There are two kinds of crazy people in the world-crazy people and crazy people with nuclear weapons. You can ignore the first kind, but you're pretty much forced to deal with the second kind. Kim Jong-Il is the second kind. Kim Jong-Il has nuclear weapons and he's crazy as a three-peckered goat. Crazy or not crazy, when the leader of a country with the world's third largest army blows up a nuclear device under a mountain range, the world is forced to pay attention.
Seven days after the test, U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that the event in North Korea on Oct. 9 was a plutonium-fueled nuclear explosion. What we now know from Washington is that something with a yield of around 500 tons of conventional high explosives blew up underground a few hundred miles northeast of Pyongyang. According to the U.S. Geological Service, the blast triggered a seismic event measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale.
I was surprised to learn that an explosion that causes a magnitude-4.2 earthquake is considered small by nuclear standards. In fact, according to self-proclaimed experts, such an explosion could be caused by a device just a fraction of the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. Upon learning that fact, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least our technology of mass destruction is still more than 60 years ahead of a country where the citizens boil tree bark for dinner.
Feeble though the test was, U.S. leaders called upon their counterparts from China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to engage in immediate discussion. The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to wag a finger at North Korea and say "Bad." Chinese President Hu Jintao is said to be rolling up a newspaper with which to swat his neighbor to the south on the nose. Dictators are like puppies-you have to let them know who's in charge.
To a lot of people, Kim Jong-Il having nuclear weapons is scary. Scarier still is the prospect that he might sell some of his new toys to his friends in Iran or Venezuela or who knows where. But while the world is busy getting itself all freaked out over the whole mess, it occurs to me that we should keep this newest threat in perspective. North Korea is a naughty place-that's certain. Kim Jong-Il is a water-headed nut job-that's just as certain. But of all the things in this world that should scare the average soul, North Korea is way down on the list.
We live in a world in which 4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in that nation's past decade of warfare, the earth's bloodiest conflict since World War II, a conflict in which the U.S. has taken no part at all. We live in a world in which a crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan was officially labeled genocide by Colin Powell more than two years ago and still not one American soldier has put a boot on the ground. That delightful epic has now claimed the lives of more than 400,000 civilians and displaced more than 2.5 million. We learned just last week that we live in a world in which this country's occupation of Iraq has led to the deaths of roughly 655,000 civilians. We live in a world in which we don't need to worry about who has nuclear weapons; we need to worry about why somebody might logically use one.
Before we get consumed with fear of a nuclear North Korea, let's tell the whole story about nuclear weapons. Including North Korea, the list of declared-nuclear-weapons states in the world now includes eight countries. Israel has never admitted to its supposed arsenal of 100 to 200 nuclear warheads, so we can leave those scary warmongers out of it for now.
At the bottom of the list are India and Pakistan with some 100 or so nukes apiece. Those two countries are none too fond of one another. They share an 1,800-mile border and both conducted underground nuclear tests in 1998. That's scary. Then there are the mid-tier nuclear states, China, France and the United Kingdom, each with a few hundred nuclear weapons. None of them are all that scary, actually. For them, having nuclear weapons is just keeping up appearances.
But atop the list things are very scary. Russia has more than 5,800 active nuclear warheads with another 10,000 or so in storage. I won't speculate as to the resale value of Russia's arsenal, but I sure hope its economy stays afloat. That many nukes would make for one heck of a yard sale.
Finally, the U.S. admits to having 5,735 active warheads with another 3,200 in reserve. I don't know what we plan to do with that many nuclear weapons, but I know that we are still the only country that has ever used one. We killed more than 200,000 Japanese men, women and children in two explosions when Kim Jong-Il was in preschool. That's scary as hell. It's no wonder that some people in this world are more afraid of us than they are of North Korea, with or without nuclear weapons. I'm not going to invite Kim Jong-Il to join me for happy hour any time soon, but of everything in this world that scares the hell out of me, for now, at least, that crazy sumbitch is not one of them.
Maybe it's because we conveniently exclude ourselves from the company of nations who would use violence and threats of violence as geopolitical tools that so much of this world hates us. Since 1953, North Korea has not attacked anyone. By contrast, since dropping nuclear weapons on civilians 61 years ago, the U.S. has fought in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, twice. Add to that our military meddling in the affairs of Chile, El Salvador, Iran, Lebanon, Nicaragua and the Philippines and one can understand why we are so thoroughly hated. That's scary and it's our own fault.
Tony Phillips blogs at www.fifthavenuegazette.com. Write to email@example.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.