How to answer the ‘unprecedented’, increasingly overheated North Korean rhetoric?

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DonKirk3By Donald Kirk,

Ho hum, here we go again. That seems to be the response to the latest rhetorical blasts from Pyongyang as U.S. and South Korean forces dive into their annual war games.

A “preemptive nuclear strike”? Destruction of “bases of aggression”? Incineration of Seoul in “a sea of fire and ashes.” When and where have we heard all that stuff before? Oh yes, wasn’t it last year during these same annual military exercises? And the year before? And maybe quite a few other times?

It’s tempting to shrug off the hot air blowing down from the North, but every year it seems to get a little worse.
How long can this sort of thing go on? Will people be hearing those lines 10 or 20 years from now? Or will the cork finally pop off the bottle, unleashing a shower of who-knows-what? Some are getting worried.

How about responding in kind to the unprintable, white-hot invective coming out of Pyongyang?
How about responding in kind to the unprintable, white-hot invective coming out of Pyongyang?

“The North’s threats are now backed up by a growing nuclear and missile capability,” Evans Revere, a former senior diplomat, said in an e-mail to me. “They have to be taken seriously even if the North Koreans are merely engaging in a new form of chest-thumping.”

Tony Namkung, who’s visited Pyongyang a number of times, always pressing for talks, was not optimistic either.

“The current situation is unprecedented, with one side embarked on the most massive military exercises ever and the other threatening to carry out preemptive nuclear strikes,” he told me. “Never has the need for quiet diplomacy been greater. The next two months will be especially dangerous.”

Okay, we’ve heard all that too. Somehow, though, it’s all the same-old, same-old. As one Korean put it, “People are concerned, but not that concerned.”

Fine, then maybe I shouldn’t be concerned either, but a couple of questions do come to mind.
For one thing, if the North Koreans really want a “peace treaty” to “end” the Korean War, why do they engage in such shrill rhetoric? If you’re anxious to talk to someone, do you begin by saying, “I’ve got a gun in my hand and I’m about to (expletive deleted) blow you away, you (expletive, expletive deleted)”?

And do the North Koreans have to engage in the crudest type of language whenever they mention President Park? Most if not all the words they use to describe her can’t be repeated, but I am constantly amazed by the creativity of the writers up there as they dream up ever more invidious verbiage. Do they and their bosses seriously think insult heaped upon insult is going to solve anything?

The Chinese say they’re down on the North’s nukes, and they signed on to the U.N. resolution that, if carried out by China and fellow signatory Russia, should really create problems up there. The Chinese also call for talks on a “peace treaty” and don’t think much of the current war games, much less of anything to do with Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the dreaded super counter-missile advertised as sure to blow away any North Korean rocket.

So far, though, no one in Beijing seems to be thinking about advising the North Koreans about their propaganda. Here’s an idea: Why doesn’t Wu Dawei, the Chinese negotiator for North Korea, next time he goes to Pyongyang begging the North Koreans, “Please give us a break, the Americans are counting on us getting you guys to knock it off,” instead say, “Listen, why don’t you at least knock off the rhetoric?”

On the other hand, here’s another idea. What if the U.S. and South Korean propaganda machines, not the dignified diplomatic types but “public affairs” experts in dispensing “information,” start putting out some insults too.

While North Korea is heaping the crudest insults on President Park, would it be so terrible to broadcast foul descriptions of Fatso, the ruler up there? How about a few other words to describe him? Would a few obscenities be okay too ― accompanied by choice cartoon caricatures?

No no, the diplomats would be saying, that would be very undignified. You can’t stoop to their level. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to see how the North Koreans responded?

On the other hand, maybe we should be grateful to Pyongyang for serving up all those quotes, repetitious though they may appear. They do provide easy quotes ― fodder for analysts to ponder and journalists to write about.

There is that nagging fear, though, that the war of words might someday turn into the real thing ― far more than the odd bloody incident.

Or will common sense eventually prevail?

“One can only hope,” said Evans Revere, that an adviser to Kim Jong-Un will “have the courage” to warn him of the possible consequences. “By pursuing nuclear and missile adventurism and by being the only world leader to threaten the use of nuclear weapons, he is undermining the very security he claims to be defending.”

Donald Kirk has been covering the ups and downs of the North-South Korean confrontation for years. He’s at