14. June 2018 · Comments Off on The Current Range of Derangement · Categories: Fun and Games, GWOT, History, Media Matters Not, Memoir, N. Korea, Politics, War

I freely confess to having initially thought that when Donald Trump threw his hat into the political ring and began campaigning for election to the highest office in our fair land – it was a colossal joke and not one in particularly good taste. But I was never an adamant never-Trumper, and eventually came to think that hey – a wheeler-dealer Noo Yawk property developer (who after all HAD run a good-sized business enterprise for years) couldn’t possibly stuff up the job any more disastrously than He Who Dances With Teleprompters and his merry band of faculty lounge theorizers, career bureaucrats and second-gen beneficiaries of elite parental, fraternal or marital connections. In any case – I’d vote for practically anyone than Her Inevitableness the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua, even if I had to pin my nostrils shut with C-clamp. So – what the hell. Reader, I voted for him. I have to admit that when it sends rabid lefty celebs like Robert De Niro into a spittle-flecked rant on live television, I am tempted to rub my hands together and cackle with evil glee like Mr. Burns in the Simpsons, watching them come unglued with their hate for flyover country and those denizens of it which also voted for him. A man is known in a large part by the character and quantity of his enemies; Trumps’ are as numerous and as varied as any collection of grotesqueries in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

So I started this post as yet another meditation on how ever-flipping-out-of-their minds the current iteration of Trump-haters are … and then the meeting in Singapore happened, and actually promises … maybe, if all goes well, a resolution to a war which started just before I was born, in a country to which my father was stationed as an Army draftee when I was born, in which I served for a year (three and a half decades later) and in which my daughter might very well have drawn duty in her turn. The Korean War – bloody and vicious, as we are reminded through M*A*S*H reruns – ended in an armistice and a heavily-armed border which slices the Korean peninsula into halves. Not anywhere equal halves, other than geographical.

Back at the start of it all, the northern part of that peninsula was the industrially-developed part. The inhabited part, whereas the southern bits were the rural and primitive parts. The whole of the place, as I came to understand in the year that I lived there, emerged as a feisty and independent kingdom, with a very distinct culture, identity, and language; a language with its’ own phonetic alphabet – the notion of one of their genius kings. Not Chinese, definitely not Japanese, in spite of seventy years of heavy-handed Japanese occupation, which only ended after WWII. I liked Korea enormously, for all that my taste of it was relatively brief. Seoul was a hectic, spectacular, modern city. I think that I went across it in every direction, via the subway, bus, or by taxi, innumerable times on my way to do an English-language voice-job, and never felt the least bit threatened or in danger because of being a foreigner. I was not much taller than the average Korean woman, or all that much more fair-skinned, and with my hair bundled up under a beret, not all that much darker of hair color. Unless people looked directly at me … I didn’t stand out all that much and I worked at not attracting attention to myself anyway. (But with one of my comrades in doing voice-work, who was about six and a half-foot tall … yeah, then we got noticed on public transportation.)

The Korean nationals that I worked with, on my various voice and broadcasting jobs were a relatively cosmopolitan lot, and we talked now and again about the North, and the threat intermittently posed, most notably to Seoul, well within artillery range of North Korean big guns. Indeed, about every six months or so, the Norks indulged in what another blogger termed the Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken – a regularly-scheduled theatrical bit of sabre-rattling, to which the old Korea hands (and possibly most ordinary Koreans) eventually became pretty blasé. (More here from The Daily Brief) Is there now a possible end in sight to a situation which has existed slightly longer than I have been alive, through Donald Trump’s surprisingly cordial summit with Little Fat Kim? Speculation on the imminent collapse of the North floats around at about the same frequency as the Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken. But this time, I do wonder if the Reign of Kim really is on very shaky ground – and Little Fat Kim knows it and is nervous about survival – his personal survival and that of his circle. Bits and dribbles of dismaying information keep trickling out of the hermetically-sealed kingdom; that the soldiers forage for food in the cultivated fields, that the Nork soldier who defected across the DMZ was riddled with intestinal parasites, that the underground nuclear test site collapsed the whole side of the mountain where it was located, that whole districts are stripped bare of vegetation … and perhaps at long last, the Chinese are not quite so blindly supportive of their favorite client state. Is North Korea circling the drain of history, and the Kim regime is trying one last desperate throw of the dice while North Korea still has the appearance of a viable state? Discuss.

Ah, the New Year is upon us, now that we have successfully negotiated the month-long holiday hurdles – and no, I am doing my best not to ask myself what fresh hells await, since I am barely done with the rich banquet served up to us at year-end.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh, and laugh, and laugh at the spectacle of a boat-full of global-warmenist tourists venturing on an Antarctic expedition to prove that the polar ice is melting faster than the Wicked Witch when Dorothy emptied a bucket of water onto her … being caught in the ice … and having to be rescued by ice-breaking ships. The topper is that this is actually the summer season at the bottom of the world, and the darned stuff is supposed to be melting seasonally anyway. But apparently not, and the gales of laughter at this bit of misfortune are not quite strong enough to dislodge the ship. Was Al Gore anywhere around? The unseasonably horrible weather hitting all of the United States but a tiny band along the west coast argues the presence of He Whose Chakras Need to be Raised, or at least smacked with a bucket of cold water.

Ah, the fortunes of the ruling dynasty in North Korea have taken a positively surreal turn into I, Claudius territory, with the long-time advisor and uncle (with a handful of Uncle’s top aides) of Pudgy-Boy Kim executed by being served up naked to a pack of starving dogs – and the ruling echelons made to watch the proceedings. To encourage the others, I guess. This was reported via Chinese news media, which makes me wonder how tired the Chinese are getting of the antics of Pudgy-Boy and all the other Kims. Given that dog-meat is a traditional Korean delicacy, and in North Korea eating it is likely a matter of survival, perhaps the dogs considered this arrangement a fair turn-about. No wonder Dennis Rodman appears to be getting fond of North Korea; height and color aside, he blends right in with the general freakishness.

And speaking of a parade of … well, not freaks exactly, more a case of being freakishly out of touch, I give you MSNBC, or as I have begun to call it, PMSNBC – now in a dead heat with Time Magazine as they race to the bottom. Well, both of these media entities were once respected, popular and purveyors of the news. Now I suppose it is commentary and opinion all the way, and very strident and in-your-face opinion, too. The insults are just the extra, although I am certain Melissa Harris-Perry got an earful over that notorious segment poking mean-girl fun at Mitt Romney’s adopted grandson. Being that she was a child of color – or anyway, half-color – born to a white Mormon mother, one would have thought Ms. Harris-Perry would have been a little more circumspect. I can hope that perhaps her own mother put her straight, about how painful it would be for mother and child alike to hear sniggering cracks about how one of these things is not like the other, and one of those things does not belong.

And finally, Obamacare, sweet Obamacare, the unAffordable Care Act, now in the act of a slo-mo clash and burn even more spectacular than that of the Hindenberg. Yes, thank you, I’ll have my serving of schadenfreude in chocolate flavor, with a spritz of whipped cream, toasted almonds and a cherry on top. Harsh? I’ll save my sympathies for those people now caught within the deadly toils of trying to work out some kind of healthcare coverage for themselves and their families who did not vote Dem in the last two elections. For those who did, and are now unpleasantly confronted with the results – sorry, we warned you, over and over, and all we got for that was abuse and ridicule. Sometimes enlightenment is only achieved through pain. I haven’t ventured into Open Salon lately to see how enlightenment is progressing these days – I’m not a sadist that way. I’ll just settle for my tasty cup of schadenfreude.

Hang tight – it’s gonna be an interesting ride through 2014.

14. December 2013 · Comments Off on Countdown · Categories: Health and Wellness, Home Front, N. Korea, Rant

A week and a half to go to Christmas – and I am slightly bummed, although in rather better financial shape than I have been in some previous years. The last of the Christmas craft sales events – Christmas on the Square in Goliad – was pretty well wiped out by cold beyond the capacity of large crowds to endure. We came home with two tubs of books, not having sold a single thing, and it’s been ages since that happened.

I have set up a week-long direct sale through my book-website; 15% off the regular direct sales price, but I am beginning to get the distinct impression from personal experience that fourth-quarter holiday sales are definitely down. Well, it could be worse – it definitely has been worse. The sale of the California property affords a bit of a cushion, and that it allowed us to revamp the HVAC system is bliss, especially as it continues cold. I’m thinking that we owe the Jon Wayne people a lavish Christmas card, for the work they did resulted in much superior system to that originally installed, which heated and cooled sluggishly and sparsely, and with a horrifying degree of inefficiency. The new system heats or cools the house within five minutes of turning it on, and every room is comfortable.

Countdown – three weeks and a bit to the New Year, and also the time for all us ordinary peons not exempted for one reason or another to get right with Obamacare, or the Unaffordable Care Act. Well, not us, personally – so far, Tricare Prime for me remains relatively unscathed, save for a not-insupportable increase in the quarterly fee. Blondie’s Humana policy is also relatively unscathed, at least for the next year. The cost of a Un-ACA compliant policy for her also costs almost three times as much as the policy she has now – and both of us are extremely wary of entering anything personal into a usgov site as frelled as that one seems to be. We’re actually hoping that the whole ungodly mess is revoked sometimes over the next year – although it may just implode of it’s own.

Really, if schadenfreude had calories, I’d be as fat as Oprah Winfrey was at her max-girth; watching Obamacare implode and seeing the Obama administration look like fools – like a laughing selfie at a memorial service. Could anything in public be more crass, more juvenile? Meanwhile, North Korea – yet again – is edging closer and closer to total breakdown, what with Li’l Pudgy going all Henry VIII on his closest kin and advisers. Dennis Rodman seems to have appointed himself the chief envoy to the place, which only goes to prove that these days, satirists must have a devil of a time staying ahead of reality.

I did a tour in Korea in 1993-94, which hardly makes me an expert on the place, seeing that I have that in common with a fair number of Army and Air Force personnel over the past half-century plus. Reading about the expected fallout from the change of régime-boss north of the DMZ I think of that tour now as something along the lines of being put into place rather like an instant-read thermometer: there for a year in Seoul, at the Yongsan Army Infantry garrison, where I worked at AFKN-HQ – and at a number of outside jobs for which a pleasant speaking voice and fluency in English was a requirement. One of those regular jobs was as an English-language editor at Korea Broadcasting; the national broadcasting entity did an English simulcast of the first fifteen minutes of the 9 PM evening newscast. I shared this duty with two other AFKN staffers in rotation: every third evening, around 6PM, I went out the #1 gate and caught a local bus, and rode across town to the Yoido; a huge rectangular plaza where the KBS building was located, just around the corner from other terribly important buildings – like the ROK capitol building. Once there, I’d go up to the newsroom – which was a huge place, filled with rows of desks and computers, go to the English-language section, and wait for any of the three or four Korean-to-English translators to finish translating the main news stories for the evening broadcast, correct their story for punctuation and readability, stick around to watch them do the simulcast at 9 PM, critique their delivery.

These various activities put me out and about in Seoul, and made me Korean friends and working acquaintances that had nothing to do with the military, especially at the KBS job. I got to know the translators fairly well. They were all native Koreans, whose education or life experiences had led to them being a fairly cosmopolitan bunch and fluent in English – translators, particularly Miss Min, since we would catch the same bus after work, heading back to the neighborhood of Yongsan, and the old elevated traffic roundabout. I think now, that was one of those times that I liked best – the bus ride; seeing the lights of the city reflected a thousand times in the dark-serpentine shape of the Han River as the bus went over one of the many bridges, back towards the Christmas-tree-topper shaped tower that crowned the Namsan Hill. There would be the scent of vanilla cake baking, when the bus passed by a certain place where there was a commercial bakery; even with the bus windows closed against the winter cold – and Seoul was bitter cold in winter, with a wind that came straight off Siberia – we could still smell vanilla cake.

I liked Seoul very much, at those particular moments, as much as I liked the Koreans that I worked with, and encountered on the subway or riding the bus: tough, jolly, out-going and hard-working people, possibly the most snappy dressers on the face of the earth outside of the Italians, but intensely patriotic. Someone once described them as the Irish of Asia, and that struck me as a fair parallel.
But all the time I was in Korea – being at an Army base – we couldn’t help being aware of the situation; that the DMZ was just a short distance away, that Seoul itself was in range of heavy artillery fire from the north, and that as regular as clockwork, the NorKs would indulge in a bit of sabre-rattling; Another internet commenter called this the “Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken” – every six months to two years there would be a bit of public theater intended to remind everyone that the North Korean establishment was there, bellicose, somewhat relevant – and that there was some kind of concession to be extracted from the outside world. The old-time Korea hands that I knew and my Korean friends were relatively blasé about it all. Perhaps the Norks could level Seoul, if they wanted to – but Miss Min and the other interpreters doubted very much that any but the most well-disciplined and elite Nork troops could make it past the first well-equipped grocery store south of the DMZ, let alone Electronics Row … and the Nork military anyway hasn’t fought an all-out war for real since 1953. But figuring out what is going on inside North Korea anyway was a bit like looking at a sparse scattering of accounts from inside, and consulting a Magic-8-Ball. Riddle wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an enigma doesn’t even begin to come close. Will the Norks go out with a bang, or whimper? What does the Magic 8-Ball say?

What is pretty certain to me at this point – and I’m not nor ever have been any kind of intelligence wonk – is that North Korea likely can’t last very much longer. The dynasty of Kims and their allies are like an extended crime family, sitting at the apex of a structure that looks more and more like a country-sized labor and concentration camp. The place is stripped bare – even the mountainsides are stripped of trees for firewood. When it comes to food, North Korea isn’t even able to economically support itself, having nothing left to trade to the outside world, save possibly nuclear arms. How long have regular famines been going on? Twenty years or so – long enough to physically stunt the growth of ordinary North Koreans, as is evident when they defect to the South. Possibly even China is tired of the antics of their psychotic little pet, after having enabled them for fifty-plus years.

So, whither North Korea? Damned if I know – but I guess that it will probably not last much longer. My Magic 8-Ball guess is that it will implode, without much warning at all, in the manner of Ceausescu’s Romania; just poof-like that. How the ordinary people of North Korea will cope with such a suddenly revised world is anyone’s guess. I don’t think they have been kept quite so hermetically sealed away that it will take a good few decades to readjust and catch up. They are, after all, the same basic physical and cultural stock as the South Koreans – who have come an amazingly long way since my father was stationed there, at the very end of the Korean War. Your thoughts?
(Earlier post here on this subject: http://www.ncobrief.com/index.php/archives/korea-meditation-revisited/
Also – Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

24. November 2010 · Comments Off on Korea Meditation, Revisited · Categories: Air Force, Fun and Games, General, History, Memoir, Military, N. Korea

In the early 1990s, I did a tour in Korea; a year at Yongsan Garrison, working at HQ-AFKN, barely a stone’s throw from where my father had spent a couple of weeks at Camp Coiner in 1953. Camp Coiner was where new troops were processed for assignments in-country, and it was still a self-contained miniature garrison with a dining hall, movie theater, club, PX and chapel. Processing new arrivals takes only a day or two these days. When I was there, Camp Coiner housed soldiers assigned to Yongsan in a series of Quonset huts that had been covered in such a thick layer of foam insulation that they looked like nothing so much as a row of enormous Twinkies.

Camp Coiner to my father was a bunch of canvas tents in a field of mud, surrounded by deep rings of barbed wire and a deeper ring of hungry refugees, watching them intently. It quite took away one’s appetite, said my father, to have people watching you eat every bite of your C-rations; and it’s not as if C-rations were a gourmet treat to start with. The soldiers were forbidden to give away their food, but my father said a lot of them did anyway, tossing cans stealthily over the wire. Seoul was a wrecked place fifty years ago. While I was there at AKFN that year, I edited an interview which the late Col. David Hackworth had done for AFKN, where he described how he himself had first visited the place, retreating across the only bridge over the Han River. Nothing but rubble, and rats nibbling at corpses in the gutters, the only live people being his squad and the Chinese snipers shooting at them. What Colonel Hackworth and veterans like my father saw in the 1950ies and what they see when they visit Seoul now leaves them rubbing their eyes in astonishment.

I had the incredible good fortune to be put in the way of doing a lot of voice-over narration jobs while I was at Yongsan, as well as a regular part-time job copy-editing the English language simulcast of the regular Korea Broadcasting System evening TV newscast. Most evenings or Saturdays after I finished my day job, I was taking the subway or a bus to a production studio somewhere (a taxi if I was feeling extravagant), and reading an English-language script on practically anything that someone felt would go over really well if they did a version in English.Amonger other things, I did a script about the manufacture of soju (which put me off ever drinking the stuff), an assortment of company puff-pieces, some fiendishly complicated English lesson tapes, a kid’s storybook, unless they have re-done the whole thing since, I am the English-language version of the recorded information for Kimpo Airport. I was a skilled and experienced production technician, working with other skilled audio technicians, away from the post. I developed friendships with the people I worked with in the KBS newsroom, who laughed at me because I had never gone to any of the tourist things in Seoul. I had, I explained, gone close to them, or had seen them from the outside on my way to a job; just like a native does.

Modern Seoul is a sprawling city of high-rise buildings, eight-lane highways, a splendid subway system, a golden glass tower 63 stories tall close by one of the fifteen or twenty bridges spanning the Han, and the Namsan tower glittering like a Christmas tree topper on a green hilly island in the middle of the city. In the evening, coming back from KBS on the bus, I could smell the bakery smell of vanilla cake from a commercial bakery close by. Sometimes at KBS we talked about the North, wondering if the discipline of an invading army of North Koreans would last past the first big grocery store, or electronics shop. When the old Supreme Leader died, I sat in the newsroom and watched half an hour of newscast cobbled out of the same fifteen minutes of stock video of the North, plus new footage of the bereft Northerners mourning ostentatiously. It seemed to me the KBS technicians were horrified and embarrassed by the elaborate demonstration of grief; I and they could only wonder what sort of coercion could force such undignified displays from people.

I liked working in Seoul, I liked what Koreans have built in fifty years, these tough jolly people on the south side of the DMZ. Cosmopolitan and professional, possibly as a nation the sharpest-dressed people on the face of the earth, every salaryman or woman turned out fit to be on the cover of GQ; as different from their cousins and second cousins north of the DMZ and still be on the same planet.

OSer Don Rich poined out in a post yesterday that the North Koreans regularly perform what he called the Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken – every six months to two years, there is some kind of saber-rattling game, a bit of public theater intended to remind everyone that they are there and bellicose. The old-time Korea hands that I knew over there, as well as my Korean friends were relatively blase about it all, for several reasons. One of them was that – well, mostly it was a bit of theater; it would die down in a week or so. Another being that for all the sprockets and medals hung on Nork generals – they really haven’t fought a serious war, balls-to-the-wall-and-all-guns-blazing war since 1953. There’s been a lot of evolution since then. But – lest the South Koreans get too over-confident about calling the North Korean bluff; the city of Seoul is well within range of Nork artillery, and quite a lot of it, too. Which is a very good reason to keep a cool head. And the other great argument for the status quo being maintained – is that if the DMZ magically evaporated and the Koreas were united once again, the South would be carrying the burden of the North … pitiful, starving, traumatised and hermetically isolated for sixty years, a country-sized concentration camp with all the brutality and horror that implies. The North has been in such bad shape for so long that teenage refugees from there are actually physically stunted, in comparison to their Southern cousins. So – while everyone gives lip service to reunification, in actuality, not so much.

But this week the Norks opened fire, shelling civilian areas on Yeonpyeong Island – an action which will be a little harder to brush off on the part of the South, Japan, and the United States. That ratchets up the Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken to a whole new level. So – who acts first? At this point, any guess is as good as any other.

28. June 2009 · Comments Off on A Thought · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Media Matters Not, N. Korea, sarcasm

Supposedly, North Korea is going to shoot a missile towards the Hawaiian Islands on the 4th of July – but with all the mainstream media still going on about Michael Jackson, will anyone ever hear about it?

26. May 2008 · Comments Off on Another Country and Another War · Categories: General, GWOT, History, Iraq, N. Korea, War

Once there was a country, a foreign country which hardly anyone in the US save for a handful of scholars and specialists had ever heard of, and certainly cared little about. It wasn’t a country that had contributed many immigrants to the United States – not like England, or Ireland, Germany or Italy. It couldn’t be described as a Christian country, although there was a substantial Christian element. It was just one of those faraway foreign places that Americans really didn’t give a rip about until a shooting war started there, and American boys died in quantities in locations with strange-sounding names.

So, there was a war, and American troops were in the middle of it, along with some stout allies, a war that looked uncomfortably like a civil war, with saboteurs and insurrectionists and foreign sympathizers to the side the Americans were fighting against, sneaking over the borders – there were even other nations giving substantial aid and comfort to the side that the Americans were fighting!

This country was a wrecked and traumatized place – once it had boasted a proud and independent culture, but it had been occupied and broken to the will of the conqueror, a brutal dictator that had imposed alien concepts and practices upon it, and used their young men to fight in regional wars. But the conqueror did not think much of the fighting qualities of those soldiers – and neither did the Americans, at first. Here they were, spending their lives, their blood and treasure in defense of a people who seemed hapless in their own defense. Bit by slow and painstaking bit, progress was made: soldiers were created out of seeming unpromising materiel. Sometimes it seemed that every one of these solders had to have an American soldier at his elbow, giving patient instruction… and yet, and yet, when the war ended – the country thus painfully established was still there.

And of course, being a bloody and seemingly unpopular war, with a full schedule of blunders, incompetence and atrocities – both actual and alleged – there was the usual sort of newspaper headlines. Never mind about the successes, the space and time that was bought in American blood for the inhabitants of that country to recover, to find their own feet, tend their gardens and begin to build again. Never mind all that – good news doesn’t sell. Some of this country’s home-grown politicians turned out to be of an unsavory sort, more authoritarian than truly democratic, so there was another black eye for Americans, in propping up what appeared to be hardly an improvement on what this country had before. There is always a market for bad news, the ‘gotcha’ headline and so-called important people being cut down to size.

Seeming to be such a pointless and futile effort, wasteful of American lives and treasure made that war into an entertainment staple, after all the newsy goodness had been absorbed. American soldiers were portrayed as luckless dupes or malignant martinets, the American military was incompetent, wasteful, foolish, there was no point to the war, all these sacrifices of lives, of limbs, health and happiness was for nothing. There was no point, it was all useless, and destructive… the inhabitants of that country didn’t want or need our military to be there anyway, so what was the point of fighting? Everything would be better off as soon as we departed and left them to themselves.

Except that we didn’t. The war did end – with an armistice. American troops still serve tours there in that country, on the off-chance that the fighting might resume – although after fifty years, it just doesn’t seem very likely. South Korea is prosperous, modern, bustling with industry – as different as can be from the picture it presented fifty years ago, as different as it can be from the communist-ruled North. What would the whole Korean peninsula look like, if we had chosen to leave Koreans to their own devices, fifty years ago? Starving, poor and xenophobic, at the very least, living in darkness and want, a country-sized concentration camp.

What will Iraq look like after the passing of another fifty Memorial Days? Will it be anything like Korea; a regional powerhouse of industry, cultured, prosperous and politically stable? Will Saddam’s reign of terror be something relegated to the history books, will their present war be something barely recalled by the elders, a matter of monuments to be decorated with flowers and ceremony on certain days, while two or three generations have grown up knowing nothing but peace, security and plenty? Will there have been two or three generations of American military who have served tours at a few long-established bases and garrisons, stuck in out of the way corners of the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Will there be American soldiers and airmen who have come away with pleasant memories and a taste for local food and some pictures of ancient ruins and modern buildings looming over them, who made friends there? Fifty years is a blink in time – but it was long enough for South Korea to pull together in the space that Americans and their allies made for them. It may yet be time enough for Iraq, too, but its not as if we’ll be able to tell until long afterwards.

For Dad, who served in Korea and came back, for Wil who served in the 8th Air Force and came back, and Blondie who served in Kuwait and Iraq and came back – but for all those who served and didn’t come back, and who made the sacrifice without even being sure of what it was about or what it was all for, even – thank you, on this Memorial Day.

07. July 2006 · Comments Off on KoreaTown · Categories: Fun and Games, General, N. Korea, Pajama Game, War

About the first thing I ever noticed about Korea— during the bus ride from Osan AB to the Yongsan Garrison bus terminal in Seoul— was that it didn’t look a thing in like M*A*S*H… even allowing for the whole show being unconvincingly filmed in the wilds of California, on a set built out in a valley between very obviously chaparral-covered hills … and hills that were dark sage-green, and gently rounded— not the steep and bright green hills, painstakingly terraced that I could see from the bus. And also nothing like the distant mountains visible all the way round Seoul on clear morning, chipped and jagged, like something cut from jade-green glass, just like the mountains in ancient oriental prints. Seoul, cut through by the wide silvered loops of the Han river did rather resemble Los Angeles, in that it went on seemingly forever, flowing around hills and tracts of parkland, a jumble of high, low and medium-rise buildings and which offered pretty much everything a reasonably cosmopolitan person could want. Myself, I loved the retail and wholesale fabric market, near to Tongdemun Stadium… not much harked back to what Korea had been half a century before, unless it was the porters who carried enormous burdens on their backs up and down the tall staircase of the fabric market building. No, South Korea had moved on, since the days of M*A*S*H.

So, NPR did an interview this week with the two apparatchiks who came out strongly in favor of blowing up the Nork’s Two-dong (or whatever name it has that is a natural fodder for more sophomoric jokes than mine) long-range missile on the launch-pad as some sort of crushing pre-emptive strike to send a serious message to the Norks about what happens when you threaten America. They were quite airily confident not only of our ability to do this, neatly and effectively (which is actually a rather comforting thought) but seemingly quite careless of the risks to South Korea if we had done so— which is not. And since the gentlemen in question are of the party that currently seems to be getting off 24-7 by condemning George Bush being pre-emptive, unilateral, careless of world opinion, and barging straight on to the main point of actually blowing up stuff, rather than sitting around and talking about it until everyone has gone mad with boredom, and issuing a strongly worded memorandum… well, it had the charm of the unusual. I wondered if somewhere, there is a Rovish political consultant, thinking agent provocateurish thoughts. (And if either of the gentlemen concerned were acquainted with the old saying about sending a message and using Western Union— probably not, since it has to be explained carefully to anyone over the age of 50-ish— none of this awareness showed in the interview.)

Well, never mind— they just struck me as being quite chipper about “doing something!” and quite horribly casual about possible Nork reprisals. No veteran who has ever served a tour in South Korea can be entirely insouciant about that— not with knowing how close Seoul is to the range of Nork artillery fire, how close to the DMZ, and how bat-shit insane the self-isolated regime to the immediate north has demonstrated itself to be, in all sorts of large and small ways. Well-meaning and intelligent people usually do not advise intentionally pissing off a deranged street-person holding a hand-grenade with the pin missing. I have probably just horribly maligned all deranged street-persons with access to personal explosives here… but what can you honestly say about a mini-nation who kidnapped Japanese citizens in order to force them to train spies, and South Korean movie actors to force them to make movies, confiscates the Chinese trains which are shipping them relief supplies, fields a diplomatic corps which deals in drugs and counterfeit money in order to make their budget, honors the family of the founding leader in a manner usually confused in the outside world by worship of a deity— and that would be the outside world of circa 1st century Rome.. except assume that someone with a Pythonesque turn of mind has made this all up.

Alas, North Korea is all too real; a small nation with delusions of adequacy about being a military power despite not having fought a serious, balls-out, all hands on deck war since the 1950ies… and them with the aid of the Chinese, who must seriously be having doubts about now. Yes, North Korea is their dog in this dispute; a small, hyper-active, bug-eyed, noisy and incontinent dog, of the kind that make people itch to kick into the next dimension, and I so wonder if the Chinese are getting pretty testy with their bad-tempered, and vicious little pet. When desperate refugee Nork citizens are taken pity upon by the stereotypically hard-off Chinese peasants along the China-Nork border, you really have to wonder about how things are, in the last rigidly Stalinist armpit of the world. Especially when young refugees from the North are clearly recognizable in the South, because (thanks to the juche and economic independence, all-around socialist superior spirit and the resulting endemic malnourishment) they are very obviously shorter, thinner, and weedier looking. And I do not forget for a moment, that these are still the same human stock— the same jolly, tough and resourceful people who on the south of the DMZ, worked themselves out of a Third World, war-torn, desperately poor UN-dependent basket-case that they were in the mid 1950ies. South Koreans built a shining and modern city out of the wreck that it was when my father passed through there at the end of the Korean War.

What their kin have built out of the North may be a country-sized concentration camp, and every dreadful story that has managed to leak out, against brutal control, will likely prove to both the gospel truth, and the least portion of the horrors. So, there you go. North Korean may have the Bomb, and more distressing still, be able and willing to sell it to anyone with the wherewithal. And the assumption has always been that Seoul is in range of whatever violently explosive munitions they have. So, what really can you do, knowing what is at risk? Do you openly provoke the violently insane, and one with a proven track record of being totally immune to shame, or wait until they melt down entirely? I read a comment last week (Can’t remember who— Angie at “Dark Blogules” maybe… who said that her enjoyment of old episodes of M*A*S*H had been forever ruined by the various characters’ blathering about how useless, pointless and aimless the “war” was… when it had been in retrospect a successful effort protect the South Korea— now a vibrant, successful and interesting place, from becoming the dysfunctional horror of North Korea.

Interesting times, people, interesting times. Discuss.

05. July 2006 · Comments Off on Where was the Kaboom? There Was Supposed to Be an Earth-Shattering Kaboom · Categories: N. Korea

…or at least some concessions, because you know, I ALWAYS get concessions when I act up.

That’s all I could think of when I heard the news about North Korea today.

Kim Jong Il *IS* Marvin the Martian in Mars Needs WomenNorth Korea Needs Rice.


It is to laugh.