Being the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against innocent civilian populations, in Japan, the US is in a fundamentally weak position for dictating which countries can and cannot have such weapons. Admittedly, the recently provocative behavior of North Korea is baffling to those who do not understand the nature of the status quo there, which someone in Washington must do, since President Trump’s threat to destroy the entire country, as well as his taunt to Kim Il Jung calling him “Rocket Man”, played straight into its hands. The retort from Pyong Yang’s foreign minister showed this: Trump is mentally deranged and “full of megalomania”, and his insulting remarks may provoke North Korea to strike the US west coast with an atomic warhead. Although he wasn’t saying anything that half of Washington isn’t saying daily, the minister’s reaction has to be viewed through North Korean eyes. The leaders of that nation are viewed by an oppressed and brainwashed public literally as deities; a sacred volcano is associated with Kim’s grandfather, also Kim, and his glorious revolution, the birth of a nation. To insult this family is viewed in the same light as orthodox Muslim’s tend to see insults aimed at the Prophet Mohammed. There are no obvious insults or swear words in the Korean language, but there are ways to mortify people without resorting to such blatant terms, one of which is to impugn someone’s sanity. That North Korea’s minister did precisely this to Trump shows us the degree of offense contained to them in Trump’s own derogatory comments, which to us are just empty bombast. That Kim Il Jung’s government can persist with its threats shows us something interesting: either they know for certain that the US is impotent vis a vis a direct attack on the country, or else they are disastrously misjudging the situation in a manner that will be suicidal. So they have some nuclear warheads and a few long-range missiles – so what? Can anyone there seriously believe they stand even a slight chance against the most powerful military force in history? The answer must then be the former contention: they know they’re somehow immune to attack.
What then is the case with Iran, which today coincidently tested its own long-range missile capable of carrying multiple warheads as far as Israel? It is surely no secret that Teheran has close ties with Pyong Jang? Moreover these ties have almost certainly provided Iran with its intercontinental ballistic technology – why not the hydrogen bomb too? There is hardly any coincidence in these countries’ twin provocation. Do they both know something that has eluded the rest of us? One thing they definitely know is that the US has never sought direct negotiations with either of them. Why? Since the early 19th century and Metternich’s congresses, diplomacy has been generally regarded by western powers as infinitely preferable to war – except when it isn’t of course. It was possible to negotiate with the Kaiser, but no one really did. It was not possible to negotiate with Hitler (although Chamberlain didn’t get this), so war was the only solution there. But such situations are in fact rare. Diplomacy tends to avert conflict when it is applied. But war is the most profitable of all enterprises, and, as Marx explained, capitalism functions at its optimum in an economy based around wars, as the US economy has been since 1945. Decades ago, Noam Chomsky predicted that the US would have to engage in many small and easily winnable wars for the economy to thrive; and it has done and is doing exactly this, sometimes covertly, as with the CIA operations in Central and South America mainly, and sometimes it is overt – Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. The wars may technically have mostly been lost, but this misses the point. If their impact on the military-industrial complex is taken into account, they were all winners. As Tocqueville sagely observed long ago, the main motivating characteristic of America and Americans is greed. It thus follows that a war against the nuclear North Korea would be deemed unwinnable, or not winnable without a prohibitively steep cost in men, property and materiel. The same would be true of a war with Iran, which would devastate oil exports from the Gulf Emirates by blocking the Straits of Hormuz with sunken tankers (known to be the Iranian war plan – disused tankers are moored nearby ready to be sunk). American corporations are heavily invested in the Emirates, and some even have their head offices there, like Dick Cheney’s nefarious war-profiteering Halliburton, based in tax-free Dubai. These financial titans have no desire to see their trillion-dollar investments compromised by a pointless little war. If financial considerations are placed ahead of spurious political concerns, perhaps the picture comes more fully into focus. Is this what North Korea and Iran know? Or is it the other fact, that the US always needs a demon to justify its heavy security build-up (the police state), and the trillion dollars annually sucked up by the Pentagon, with its thousand US bases worldwide? Without North Korea and Iran there would be a demonic shortfall. Isis is a nasty nuisance, but hardly a dire threat. Al-Qaeda seems to have retired. And Russia simply isn’t viable – too equal – which leaves China. But Beijing may well be more than equal. Hence the abiding need for Teheran and Pyong Jang. The Israelis can be relied on to handle any clear and present local danger; and China will always keep its mad dog on a fairly tight leash (they don’t want millions of North Korean refugees fleeing across their borders). So perhaps Pyong Jang and Teheran can cock a snook in safety and sleep easy at night, knowing their utility to US capitalism trumps their delinquent behaviour? There is of course also the question of why rich nations can have atomic weapons and poor ones cannot. There’s no easy answer to this – except the suggestion that perhaps no one should have them.
I grew up at the height of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation was a daily worry, with regular current affairs stories recounting what new and more terrible weapon had been tested by whom and where (whole atolls in the Pacific vanished; there were unnatural earthquakes in the Urals – a nuclear war had already started for some). Americans had their bomb shelters and drills (evidently resurrected in California since Kim Il Jung’s braggardly threats); but we in England didn’t bother, having been told by Moscow that their first H-bomb would wipe us out in five minutes. It was a similar story in Ontario, for which the Soviet plan was to plop its bombs in the lake, creating a massive tsunami that would obliterate all communities on its banks. The emergency scheme for Toronto admitted that the only tactic was a mass-evacuation, which with the brief warning of an attack there would be didn’t have a hope in hell of being organized in time. So the published leaflet, which I’ve seen, suggested that citizens huddle in basements, with their radios tuned to the a.m. band’s emergency broadcasts for advice and updates. The only problem here was that the a.m. band doesn’t function underground. It amounted to the same thing as crouching under your desk, putting your head between your legs – and kissing your ass goodbye. In 1955, as I have previously noted, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and a plethora of eminent scientists, all but one of them a Nobel Laureate, published and paid for a full-page announcement in the Times of London. It said, in essence, that unless all nations on earth did not abandon and outlaw atomic weapons, then the human race had barely a century to go before the planet was a radioactive cinder. That no one listened to those who were generally reckoned to be the most intelligent people on earth speaks volumes about us and our corrupt, useless systems of governance. Since 1945 we have knowingly had the power to destroy this planet in a nuclear holocaust, and, initially at least, we also acquired the means by which to destroy it with greenhouse gases and the other abominations that now typify the Anthropocene Era of human-originated ecological catastrophe. Our reluctance to act and change these travesties because of greed perhaps speaks volumes about who most of us really are. And the serious question thus arises: do we deserve to survive on this once-pristine, flawless planet? I would like to say we do and we will, but all indicators seem to point the other way. It is dismaying, but let the facts be facts and life the thing it can. For this mournful reason I doubt if I shall be writing anymore on politics in this blog. The dizzying vicious circles and the sheer idiotic irresolution and pointlessness of it all are confounding. I shall turn my attention to more fructifying topics, and possibly even take suggestions. Shanah Tova to all, and may the new year bring everything you could hope for.
Paul William Roberts