Houston or Charlottesville? Which one is America?
Which event shows how we would respond to a war with North Korea?
Lee Habeeb, with the Salem Radio Network and host of “Our American Stories,” asked the question quite eloquently in his recent article “A Tale of Two Cities: Charlottesville and Houston.” Habeeb calls the two August 2017 events “two narratives competing for the heart and soul of America.” He goes on to say the heroic rescues and outpouring of support in Houston during the flooding from Hurricane Harvey displays “the America we all know. A nation of people of every imaginable race, color, and creed who live, for the most part, in peace and harmony. And in times of crisis, with compassion, selflessness and love.” Meanwhile, the opposing narrative of the violence and hatred from the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville is one that “insists America is a country filled with racists, bigots, homophobes and white people angered that their majority status is slipping away.”
I love Habeeb’s column, and it’s true the news reports from these landmark events help determine how we see our nation. Do we see America as a group of self-serving individuals bringing the nation into chaos and opposition, or do we see a unified nation where its people rise to the occasion to care for one another? Habeeb believes the scene of heroics in Houston, like on 9/11, to be the true America. I differ. I believe this isn’t the tale of two opposing views, but rather both tell who we are – we’re Charlottesville and Houston. We can rise to help one another, and we can also tear one another down.
If we’re both caricatures, then let’s project that to a potential disaster that would affect each one of us. Harvey’s floods directly affected those in coastal Texas and maybe all of us through gas prices – but that pales in comparison to the widespread effects of a war or wrong move with North Korea.
I will never forget my first taste of the sacrificial unity the Greatest Generation showed during World War II. I had just begun pastoring and went to visit a church member in the hospital. She was one of our precious senior adults, an elegant lady always in stylish outfits and fancy jewelry. Her house was decorated nicely, and she’d treat you to exquisite hospitality. She had spent most of her life as a real estate agent in downtown Houston and lived the metropolitan life. In my mind, she was the quintessential proper lady.
There in that hospital room, I learned what powered America to victory in that war. This fancy woman had been a welder. Following high school and business school, Pearl Harbor happened. She sought how she might help – and that help turned into her traveling from Arkansas to Washington and lying on her back in a PT boat factory. Not in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined her doing that. She replied to my awe by saying she was just doing her part.
My grandmother tells of rationing pantyhose. Just last weekend my grandfather told of how scarce candy was on the home front. From the ration books, the draft, volunteer enlistment and women entering factories – the nation pulled together. In one accord, they served. Not only did Americans sacrificially work toward victory, but they desired victory at any cost. Americans cheered at the bombing of enemies and overwhelming victories. They celebrated two bombs that killed between 130,000 and 230,000 people.
Since that time our soldiers and their families have been brave and sacrificial, but the nation has been far from united. Far from sacrificial. Far from supportive of victory at any cost. The wars since WWII have cost precious lives – 12 million lives. Yet, beyond the soldiers fighting and their families at home, these wars have had little impact on our standard of living. We’ve been able to keep the impact at arm’s length. Vietnam controlled much the American consciousness, but no one rationed pantyhose, gum, or gas. Near success in those wars didn’t require the nation to be unified or supportive. Military rules of engagement bent to make the fighting easier for Americans at home to stomach, even at the cost of the lives of our on troops. Few women left their home and lay on a concrete floor to spot-weld boats around the clock.
What I’m saying is not downplaying sacrifices made by American soldiers and their families. Those wars in the Middle East still required great sacrifice by our military, but a war with North Korea will be of a whole other nature.
Kim Jong-un is not a pet snake we can play with without it striking. We’ll have to strike before he can strike back. And we’ll have to keep striking until the threat is eliminated. The measures required to neutralize the threat above the 38th Parallel will drastically change our standing in the world. More than likely, any move on Pyongyang will give Russia and China space to make a move. Like in a stock car race, when the leader gets entangled with traffic ahead of them the second-place car can catch up and make a move for the lead.
But even more of a reality with a pre-emptive strike: We’ll have blood on our hands, blood for which the world will hold us responsible – even if we have no other choice.
One day, barring an unseen change (which would be welcomed), America will have to make a move or face mass casualty on the home front. As Sen. Tom Cotton stated, “North Korea now, for over 20 years, has been moving towards this point rapidly. Kicking the can down the road has not worked, and we’re about to run out of road.” Mark it down – North Korea or a connected terrorist affiliate will try an attack, and that attack will likely be an EMP strike. If successful, the prediction is 90 percent of Americans would be killed in the aftermath. Even striking part of the nation with an EMP would take out far more than even a hydrogen bomb in a single city. If not an EMP – we can count on some type of nuclear bomb attack that will take more lives than the U.S. did in Japan.
A nuclear pre-emptive action will be costly – likely the lives of hundreds of thousands. If our leadership choose the route of a more conventional war, that war will not be at arm’s length, but will ask more and more from Americans.
We did what we have become good at in Charlottesville – disunity, violence and hatred. But we did what we have been known for in Houston and in Florida – rising to the occasion and being unified, sacrificial, caring and resourceful.
So, who are we?
Who will we be in a war against North Korea?
I’m afraid we don’t have the stomach for what we need to do to protect ourselves from trigger-happy Kim.
I’m afraid even if our leadership takes the necessary measures to protect our nation through a nation-saving pre-emptive strike, keeping us from being nuked, we still may end up tearing ourselves apart in the backlash.
I hope the conflict could be resolved without a loss of life, but North Korea is pushing it past the point of return, and a pre-emptive strike appears to be the only solution – but can we stomach what it will take to protect our nation?