“In time you’ll drop dead and I’ll come to your funeral in a red dress!” – Loretta Castorini (Cher), Moonstruck
Things are getting a bit tense over on the Korean peninsula. Child-leader Kim Jong Un is spitting into the wind and stamping his feet to get the attention of the world. In some way it is working – he has our attention – but what comes next is unclear.
The political analyses on this are broad and mostly rote (and likely right): “This is just bluster” … “Kim wants to extract some concessions from the international community – like food and clothing for his people” … “We’ve seen it all before” … “If there were anything to this we’d be seeing troop movements, but we aren’t.” These are all probably right. It’s expected of North Korean leaders that when things get bad they flex their muscles, rattle a saber, rattle a few cages, and get some international aide to ease the pain. I don’t know if international aide will be forthcoming this time, but the first three steps (muscles, sabers, & cages) have all be put into motion.
There is another possible storyline playing out here, which I’ve seen mentioned in a few places. Kim may be playing as much for internal control as external concessions. That is, he may need a national hurrah moment to consolidate power/loyalty or the country could slip away from him. If true, then perhaps we are nearing the end of the North Korean oppression – which would be a fantastic development.
North Korea is held together by a very thin thread. The people have nothing. They are starving to death. The only thing that keeps it going is a near-total blackout of outside information (if they only knew what people in the south have) and a belief that their leaders are somehow divine, holy, and superhuman.
Internal to the country the storyline is that North Korea is heaven on earth. They tell the masses that the rest of the world is squalid by comparison (honestly). Further, they have convinced the nation that (a) there is a constant conflict with the imperialist forces of America and (b) they will someday loose the restraints on their indomitable military and strike a blow against those fool-hearty yanks.
Now, I have no way of getting inside the mind of the average North Korean, but my suspicion is that somewhere inside they actually buy the rhetoric. They hear the sirens and war drums and think “the Americans are threatening us again – never fear, Commander Kim and our powerful forces will strike back against this great evil.” That the average citizen would think such a thing is of little concern when it comes to realpolitik. But what does Kim believe? And what of the rest of the leaders?
This is where things get interesting, I think. The country has no option other than Kim. The god-man dictates of Juche make him the only thing that can tie it together. And Kim, though a spoiled favorite son and a pedantic entitled brat, has actually been outside North Korea. He was educated in Switzerland. He surely understands that the world is not the lie he tells his people. He surely knows that he has no play here. One toe across the line and the whole battle is over in a matter of hours – and his regime with it.
Kim knows this, his people do not, but what about the intermediaries? What is the mindset of the military leadership? I don’t know. If Kim is fighting for internal power, who exactly is he fighting against? Just as surely as Kim knows he cannot win a fight, the other players inside North Korea must know they cannot govern without Kim. Don’t they?
I personally think the whole thing dies down sooner rather than later. The Chinese are pissed. While it’s nice to have North Korea around because it makes them look better by comparison, at some point the relationship just gets embarrassing for the Chinese. One has to suspect Kim won’t push it much farther.
That said, the only news stories I’ve read on this that have even piqued my interest regarding the possibility that it goes farther have been those that mentioned a continued Chinese buildup on the border with North Korea. It’s probably just show for the cameras, but if the Chinese are actually putting assets in place, then maybe they think something is up.
Time will tell, and we will continue to hope and pray that the close of this brutal oppression is near. Yes, we would all prefer that the end come peacefully. But bear in mind that “peace” is not available to the millions starving behind the line in North Korea. Millions of people, created in the image of God, are held under thumb by a kid-tyrant. Do I want war to break out? No. But war has already broken out on these people, decades ago, and if firing a few live rounds brings that war to its close then I suspect it would be better than the status quo of letting the battle rage unchecked (… as long as it’s behind the 38th parallel).
[Also, my thoughts on how the North Korean oppression expresses the meaning of the gospel: “Mr. Kim, Could I Buy a Korean Please?“]