Is war with North Korea inevitable?

I've been visiting KCNA for clues as to why the North Korean military sank the Southern Korean ship ROKS Cheonan

Long-time readers of this here “newspaper column” know its author/typist is moderately obsessed with North Korea’s English-language propaganda site, Korean Central News Agency.

KCNA provides a fascinating and freaky glimpse into the brains running the world’s most totally totalitarianisticalicous totalitarian regime.

For the uninitiated, KCNA’s stories come in only four flavors:

  1. Caustic criticism of the regime’s enemies; actual May 26 headline: “Japan’s Moral Vulgarity Slammed”
  2.  Fulsome praise of Kim Jong-Il and his family; a May 20 story about Kim’s visit to China described him as “a great man who left sacred footprints on the vast Chinese land”
  3.  The excruciating, mundane details of the dictator’s daily schedule; actual May 17 headline: “Kim Jong-Il inspects potato farm
  4.  Inexplicably odd cultural stories that can’t possibly have relevance to actual North Koreans, much less to the foreigners at whom KCNA’s English is aimed; e.g. a May 26 story headlined “Okryu Restaurant Becomes More Popular for Terrapin Dishes”

Adding to the wonderment is the fact that KCNA’s story’s are written in stiff, stilted prose, suggesting its authors learned English without ever having an actual conversation with a native speaker. E.g. “Such act is nothing but a deliberate and premeditated provocation aimed to push the daily aggravating inter-Korean relations to the brink of war.”

I’ve been visiting KCNA in recent days to see if it might reveal any clues what the heck North Korean military leaders were thinking when, on March 26, they torpedoed the Southern Korean ship ROKS Cheonan sailing near the South’s maritime border with the North. I’m also curious to see if the site reveals anything about North Korea’s desire for, or fear of, a war against South Korea and the U.S.

Despite losing 46 sailors in what no one disputes was a completely unprovoked, surprise attack, South Korean — and, by extension, U.S. — leaders have resisted the temptation to make a crappy situation even crappier with pointless tough talk. Nevertheless, when an international report confirmed beyond any doubt that North Korea was responsible for the attacks, South Korea was obliged to respond.

On May 24, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced his country was closing South Korean sea lanes to North Korean ships. The move cuts off one of the only economic feeding tubes nourishing North Korea’s persistent vegetative state of an economy. The South also announced it would resume propaganda broadcasts to the North.

Kim Jong-Il and his regime are terrified of these broadcasts. They remind his subjects that, just over the militarized border in the South lies one of the world’s wealthiest and most dynamic countries. Sixty years ago, South Korea was Africa-poor. Today, its people have jobs ’n’ freedom ’n’ stuff while North Koreans are starving prisoners of a Stalinist regime where dissidents are tortured and murdered, children starve to death, and women cram leaves into their pants to catch their menstrual flow.

Simultaneously, South Korea is moving to get the U.N. to impose new, more punishing sanctions against the North. Chances are China would block any new sanctions. Even so, the move pressures China to reign in North Korea as much as it can. China wants to be a grown-up country. Giving diplomatic cover to Kim Jong-Il’s insane regime isn’t consistent with grown-up behavior.

I hope I’m not wrong, but I’m confident South Korea and the U.S. will be able to avoid war with North Korea. Despite North Korea’s threats that South Korea “will perish in the flames kindled by themselves,” it’s clear from KCNA that North Korea doesn’t want war either. Luckily, South Korea’s president, like our own, doesn’t seem very interested in angrily talking his way into a war. Again, I could be wrong, but it looks like the grown-ups aren’t taking North Korea’s crazy-bait.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Some bad news and some good news. This is the last Don’t Panic!: Your War Questions Answered that will appear in the print edition of Creative Loafing. It will still be available online, and, in coming weeks, will scale up to a big ol’ Don’t Panic blog featuring daily posts and podcasts. I’ll leave it to you decide which is the good news and which is the bad news.

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