I can recall sitting in a barracks building at the Reception Station at Fort Jackson, SC, on Friday afternoon, February 9, 1968, after our buzzcuts that morning but before we had uniforms, my second full day in the Army, when people were talking about “opportunities” besides getting sent to Vietnam.
The base-line protocol in those days was eight weeks of Basic, then AIT, then thirty days leave, then orders to report to Fort Dix (if you lived on the East Coast), flight to Oakland, then to Vietnam. If your MOS was light-weapons infantry, 11B, you could expect to go on patrol every third night in the jungle.
Yet, rumor had it, there were plenty of other places to be sent, including Saudi Arabia (the 1967 war had already happened), and especially South Korea. That was considered a much “safer” assignment. And stable. It still needed lots of troops.
I remember the afternoon that my mother was sitting on the porch at grandmother’s house in Kipton Ohio, and somebody brought in the Elyria paper, and Mother suddenly said, “there’s war in Korea”. I think it had already started a couple weeks before. This was 1950, and I had just recovered from the measles before we went to Ohio for part of the summer. I was old enough (7) to understand vaguely that war meant that lives are sacrificed, mostly young men then. My cousin and I would bang “war music” on the upright piano in the den (where we watched Indians’s baseball games – they got TV that year) that probably would be viewed as “modern music” today. (Seriously, Hans Zimmer did a great job with the music on “Dunkirk”, but that’s off topic.)
The Korean war was a bloodbath in its time, and North Korea never gave up the legal claim for unification – just simply accepted the armistice on the surrealistically guarded border.
We all know that North Korea has become much more bellicose since the foppish, fat Kim Jong Un took over. He doesn’t look like a cis male. (No, I won’t take the risk of drawing a cartoon of him here.) And there seems no question that Trump’s election victory and seeming incompetence in office have emboldened him. He seems to be making progress toward an ICBM that really could drop a crude nuclear weapon on a US city. Some intelligence reports say this could happen by 2018. There are other threats, not written about as much, of possible delivery by submarine and of an EMP blast from a satellite, which former CIA director James Woolsey has warned about. Logically, it would seem that an EMP blast from a “conventional” missile would be possible. Various pundits (as demonstrated in the 2009 novel “One Second After”) have predicted that enemies (which could be Communist as well as Islamist) could sneak a small nuclear device near the US coasts and launch it from a ship, covertly, or even a sub. The other major threat that has some possibility of really happening is a dirty bomb or radioactive dispersion device in a city, which would not kill many people but would destroy property values. This idea was really known during the Reagan years where Communism was thought possibly capable of exporting domestic terror threats, even though this was little discussed in the media (there was an obscure program called “Civilian Defense Reservists” with some activity in Texas where I was living in the 1980s, and this idea made its way into a couple of my novel manuscripts, which I have described on my “Media Reviews” blog. As a real estate person, Donald Trump ought to be aware of this idea, but it doesn’t sound like he is.
I’ll add that when I was writing my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the mid 1990s, during the Clinton administration(s), the major military threat that could cause a sudden need for personnel was a new war in Korea. “Radical Islamic terrorism” (to quote Ted Cruz) was not getting that much attention yet in the media, although the Clinton administration ramped up assassination efforts (against Osama bin Laden) after the 1998 Africa bombings, unsuccessfully. My first book, however, had already come out (pun) in 1997. The large personnel volume needed for a war could well mean reinstating the draft, a major point in my 1997 book. Clinton was particularly concerned about having enough military medical personnel should war break out in Korea (all this came out of my research in 1995-1996 for the book, including interviewing and debriefing former gay soldiers and sailors on two West Coast road trips).
So, today, we have Kim Jong Un rapidly escalating his ICBM threat. Recently, the Washington Post published reports of DIA analyses suggesting that North Korea could place a crude nuclear device on an ICBM by at least mid-2018, saying that the acceleration of Un’s missile competence is shocking. (Understand your calculus, please – it’s all about derivatives, or rate of change.) More cautious reports today suggest that Un’s recent missiles probably did burn up on re-entry and could not have delivered payloads.
I worked for the Naval Command Research and Development Center in the Navy Yard in 1971-1972 as a Fortran programmer on missile interception (related to SALT talks at the time), so I know that the ability to intercept missiles was considerable even then. Yet, media reports suggest that NORAD might not be able to stop incoming missiles if there were several of them, but that major technical advances are supposed to be deployed by late 2018, which could be too late, according to the Post-DIA stories. We are at the two-minute warning and running out of time. What may give us much more time is the idea that making a missile survive re-entry and deliver a weapon is much more difficult technically than simply making it travel thousands of miles parabolically. I do remember this from my own work background.
So now we come down to the bellicose statements today, that Trump says he will go to war if Un doesn’t stop his missile tests, as conveyed today by the bachelor conservative Senator Lindsey Graham from S.C. (home of Fort Jackson).
OK, think about the logical implications of the situation (you don’t need a security clearance to see this). The entire country of South Korea, over 50 million people, is essentially hostage. So is Japan, probably, with 120 million. A US blitzkrieg by air against North Korea would certainly result in massive civilian deaths in South Korea at least, even though North Korea would lose the war in a few days and Un’s regime would be ousted. Trump is right in that an attack right now would probably prevent domestic American casualties and economic losses (especially the latter), so the logical implications of “America First” could be to do this – if in fact the threat by early 2018 is “real”.
There is plenty written about getting China to mediate, and there is also plenty said that this will not work. Trump has in the past said. “China is not your friend.” Maybe not now, either.
There are also media reports claiming that Kim Jong Un is likely to threaten the US with direct nuclear attack if the US does not withdraw completely from South Korea. While South Korea is still the “hostage” in terms of moral thinking, the logical implication of such a speculation is that there is no longer a reason for Trump to delay military action. The situation would become critical if North Korea actually launches an ICBM with sufficient parabolic distance (in baseball they call it “launch angle” in hitting home runs – line drives rather than pop ups) and is able to detonate a small nuclear explosion on landing (implying survival of reentry) or in the air (resulting in limited EMP damage, although such a test could be out at sea in an uninhabited area. Then a demand for the US to leave South Korea would seem to justify military action and going to war.
So, this calls into question, whether Kim John Un just wants the status of being a nuclear power – something we don’t tolerate with Iran, but could do nothing about with a larger state like China (as well as the Soviet Union). Or is he determined to reunify the Korean peninsula under “Communism” were the entire proletariat is impoverished. Is this “Give me what I want and I’ll go away”, to quote Stephen King. I would be concerned that Un is more like a mall shooter and would commit suicide if he can’t get what he wants.
As I outlined in Chapter 2 of my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, I spent the summer of 1968 stationed comfortably in the Pentagon (after finishing Basic with the stint in Special Training Company), MOS “01E20” , Mathematician. I think the “01E” was abolished after I left the Army at the end of my 2-years in February 1970. I would get transferred mysteriously to Fort Eustis in September 1970, perhaps over complications for a Top-Secret security clearance because of my “psychiatric” history after my William and Mary expulsion. But over the summer, I read a lot of papers about simulating the results of nuclear war (St. Louis was the target in one study, just as KCMO was in the 1982 film “The Day After”). I also overheard a lot of talk about issues like this. One idea, that generals don’t like to hear, is that military establishments sometimes look for wars to justify themselves (as in the recent Netflix film “War Machine”). Another idea (which I remember from the “force deployment” studies in the categories of Combat, Combat Support (like engineers), and Combat Service Support (like food and quartermaster) is that the ability to deploy a ground conventional force, even of male-only conscripts is itself a deterrent to nuclear war (an idea in the documentary “The War Game” in the 1960s). If an enemy believes a civilian population is resilient, it is less likely to attack because it must take the retaliatory consequences even more personally. We know that a lot our enemies (in Communist, fascist and radical Islamic worlds) perceive Western civilians as weak and spoiled. This gets rather personal One idea of significance to me is the ability to maintain an intimate relationship with someone who has become maimed or disfigured by violence or by disease (let alone normal aging over several decades, long enough to raise a family).
I remember being a “patient” at NIH in October 1962 but allowed to go to class at night and being the first person on the unit to understand the Cuban Missile Crisis that was unfolding. This one could be just as grave, and we have a narcissistic child in charge as president. Decisions like this need to be made by people with military service experience. I am comfortable that Mattis and Kelly can provide leadership (Pence scare me, but that’s another matter). Trump needs a committee including Democratic Senators and Representatives (Feinstein, Reed, Smith).
It does seem that the shift in who the biggest enemies are, have shifted away from Islam back to the Communist world, rather suddenly. But North Korea is likely to cooperate with other terror groups. Keep in mind that North Korea has its own privileged and elite class, from which it can recruit and train engineers.
Today Tillerson proposed direct talks with North Korea.
(Posted: Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)