I woke Monday morning to the sound of BBC radio hyperventilating over North Korea's latest underground test of a nuclear bomb. This concern was extended and amplified as the day progressed: radio, television, Internet and newspaper reports and discussion settled on pretty much the same two points: This is bad. Very bad. And it will not stand unanswered.
Well, Ok, fine. There is no good reason North Korea should test or build or own nuclear weapons. It is a foolishness as preposterous as to allow the public to carry loaded concealed weapons in our national parks. But of course the motivation is the same and explains the nukes as nicely as the Smith and Wessons: We are afraid. Very afraid.
Oh, yes, and just a touch crazy, too, of course. Kim Jong Il and his dad Kim Il-sung before him ("Great Leader" and "Dear Leader" respectively) do not inspire the confidence we have come to expect from our conventionally coifed and suited Western presidents and prime ministers. We prefer the dull and somnolent, the plodding, cautious, reflective and slow-speaking. Donald Rumsfeld looked about right. And his calm assurances that we must and should bull ahead on the course he recommended was very reassuring. Wrong, of course. But comforting.
So let's just agree that there is more than one way to be a crazy player in the great game of geopolitics, shall we? But the Chairman of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (among several other titles) is often described as a "saber-rattler", and to return to an earlier point, no good will come of such a man rattling nuclear missiles instead of old ceremonial swords.
But what country should have nuclear weapons? Oh, yes, of course-we should. Because we do. We invented them. We have more of them than anybody else. We only keep the things around to deter other nations from using theirs. Such as Russia and other states once part of the Soviet Union, who have theirs, they say only to keep us from using ours. Not that we ever would. Use them, I mean. That would be unthinkable.
My mother used to threaten to "tear off your arm and beat you over the head with the bloody stump", a frightening enough prospect to a young boy and a grievous overreaction to my own undoubtedly bad behavior. (I argued of course that she was misrepresenting which part of the appendage she might strike me with, the "stump" being still attached to my body, a distinction that only further infuriated the woman.) But it was all talk, we both knew it, and it therefore had no deterrent value whatsoever. So it is with nuclear weapons. In any event mom never acted on her threat and I believe the practice has now been banned in all states except Texas.
President Obama said "North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community." Yes. Precisely. With all the finesse of an eight-year-old amusing himself at mother's expense, Kim seeks to provoke by his bad behavior. Shortly after the bomb test he lobbed another missile or two a hundred kilometers or so into the Sea of Japan, just to show he had a delivery system of a sort too. (A recent long-range missile test also went with the fishes, which should ease tensions somewhat in Seattle and San Francisco.}
The United Nations Security Council "condemned" the test. It will now work on a "Resolution." Well, I guess you have to do something. Or do you? If all our agitation changes nothing, why raise our own blood pressure so precipitously?
Agreeing that we need to better understand what fears and instabilities and regional imbalances and personal nuttiness have set Great Leader on this course, and that every reasonable effort ought be made to convince him to redirect his energies toward peaceful and productive purposes, I still do not understand the high level of international agitation.
North Korea, of course, was once a part of the boy president George W. Bush's "Axis Of Evil", but let's not think any more about our own ludicrous and unbalanced leaders, shall we?
Let's just look for a moment at the history of nuclear weapons on planet Earth. There are thousands of them loose in our world. The United States has ten or eleven thousand, Russia a similar number. France and China own about four hundred each, Israel and England a couple hundred. Pakistan (now there's a stable, solid, well-run nation for you-no axis of evil there) has raised a dozen or two. So, all together, more than twenty thousand atomic bombs. North Korea is testing some. Iran might well want a few. All for deterrent purposes only, of course.
Of course. Agreed. Wouldn't have it any other way. Only one nation has ever used a nuclear weapon in war. Twice. On civilians. You know-women, children, housepets, museums, churches, ginkgo trees and koi. Taught those Jap bastards quite a lesson, didn't we? And how does that fact go down around the world? All is not always as it seems from the point of view put forth in our own newsreels and textbooks and history classes and churches.
Last month a week to ten days was given over to beating the small news of the dreaded swine flu (quickly re-introduced as H1N1-2009 strain to make the pig-butchers happier). This week North Korea scares us half to death. At least there was plenty of gasoline available over the holiday weekend. Keep driving. See the USA in your Chevrolet (or Toyota or Hyundai.) Later or sooner the unraveling climate will come to the attention of the public and the news analysts perhaps, and we'll see what a real problem looks like.
Come back with me to 1965, and Tom Lehrer's introduction to his song "Who's Next?": "One of the big news items of the past year concerned the fact that China, which we call "Red China," exploded a nuclear bomb, which we called a device. Then Indonesia announced that it was going to have one soon, and proliferation became the word of the day. Here's a song about that." Get out your old vinyl LP.
There's more wisdom and proportion in the old math professor's song than I've heard all week from Congress, the White House, the press or the troubled undercurrent of fear and ignorance that underlies most of what we think and what we have allowed ourselves to become.
Tuesday morning the BBC people revealed that Twitter may be ruined by SPAM. Now there's a bit of unalloyed good news at last-one blight destroying another.
Regular readers will know that Mr. Cooper has no answers, no solutions to the issues that vex you and him. He has no faith, places no hope in any change promised by any major party politician, and he does not exhort anyone to write their legislators. All any of us can do is to live honest, decent lives, raise our children to be better than we are, and to speak and write bluntly and honestly in every forum available. To this end he abuses the space afforded him in The Wiscasset Newspaper. He fights the status quo and the annual blackfly plague in Alna, Maine, where he may be engaged via e-mail.