest war in recent history.

I get that lots of people seem to think that talking to Kim is a real problem. I just haven’t seen any bright ideas being offered as an alternative.

I’m sure this may ruffle a few feathers, but I’m downright disgusted by the veterans in their sheep dog tee shirts commenting and posting about how we need to invade North Korea or that we have to remove Kim from power. You sit at your laptop, hidden safely behind a DD-214, and demand that we send our brothers and sisters into another war. You demand that we replace a sitting government to offset a perceived threat, when the United States has already been embroiled in insurgency warfare for nearly two decades as a result of attempting to do just that elsewhere.

Going to war, which would lead to the inevitable destruction of Seoul, the death of millions of civilians, American casualties at rates we haven’t seen at all throughout the war on terror, and finally, a lifetime combating insurgents as we attempted to prop up a new government that would be fiercely contested by China — can’t really be the alternative you’d prefer over a conversation. Can it?

The U.S. military is amidst a massive endeavor that aims to simply return it to a state of combat readiness — years of high operational tempos coupled with reduced and inconsistent funding have left the nation’s defensive apparatus in a rough state of affairs. If our options are to throw everything we have at a well fortified but technologically inferior despot or keep working to improve our military while we have a diplomatic conversation, it boggles my mind that so many seem to prefer the former over the latter.

If his threats aren’t enough, Twitter will shout at me, what about the horrible conditions he forces his people to live in? What about the labor camps, the starvation, the brutality? Surely the United States has to go to war to stop all that, right?

If you ask me, North Korea is just one of a long list of nations that I could attribute that awful list of human rights violations to. As massive as the U.S. military is, we can’t afford to go to war with all of them. You may think the United States has the responsibility to serve as a global police force, but until we start voting in a manner that would support that much military spending, adding to the pile of wars we’re waging results in lost American lives and not much else.

Ah, but not everyone is pushing for war, plenty of people simply want to point out that North Korea’s Supreme Leader began pursuing nukes in hopes that it would come to this. Kim was never interested in nuclear war, all he ever wanted was nuclear leverage — and you’re right, oh wise and thoughtful defense pundits. That is exactly what he got in the form of a successful detonation of a thermonuclear warhead last September and a series of moderately successful ballistic missile tests. Kim wanted validation from world leaders like China’s President Xi, South Korea’s President Moon and America’s President Trump, and as we all know, Kim’s a bad guy, and bad guys shouldn’t get what they want.

I don’t disagree that negotiating with a monster is a shitty turn of events. I don’t disagree that Kim set out on this course with every intention of (likely pretending) to give up his nuclear arsenal in exchange for financial and military allowances made by opponents like the United States. It’s all true and it’s not how most of us wished things would turn out but it is our reality. We don’t get to take back decades of inaction as Kim steamed toward this culmination of nuclear and diplomatic efforts. We have to manage the world as it is, not the way you think it ought to be.

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Like it or not, that’s an actual missile. (KCNA)

That leaves just one group of naysayers left. The ones that don’t want war, don’t want talks, but instead just want to undermine the efforts of President Trump because of his politics. I’ll level with you, I can be awfully critical of the president myself, but the question remains: what would you have him do?

You don’t have to like the president. You don’t have to love the idea of negotiating with a tyrant. But if you present a problem without any viable solution, that’s not helping. That’s bitching.

If you ask me, the president of the United States, regardless of political party, has a moral and ethical obligation to try to prevent war whenever possible. War isn’t ever the right answer but sometimes, admittedly, it is the only one. We need to exhaust our options before we put more Americans into the fight. If talks don’t work and war becomes the only way forward, the United States will win, but the cost would be significant.

I’ve folded a lot of flags, handed them to grieving mothers, widows, and children. I’ve buried more heroes than many Americans are ever fortunate enough to even meet. If there has to be a war, so be it.

Because I’d rather not go back to folding all those flags, but Lord knows I haven’t forgotten how.

Feature image courtesy of KCNA

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