Social Update: The Stakes of America's War of Words with North Korea
Another day, another North Korean missile being launched. Nowadays, it happens so often that many have become desensitized to the news that the rogue state has launched yet another ballistic missile, the last two over Japan's mainland. Before coming to conclusions regarding North Korea, it's always important to look at some of the background and history regarding North Korea, its leaders, and American relations.
The entire Korean peninsula (North and South), was occupied by the Japanese prior and during portions of World War II. During Japanese occupation, Korean traditions and culture was severely repressed. Because of this and much damage to the country's economy, guerilla armies began to spring up during these years. One guerilla army in particular, the Liberation Army, was lead by Kim Il-Sung, a Korean communist, great grandfather of Kim Jong-Un, and first leader of the inevitable Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).
By 1945, once World War II had come to a close, Japanese occupation was over and the peninsula was governed by the United States and the Soviet Union. The country was split into two, with the United States controlling the south and the Soviet Union taking the north. Eventually, Kim Il-Sung became ruler of North Korea, and the Soviets withdrew in 1948. The United States followed suit in 1949. Only one year later, North Korea invaded South Korea and all the major players came back to the table, this time including China.
By the end of the Korean War in 1953, North Korea began instituting a policy known was Juche, which was just a nationalist agenda focused on Korean interests first. The last Chinese soldiers withdrew by 1958 and North Korea was relatively independent, but still receiving aid from the Soviet Union and China. However, ultimately, North Korea's economy began to stagnate because of Kim's Juche policy, and it was dealt two huge blows in 1976 (China's communist leader Mao Zedong died) and 1991 (the Soviet Union collapsed). With suddenly no economic aid, the country began to seriously weaken. In 1994, Kim died, leaving his son Kim Jong-Il, who most of us are aware of, in charge. The new Kim immediately instituted a military first policy, which further weakened North Korea's ability to sustain its economy and feed its people.
The new Kim knew what he was doing, though. By building up its army and nuclear arsenal, North Korea made itself untouchable by foreign powers. Additionally, Kim kept up the same cult of personality that his father benefited from. During his rule, Kim Jong-Il kept up the appearance that he was some kind of diety, and state sponsored media reported on this and ingrained it into the daily life of its people. Jong-Il's birthday was a national holiday and the day of his death is still celebrated in North Korea today. His son enjoyed a similar kind of life, with himself being the center of attention when it came to the everyday dealings of regular citizens. State media reported in 2010 that Jong-Il's distinct clothing and hairstyles, which sometimes bordered on bizarre, had set worldwide trends and its citizens either believed it or chose to act like they did out of fear or respect for his father.
By the time of Jong-Il's death in 2011, his government was viewed by the world as one of the most repressive regimes in history. By the time of his death, North Korea was estimated to have over 200,000 political prisoners. Additionally, North Korea did not allow any freedom of press, religion, or speech. However, Jong-Il spent his rule trying to drive home a point to its people. That point was that the United States in particular was constantly trying to undermine North Korean independence and that Kim's insistence on building up its nuclear arsenal was just his way of protecting his people. Kim would use UN sanctions and the words of American presidents to justify his actions, and it worked for the most part.
This leads us to current American and North Korean relations under Jong-Il's son, Kim Jong-Un. While it is reported that Jong-Un values the welfare of his own people more so than his father ever did, the new Kim regime continues to jail and execute political prisoners. One prominent execution was of his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, who was executed along with his extended family for having acted against the government. The thoughts from outside North Korea were that his "crimes" had actually been to prioritize economic policy over military and nuclear arsenal spending.
Regardless of the differences between the new Kim and his father, they continue to antagonize and chide the West, including the United States. The only difference now is how American leaders are reacting to the provocations. Any threats made to North Korea only continue to give Kim ammunition to defend his actions when it comes to focusing an already cash strapped country on military spending. The state run media doesn't need to create propaganda about how the United States is trying to undermine them when we have an American president that will go on national television and just flat out tell the world that that is exactly what they are trying to do.
Previous policy regarding North Korea has always been to use UN sanctions against them and to not directly engage with the propaganda by North Korea. Our new administration seems to want to go against this, but to what end? War with North Korea will devestate the world no matter how you look at it. Nuclear weapons will be launched, people will die, the South Korean economy would crumble, etc. It is in nobody's best interest to provoke North Korea.