Who needs fiction?
Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 24, 2010
THERE ARE several reasons why I seldom read fiction anymore. Here’s one of them.
* South Korean military forces have recently been conducting long-planned military exercises, part of which involved firing artillery rounds from islands near the border with North Korea. The artillery was fired to the west and not the north, however.
* North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son, the heir presumptive Kim Jong-eun, visited a military installation this past weekend near the same location at the border. Perhaps the visit was to inspire the troops on the eve of battle.
* Four hours after the South Korean artillery exercises ended yesterday, the North Koreans began shelling Daeyeonpyeong Island, which, with the smaller Soyeonpyeong Island, makes up what is considered the geographical entity of Yeonpyeong Island. They have a population of about 1,790.
* The North Korean barrage lasted 50 minutes, consisted of at least 100 rounds, killed two South Korean marines, wounded at least 15 other marines and three civilians, and started fires in 60 buildings and the surrounding forest.
Here’s what it looked like:
The North Korean military said in a statement:
“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such a decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike…It is a traditional mode of counter-action of the army of the DPRK to counter the firing of the provocateurs with merciless strikes…(We) will unhesitatingly continue taking merciless military counter-actions.”
* In March this year, North Korean forces sank the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
* Siegfried Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S., visited North Korea earlier this month. He was given a tour of a difficult-to-detect uranium enrichment facility. As the Washington Post reported:
“My jaw just dropped,” he said, describing a modern facility containing row upon row of centrifuges, capable of enriching uranium. “I was stunned.”
On the other hand, some people weren’t stunned at all.
In other words, North Korea now has two nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Hecker saw around 2,000 such centrifuges in all, though everyone is claiming they’re for peaceful purposes. Right-o! If they weren’t making an implied threat that the centrifuges are for military purposes, and they’ll use them to make weapons unless they get more cash/fuel/food, they wouldn’t have let Mr. Hecker see them to begin with. Those who bet on form will place their money at the window selling the tickets that say they get the cash/fuel/food and make the weapons anyway.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak considers the artillery attack an invasion and is threatening retaliation. He was especially angered at the attacks on civilians, all the more because the South
is was providing the North with humanitarian aid.
No satirist, however–not Swift, Hasek, or Vonnegut–would have dared create a fictional plot device that included this news story from the South Korean government on the same day. The Yonhap report speaks for itself:
Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, the world’s most heavily fortified border separating South and North Korea, got its own mascots Tuesday as part of government efforts to promote it for its ecological value and tourism potential…
As part of such promotion efforts, cartoon images of a butterfly family were developed as the mascots for the DMZ, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said in a press release. The butterflies, named Didi (dad), Mimi (mom) and Zizi (their child) and with blue, pink and green wings, respectively, symbolize a family from an alien planet making their visit to Earth to find its natural charms.
Here’s what Didi, Mimi, and Zizi (DMZ–get it?) look like:
To be sure, the MCST had no way of knowing what else was going to happen on the day they released the alien butterfly cuties from their cocoons. Besides, the planning for that promotion must have been underway for some time. The South Korean government has been trying to encourage tourism to the DMZ, as it is one of the few areas whose natural environment has been spared the intense development in the rest of the country. They opened hiking trails for tourists along the DMZ in May. Guidebooks were printed in Korean and English, so it’s safe to assume they’re hoping overseas tourists as well as Korean nationals come to visit.
On the other side of the DMZ, North Korean military forces have their substantial weaponry locked on Seoul, just 40 miles away. Even granting that the territory is unspoiled and attractive, one wonders how some in the Seoul government could be so oblivious of the potential danger, and why they would tempt fate and the Kim Family Regime with a space butterfly-friendly eco-tourist program. It is perhaps as Dashiell Hammett explained in The Maltese Falcon: People get used to the idea that steel beams can fall any time without warning, and then they get used to the idea that the steel beams don’t fall any more.
But as we’ve now seen, steel beams are ready to drop on the Korean Peninsula at any time, and some Koreans understand that. After all, how far are those tourist hiking trails with the Alien Space Nabi from the machine gun-equipped Samsung robot sentries for which trials were conducted this July? It’s thought the trials will run until the end of the year.
Wasn’t the music cool? Just like an action program on television!
Let’s be frank, shall we? While the recent North Korean moves against the South and the Chinese bravado against the Japanese are an immediate challenge to the political leadership in Seoul and Tokyo, it’s unlikely any of this would have happened if someone other than Barack Obama (or a political soulmate) were in the White House. The political leadership in Beijing and Pyeongyang obviously wants to see what it can get away with, and they’re betting they can get away with quite a lot. The Chinese like to pretend they can’t control the North Koreans, but if similar circumstances obtained anywhere else in the world, people would suspect that at least some coordination was involved. It’s time to apply the same common sense to Northeast Asia.
The downside to their game is that Mr. Obama has become so discredited domestically he might be desperate enough to regain his standing by doing something militarily unwise to prove that the United States in general, and the weak-on-defense Democrats in particular, can’t be pushed around.
Be that as it may, we should all be glad we aren’t faced with the choices of Lee Myung-bak. Were it me, there’s a certain North Korean artillery installation that would no longer exist by the weekend, but then I don’t live in Greater Seoul. On the other hand, doing nothing now likely ensures that something worse will happen in the future. Does he take the chance to find out how suicidally terrorist the North Koreans can be? Does he factor into his thinking that the North Korean move might have been taken with the intent to distract the attention of an increasingly unhappy citizenry?
Perhaps there is something to be gained from fiction after all. In one of the scenes in The Maltese Falcon, the bad guys (Gutman, Wilmer, and Cairo) are negotiating with Sam Spade over possession of the ornament. Gutman and his allies want the bird, and Spade wants either the murderer of his partner or a fall guy in return. During the course of the discussion, Cairo hints that they could physically force the information they want out of Spade without cutting a deal. Said Spade:
“If you kill me, how are you going to get the bird? If I know you can’t afford to kill me till you have it, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?”
Presently (Gutman) gave his genial answer: “Well sir, there are other means of persuasion than killing and threatening to kill.”
“Sure,” Spade agreed, “but they’re not much good unless the threat of death is behind them to hold the victim down. See what I mean? If you try anything I don’t like I won’t stand for it. I’ll make it a matter of your having to call it off or kill me, knowing that you can’t afford to kill me.”
…Gutman chuckled. “That is an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides, because as you know, sir, men are likely to forget in the heat of action where their best interest lies and let their emotions carry them away.”
“That’s the trick from my side,” (Spade) said, “to make my play strong enough that it ties you up, but yet not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.”
That about describes it, does it not? I could be wrong, but I suspect Mr. Lee is much more capable of dealing with this situation than either Kan Naoto or Barack Obama are of dealing with theirs. I hope I’m right. So do Didi, Mimi, and Zizi. If anyone needs fiction, they do.
* All those who’ve insisted over the years that the North Koreans are crazy like a fox and aren’t really batso enough to do anything serious should consider taking a punditry break for a while and stand under a waterfall to chant some sutras.
* Isn’t it wonderful what government bureaucrats can dream up when you give them enough money to play with?
The Japanese media are upset with their government’s information flow and response to the attack. Foreign Minister Maehara was informed first of the attack, even though he was in Australia; Prime Minister Kan didn’t find out until after Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku was told. Roughly three hours later, the American government issued their strong condemnation, and three hours after that, Mr. Sengoku said the attack was (literally) “difficult to permit”, though that could be stretched linguistically to “intolerable”.
The media’s criticism is that the sequence in both cases is the reverse of what it should be. Poor crisis management and the inability to make a rapid response is a perennial complaint of the Japanese about themselves, however.