You don’t hear many cries to “bomb North Korea into the Stone Age” these days. And with good reason. Even the most hawkish of the hawks recognize the unique and bedeviling problem America faces in Korea.
Forget nukes for a moment. North Korea lucked out after World War II, when Seoul, located less than 40 miles from North Korea and with a population now of over 10 million, became the capital of South Korea. With over 30,000 American military personnel deployed as a trip-wire in South Korea, and that many South Koreans living within conventional artillery range of the Communist North, those who might otherwise favor Gen. Curtis LeMay’s Vietnam War era “Stone Age” strategy now prefer silence to suicide.
No other country is as snugly protected against being attacked by a superior power as is North Korea. Everybody knows that at the first sign of military hostility against North Korea all that artillery fire would rain down upon the South, upon South Korean civilians, American military and all. No thanks!
For weeks now an aging idea has been rattling the cage of my long-term memory, screaming “Remember me! Please remember me and let me out of here!” It took a while, but finally that idea, all the way from 1960, broke enough memory slats and paraded across my memory stage. It’s not a miracle cure for our North Korean problem, but it beats all others put forth so far.
In 1960 Arthur Hadley (a World War II Army vet and journalist who was an authority on Cold War military policy) wrote a highly acclaimed book entitled “The Nation’s Safety and Arms Control.” It was my first year on radio, and Hadley was one of the most popular guests talk radio ever had. All that heavy algebra of arms control seemed to be understandable the way Hadley explained it, and though the topic is complex, he lightened it with sparklers such as “World War III could be started by a squirrel!” (Really! On the level! If a squirrel gnawed through the right power line outside the Pentagon – you get it!)
There was only one point Hadley made that I couldn’t quite get my mind around. Having explored the Moscow subway in 1956, I envied the protection the residents of Moscow would enjoy if the Cold War were to turn hot. Their subways are deeper and cleaner than New York City’s. Hadley pointed out that strengthening protection for civilians underground was a hostile act!
“Are you serious?” I asked him. “Do you really mean that civil defense, all the way back to teaching first-graders how to crouch under their little desks, is a bad thing?” “It may not be a bad thing,” Hadley explained, “but it’s a hostile act. Protecting your civilians makes them less vulnerable to attack. That’s the same thing as removing your hostages. If Country A improves its civil defense, it makes Country B’s threat less menacing. Country A would have thereby removed its hostages.”
I figured I wouldn’t need that information for a while. And I didn’t, for over 57 years!
So, applying Hadley’s insight to today’s North Korean dilemma, what would happen if South Korea – with American help – were to “withdraw its hostages” from possible harm at the hands of North Korea? There’s plenty of South Korean territory to accommodate those now living within artillery range of North Korean conventional cannons. The specter and spectacle of their “South Korean hostages” waving bye-bye to North Korea’s threat would drive the North nuts as the first caravans – cribs, strollers and all – set out southward, beyond the reach of the North. That would convert North Korea from a rogue upstart-state to one suddenly stripped of its extraordinary immunity. That would convert “Little Rocket Man” into just another megalo-murderer testing the patience of enemies vastly stronger.
Isn’t it inconvenient to move so many millions of people? Definitely, but not as inconvenient as dying! And actually, once the evacuation of artillery-range South Koreans were mounted in earnest, that might kick-start serious negotiations. There’s no need to move 10 million people. All you need do is display your willingness to do so rather than live in a world where proven maniacs own the atomic weapons.
Everybody is fascinated to learn that the borderline separating the democratic and prosperous South from the totalitarian and impoverished North runs right through the village of Panmunjom, right through the “truce hut” where regular meetings have been held since the truce ended the Korean fighting in 1953, and clear down the long table separating the two sides. Think about it. The American and South Korean representatives sit a foot and a half from Communism and three and a half feet from the nearest Communist!
Once an American major dropped a pencil during a truce meeting and it bounded northward and came to rest on the North Korean side under the table. As the American reached down to retrieve the pencil a North Korean officer stomped down on the major’s hand with his combat boot!
And that was in the “good old days” of relative stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Are you naysayers saying you’d rather live with a nuclear North than pack, unpack and then repack a few million overnight bags?