There’s a lot going on.
I entered last weekend thinking about the importance of listening to voices both near and far, whether to Puerto Rican families devastated by hurricane Maria or close friends struggling with life’s transitions.
I then focused on the conflict between the President and the Secretary of State. More than one pundit described this possibly irreconcilable dispute as “CEO vs. CEO.” I was reminded how such “CEO mentality” mitigates against teamwork, so essential to addressing the complex issues of our day—in business, government or pursuit of a just society. And, I was reminded that truly successful CEOs foster a collaborative spirit among colleagues.
There was the unfathomably horrific events in Las Vegas, along with inspiring acts of heroism and sacrifice, and the inevitable debate over sensible gun reform in a country awash in weapons. What words of comfort or insight could I offer that would help us heal from this unspeakable tragedy?
Then, I read Nick Kristof’s OpEd in the New York Times, “Inside North Korea: Feeling the Drums of War,” written after recently returning from that reclusive land. I confess, the sheer volume of other news has reduced potential conflict with North Korea to something akin to white noise on the back burner of my consciousness. But Kristof’s words quickly called to mind the stakes in the high-level game of brinkmanship between President Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
“North Korea is galvanizing its people to expect a nuclear war with the United States,” Kristof reports. “High school students march in the streets in military uniform every day to denounce America. Posters and billboards along the public roads show missiles destroying the U.S. Capitol and shredding the American flag. In fact, images of missiles are everywhere — in a kindergarten playground, at a dolphin show, on state television. This military mobilization is accompanied by the ubiquitous assumption that North Korea could not only survive a nuclear conflict, but also win it.
“‘If we have to go to war, we won’t hesitate to totally destroy the United States,’ explained a 38-year-old teacher visiting an amusement park…A 41-year-old factory worker, looked surprised when I asked if his country could survive a war with America. ‘We would certainly win.’”
Kristof goes on to say that hard-liners seem ascendant in both Washington and Pyongyang and that with such mutual posturing, “it’s easy to see how things might go wrong.”
I was taken aback, surprised by how deeply these words of warning affected me. We get so caught up in immediate concerns—both in our individual lives and in the drama of day-to-day headlines—that we can miss signs that, in hindsight, lead to inevitable results and it becomes too late to effectively escape the coming maelstrom.
Kristof concludes his article with these words: “I leave North Korea with the same sense of foreboding that I felt after leaving Saddam’s Iraq in 2002. War is preventable, but I’m not sure it will be prevented.”
Generally, I am an optimist and an activist. But reading Kristof’s reflections led me to wonder what realistically I can do. And, should horrific powers be unleashed in Korea, will I be among those who—despite signs that were so obvious—have succumbed to the white noise of history, lamenting loss of life due to miscalculations by two petty and petulant leaders unable to reverse course because of national pride and a misunderstanding of the other.