et’s identify and name the hidden question in the historic crisis facing the human species, the possible sudden nuclear war between the United States and North Korea. Will Kim Jong-un’s oncoming nuclear weapons that will be able to reach the entire United States, just as the other seven nuclear-weapons states’ bombs can, deter President Trump from attacking his nation? Will Trump and his generals strike North Korea first in a “preventive war?” Might North Korea or South Korea suddenly bomb the other?
These headlines are just nationalistic variations on the concealed, euphemized meaning of “nuclear deterrence,” which is the mass murder question: Whether we, the American people and the United States, will “totally destroy North Korea” if forced to defend ourselves and our allies, as Trump warned the United Nations, which in turn depends on what he means by “forced to defend.” Whether a U.S. first strike will as expected activate North Korea’s instant retaliation with its artillery that can blast the ten million people of Seoul, its armed forces of a million men, and possibly its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Careful analysts estimate 30,000 dead almost at once. There are about 28,500 American GIs in South Korea and 54,000 in Japan. Trump himself has forecast that such a war could cause ten million dead.
The Cold War “deterrence theory” credited with preventing World War III, which still rules, has always concealed from vivid public knowledge what will happen if it fails, as Trump has said that it very well may these days. Under still prevailing “launch on warning” practices, if, say, “we” see a swarm of nuclear weapons zipping toward us, we vow to immediately launch our nuclear weapons against the attacking nation just before hit. Deterrence failing means mutual suicidal mass murder and whatever consequences come after that. President Johnson told the country that if a mutual exchange happened between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S., 40 million Americans would die in the first half hour. Likewise, more or less, would Russians. This now is the worst such crisis since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, with its deciding heads of state not John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, but Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. And for all the talks between Trump and de-facto dictator Xi Jinping of China, the fact also remains that still-Communist China threw its army into the first Korean War against the United States.
Despite Dictator Kim’s hit-back blustering against Trump and the U.S., Kim had made it specific several times that his goal is a nuclear arsenal that can hit the U.S. mainland in order to deter the U.S. from attacking North Korea. Only a moron would not assume that if Kim attacked us first, his regime and much of his country would be gone, and Kim is not a moron. Trump’s goal, which has often been restated by his generals, is to prevent North Korea from having a nuclear arsenal at all. That appears to be his precondition for negotiating with Kim, which almost no well-informed experts expect Kim even to consider. Trump’s tweets and rhetoric in sum certainly imply that if Kim continues on his course, Trump intends an attack on North Korea with the military forces of the United States: War. As for Trump’s exclusive and solitary personal power to order the use of “our” nuclear weapons, Congress has done nothing at all that requires a collective decision or an act of Congress beforehand for such use, and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have done anything that might stop him by impeaching him.
Trump’s two bloodthirstiest and most terrifying threats, he being the president of the United States and the commander in chief of the most powerful and the most destructive military forces in the history of humanity, occurred this summer and at the beginning of the fall. Then, as seen August 8th on NBC News, his arms folded across his chest, his mouth turned down, seated during a meeting among many others at a long conference table and referring to no notes at any time, Trump said, “Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly with power the likes of which this world has never seen.” He put a slight emphasis on the word “this.”
Bluffing? This is not a poker game. In Trump’s mind then and there the fire and fury he described is obviously much worse than Hamburg, Dresden, Doolittle over Tokyo, or Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Then, on September 19th, standing before and speaking to the United Nations and the entire world, Trump said, “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
Surely he had premeditated and understood what, saying that, he said. Some hoped he was just bullying and bluffing Kim, but he was speaking for the United States not just to the official representatives of 193 nations, but to all of us around the world. It is reasonable that he was probably telling us within what he meant by his words what he will seek to do and/or do on his own with the American people’s vast arsenal to “totally destroy North Korea.” As of now, his words “we will have no choice” but to destroy North Korea suggest that we have no choices now, which is false. We have many choices and some huge alternatives: negotiations with Kim without preconditions; sending Jimmy Carter to go talk with Kim for us; Trump going to talk to Kim himself (as he said earlier he was willing to do); having President Moon of South Korea go; or, as we have with other problematical nuclear-weapons nations, accepting North Korea as one of the nine mutually-deterred nuclear-weapons states. Trump could even call upon Congress to join the 122 nations of the UN who passed a proposed treaty to ban nuclear weapons from the world and who are now participating in seeking its ratification.
It is possible that Trump used those four deadly words “totally destroy North Korea” just for emphasis, but the human race cannot risk ten million of us dead or a world nuclear war on that possibility. The American president announced his threat and the whole world heard it.
Merriam Webster’s tenth edition gives these definitions of “total”: “comprising or contributing a whole: ENTIRE”; “absolute. utter”; “involving a complete and unified effort, esp. to achieve a desired effort,” as one example, total war. My 1999 Encarta World English Dictionary says “totally” means “1. Completely, in a complete or utter way. 2. used for our basis how good bad or complete something is.” My Oxford Reference Dictionary says “total” means “including everything comprising the whole” and the example “total war” is defined as “war in which all available weapons and resources are employed.”
The population of North Korea is about 25,000,000. Donald Trump may be prepared to make the American people complicit with him in mass murder, inviting every one of us to consider, as a citizen, now, our own benevolent ethics or mass-murdering nature.
Ronnie Dugger is author of biographies of Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and the crack U.S. pilot over Hiroshima who called in Paul Tibbetts to atomic-bomb that city. Dugger won the 2011 George Polk career journalism award. Founding editor of the Texas Observer, he has written also a book about universities and numerous articles in The New Yorker, The Nation, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other periodicals. He has been writing about Trump and nuclear weapons on Reader Supported News since July 2016.