This week, the boogeyman is North Korea. Is anyone surprised? The Stalinist “Hermit Kingdom” is right out of central casting. Isolated, always bellicose, unpredictable, and on a war footing for decades: If the Korean War was an American citizen, it would be deciding about now whether to take Social Security early or keep brandishing its atomic weapons for a few more years.
But that narrative is shaped by nearly unavoidable bias. It’s easy to bash North Korea, but if I address my own knowledge of the country honestly, I must admit that most of what I think I know about it is really just what other governments choose to tell me. And those other governments routinely lie — to everyone, about everything, day in and day out, as a matter of policy so ingrained in their character that it can only be accurately characterized as pathological.
So, I can’t really know whether Kim Jong Un is a nuke-waving megalomaniac or a milquetoast reformist whose every public utterance is filtered by other states’ censors to make him LOOK like a nuke-waving megalomaniac, pursuant to those other states’ agendas.
Nor can I know whether his generals are egging him on to confrontation, or working frantically to cool things down. Or whether his armies are the brainwashed oriental hordes of US propaganda or just a starving gaggle of scarecrows who’ll throw down their weapons and throw up their hands the first time they see what a US “smart bomb” does to their positions along the DMZ.
If this particular war breaks out — or to be more exact, breaks out again — we’ll be deluged with detailed accounts of how “they” fired first and how the “free world” merely responded in kind. And once again, we’ll have no way of knowing whether those accounts are true stories or heaping piles of bovine scat. The most we’ll really be able to know (and then only if we’re willing to look closely and carefully) is that even if Kim is as bad as we’re told he is, his adversaries aren’t much better on their best days.
And of course we can know — when we take the time to think about it, we DO know — that war is evil, that as Sherman put it, it is “all hell,” and that it always, every time, serves the interests of the politicians and their crony corporate profiteers at the expense of the victims on all sides who pay the butcher’s bill in blood, treasure or both.
The state did not invent war (in fact it may have been the other way around), but the state has normalized war. It has perpetuated, and continually worked to perfect, wholesale murder for four centuries now. Not just Kim’s state, but all of them. Even if anarchy resulted only in Hobbes’s imperfect, retail “war of all against all” — a doubtful proposition, in my opinion — that would be a dramatic improvement.