by  Michael Hammerschlag


Taking advantage of President Bush’s Oedipal obsession with Saddam, North Korea’s bizarre leader Kim Jong Il has provoked the most serious nuclear crisis with Americans in decades, booting up their nuclear reactor, tossing out international inspectors, and admitting to a 8 year program to enrich uranium for a bomb.  In 1994, confronted with the spectacle of the unstable nation making nukes, Clinton first made serious noises about bombing them, then acceded to a Jimmy Carter managed face-saving deal of providing fuel oil, and strangely, 2 light water nuclear power plants (harder to breed fuel with than their primitive graphite reactor, but never finished). There was every reason to believe that the paranoid regime wouldn’t abide by any agreement, but with a million man army poised within shelling range of 13 million people in Seoul, any attack could spiral into a nightmarish war.                                       HOME


Over the last half century, North Korea has been the world’s most consistent terrorist nation, repeatedly sending assassins, saboteurs, and infiltrators into the South. In 1968, 600 infiltrations were reported, one commando attack coming within 1/3 mile of the Presidential Palace, another sent 120 soldiers to organize a Vietcong like guerilla war. In 1970 an assassin was killed planting a bomb trying to kill President Park Chung Hee; they succeeded in killing his wife 4 years later. A U.S. work crew in the truce zone was attacked by Northern troops with axes in 1976- 2 were killed. In the worst state sponsored attack on another government, a Northern bomb virtually wiped out the entire South Korean government in 1983 at a Rangoon conference, killing 18 and wounding 14. “It was a terrible time”, said Richard Walker, the US ambassador then, to me. Just this year, they admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens off the beaches to provide training for their terrorists (who pretended to be Japanese). In Nov. 1987, 2 of these agents blew up a Korean Air jet returning from Abu Dhabi, killing 135. After one committed suicide, the woman bomber tearfully confessed that the operation was directed by President Kim Jong Il*, who was then in charge of operations against the South, to sabotage the 1988 Seoul  Olympics.  In 1996, 11 saboteurs were found coming ashore in the South, rather than surrender (where they would have received better conditions in prison), they had all committed suicide. This is indoctrination, paranoia, and madness of a chilling degree. In a 1998 display of intimidation, NK launched their missiles over Japanese seas; their Taepo Dong II missiles can reach the US west coast. The South has discovered 500 ft deep reinforced tunnels that ran under the DMZ into the South and could transport tens of thousands of troops in a matter of hours; there are undoubtedly more. Just last June the North attacked and sunk a Southern patrol boat, killing 4 sailors and wounding 19.


After losing their Soviet and Chinese stipends, the North suffered floods, drought, and an appalling famine from 1995 to 1999, where up to 2 million people (of only 22 million) starved to death while the detestable “Dear Leader” held huge celebratory rallies in sports stadiums for foreign dignitaries. The people, who were banned from even foraging for food, died in their homes eating bark and grass, while what food there is goes to their huge military, which sucks up 1/3 of all their resources. North Korea is now one big lunatic above ground cemetery:  Romania without the atmosphere, Somalia on the steppe; and famine is again threatening in the –50 degree winter. Pledges to the UN World Food Program for 2003 are only 7% of what's needed because of NK obstructionism and Japanese withholding. The per capita GDP is estimated at only $1000, 57% that of Bangladesh. It is the only place in the world where a decapitating strike at the leadership (and worldwide relief operation) might be the most merciful course, even without the nuclear motives.


Bush labeled them “an axis of evil” (an axis with no spokes) in January and cut off their fuel oil. In response to recent revelations, Rumsfeld clumsily warned of our ability to wage two wars at once (uh huh). Now Bush, via Colin Powell, claims that this is just a “diplomatic problem”, and that the North  already has nukes, so there is nothing to worry about; and his misbegotten Iraq invasion can proceed apace. Oh, and it’s all Clinton’s fault, though his agreement has prevented them from having dozens or hundreds of nukes now. But trying to project chess-like rationality onto the erratic, lying, and vicious NK leaders is a fool’s errand. They already have furnished missile and nuclear technology to Pakistan (and missiles to Iran) that may yet result in the first real nuclear war. If they crank up their plutonium generation, they can distribute it widely enough that some of it will result in a man-made sun dawning on an American city. The plutonium in a Hiroshima size bomb is the size of a baseball and can be safely shielded by cardboard. A different element, it is easy to chemically separate, unlike uranium, which requires huge facilities to physically separate the under 1% fissionable U235. Of course, if they’ve spent 8 years doing that, who knows what they have? Although India, Pakistan, and Israel had nukes long before they admitted them; that’s not definite with North Korea- even if true it’s better to force them into hiding their actions because of the added difficulty. 


President Bush has taken the worst course, talking tough about the deranged dictator, reneging on our agreements, isolating them by equating negotiation with appeasement; … then rolling over and  conceding everything as a fait accompli. Nothing is worse with psychotics than inconsistency, because they will be spurred to greater outrages, but nothing can be allowed to interfere with our unelected President’s grand plans for Saddam. On a 10 point scale of imminent threats, North Korea is a 9, Al Qaida an 8, China a 5, and Saddam perhaps a lowly 3. But don’t expect the facts or shifting strategic reality to interfere with Bush’s feet or mind, which are implacably set in August 2000 concrete.


*there is some question about this- the woman may have been pressured to say that by the KCIA, who had complete control of her and the manuscript of her book that claimed it.

Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries + articles for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser, Columbia Journalism Review, Media Channel, & Moscow News, Tribune, and Guardian;  and spent 2 years in Russia. He’s written columns and papers on nuclear issues for 30 years. His website is http://mikehammer.tripod.com e-mail: hammerschlag@bigfoot.com

 MY NUCLEAR ARTICLES:    TREMBLING ON THE BRINK - Indiakistan tensions 1/02 - Online Journal         

VULNERABLE WINDOW of OPPORTUNITY (pan right)                                          NEXT STAR of BETHLEHEM – meaning of Israeli nuclear arsenal
  Chance to buy + destroy Soviet missiles and bombs- Moscow Tribune ‘93                                                                                Seattle Times '87

MAD FANTASY OF LIMITED NUCLEAR WAR  - Providence Journal (pan right) '81

A WARM + BRIGHT FUTURE (orig .-1/2 pending OCR)  - Threat of nuclear war w visit to FEMA defense center, and detailed effects of 20 meg blast on NYC (long mag. art.)

ABC Nightline starvation rep: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/nightline/DailyNews/northkorea020610_famine.html
CIA Factbook NK- http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/kn.html
North Korean Nuclear Arsenal- http://www.kimsoft.com/korea/nk-nukes.htm
       (I don't vouch for this's accuracy)