John Buell

Who’s the Crazy Here?

One of the most difficult tasks in politics is even attempting to view the world from an opponent’s point of view. The most obvious example is nuclear weapons, who should have them or be allowed to use them.

Last month (April 3) NBC ran a feature story about US soldiers stationed in South Korea whose task was to monitor missile firings or nuclear weapons tests by the North Koreans. NBC prefaced the story by suggesting that nuclear advances by North Korea were especially dangerous because its leader was erratic, volatile, and vindictive.

My initial reaction was that this description fit President Trump to a tee. North Korea’s leader is a vicious despot. He has been accused of orchestrating the assassination of his estranged half brother, which if true is surely outrageous.

Nonetheless, President Trump’s predecessor maintained a kill list that included US citizens abroad, and few in the mainstream media regarded this as unseemly, let alone barbaric.

One can hardly blame North Koreans for fearing the armed colossus to its south. Staging war games within a few miles of its borders is hardly a way to reassure an adversary. Would US leaders and citizens relax while Mexicans staged war games to our south? Worse still both current and long run trends greatly increase the threat of nuclear war. Policy elites now talk of the need for unilateral action to “pre-empt’ attacks by North Korea. Perhaps the best way to start a full-blown war is the effort to pre-empt the other side. War and the planning for war are tricky things as historians from Thucydides on have noted. How can our planners be certain of their ability to preempt? What if all the talk of preemption encourages Kim to attempt his own preemption?

And once even “conventional” war breaks out, how are the boundaries of the conflict to be maintained? Nuclear experts have long proposed development of tactical nuclear weapons, a technology to be employed in “theatre” conflicts. This talk is hardly limited to the political right. President Obama advocated a one trillion dollar “modernization” program to update the US nuclear arsenal. One of the poison fruits of that endeavor would be more of thee tactical nuclear weapons. Once such weapons are employed, the sacred barrier, between conventional and nuclear weaponry, crossed only twice—by the US—would be broken with even more dire repercussions and temptations surely to follow.

Meanwhile, as tensions in the Korean peninsula escalate, US-Russia conflict grows in ways that resonate with tensions and rhetoric elsewhere and are mutually reinforcing. Matt Taibbi comments: “there’s been remarkable unanimity among would-be enemies in the Republican and Democrat camps on this question. Suddenly everyone from Speier to McCain to Kamala Harris to Ben Cardin have decried Russia’s alleged behavior during the election as real or metaphorical acts of war: a “political Pearl Harbor,” as Cardin put it.” These words are spoken by prominent political leaders who seem to suffer from a case of hypocrisy and/or historical amnesia. More than interfere with elections the US on many occasions has simply overthrown governments that offended US corporate interests. Past US actions do not justify Russian interference, but awareness of our own history should curb demonization of Russia and the urge to see Russia’s behavior as an act of war.

Taibbi goes on to add: “That no one seems to be concerned about igniting a hot war with nuclear-powered Russia at a time when both countries have troops within “hand-grenade range” of each … other is bizarre, to say the least. People are in such a fever to drag Trump to impeachment that these other considerations seem not to matter. This is what happens when people lose their heads.” Taibbi’s concerns, expressed before the recent bombing of Syria in response to purported poison gas attacks, seem all the more pertinent. And yet our media portray McCain et al as paragons of responsibility while Putin and Kim are the dangerous crazies.

Surely our citizens and media have a right to know if Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the campaign. But it is equally important to prevent unrepentant Cold Warriors from using this investigation to enhance hostilities in Korea, Syria, and Eastern Europe, perhaps even in the interest of nuclear brinksmanship.

John Buell lives in Southwest Harbor, Maine, and writes regularly on labor and environmental issues. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2017

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