North Korea is in the news more often nowadays. Since I’ve discussed North Korea before, I thought it would be interesting to approach the subject again, in light of the recent political activity.
Pyongyang continues to threaten the US and its allies with its nuclear testing, having dropped missiles into the Pacific Ocean not far from Guam.
I often feel sorry for Guam. It’s an American territory not treated by the rest of the United States, and also the island often considered the target of North Korean threats, in an attempt to piss off the American government. Without diving too much into the current political landscape in Washington, I’ll just say that right now it seems to be working.
CNN reported on Wednesday that North Korea now threatens Trump specifically, over tweets and comments made about Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. A newspaper commentary declared Trump a “slave to money” who should “be forced to pay for his blasphemy at any moment.”
So the question I am left with is one of uncertainty: how worried should we be about all of this?
North Korean threats to the US aren’t exactly new, but their capacity for nuclear arms has never been as advanced as it is now. In the past many of us have shrugged off statements from Pyongyang as empty threats, but now we’re all a little more apprehensive.
I wrote about North Korea back in 2014 as a part of my “Global News” class project in university. Since I now want to continue this blog, I’ll need to update a few things about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Politically or socially, not much has changed in the secluded country in the past three years, but the government makes it clear that their nuclear technology has significantly improved.
People continue to defect in various ways, described elegantly in books like Nothing to Envy and Without You, There is No Us. The infrastructure and economy of the country continue to crumble. This, to me, is why I cannot support the actions Trump wants to take.
Although I agree with him when he tells Kim that “North Korea is not the paradise that [Kim’s] grandfather envisioned,” I do not think his delivery is strategic or graceful.
If North Korea is at all like other East Asian cultures, then the concept of “face” is very important. Even where I currently live in the Arab world, there is a significant emphasis on honor and shame. This is still hard for me to completely wrap my head around, but I’m slowly understanding it more.
Essentially, “face” or “honor/shame” means certain actions done or words said towards another person can either elevate or degrade their reputation as perceived by others in their social circles. Oftentimes this is accompanied by the role an individual plays in relation to his or her family.
This is why traditionally, Western cultures tend to be more individualistic, and Eastern cultures tend to place more importance on the reputation of the family as a whole.
I would argue that Trump, although objectively speaking truth about the status or North Korea as “a hell that no person deserves,” shamed Kim in his criticism. And since he mentioned his grandfather in the same breath, the loss of face is amplified. According to the Guardian, his insult to the supreme leader is considered blasphemy.
Most would agree that North Korea has violated a myriad of human rights and is run by a family dictatorship with no desire to consider democratic amendments. Knowing this, however, does not nor should imply that diplomacy with the East Asian nation be hostile.
It would be one thing if Trump just critiqued the situation of North Korea and its citizens, but he also dug the hole deeper with his comments on Twitter. His passive aggressive “I would never call [Kim] ‘short and fat’” tweet wasn’t just salt in the wound, it was opening up new wounds.
Scientific studies show that it’s hard enough to change someone else’s opinion in a calm and respectful manner, much less in a state of aggression. As showed amusingly in a clip from the witty TBS show Adam Ruins Everything, trying to change someone’s mind can trigger the same reactions in the brain as “fight or flight” mode. Even with solid evidence, one could simply put up even more defenses and refuse to budge on their beliefs.
UK News Website Sunday Express writes that Trumps harsh words could make Kim go with the “fight” option, toughening his position on the US. Because ego is also involved in the loss of face, both leaders are stubbornly holding their ground, and worrying the rest of the world:
North Korea and the United States have been exchanging increasingly worrying jabs that have sparked the fear of World War 3 throughout the international community.
So all of this is to say I don’t have any good answers. This is a complicated issue, as most diplomacy is. I do think that American actions need to be more graceful from here on out, because the other party is not one to loosen their grip.