Historian Barbara Tuchman’s wildly popular book The Guns of August traced how the great powers, simultaneously headstrong and yet unsure of themselves, slipped, miscalculated and stumbled into World War I in August of 1914. Tuchman talks about imperialism and social Darwinism. She speaks of the “bellicose frivolity of senile empires,” and refers to the Czar “as not well endowed mentally, only fit to live in a country house and grow turnips.” During this early period, not unlike Trump’s philosophy today, she shows how social Darwinism is used to justify political conservatism, imperialism, and racism and to discourage reform.
Today we are facing the Missiles of August – the possibility of stumbling into a horrendous nuclear war because of braggadocio and miscalculation.
WHAT TRUMP AND KIM JONG UN ARE SAYING
Unfortunately, some of the most bellicose language we have ever heard from an American President is emanating from Trump’s golf club in New Jersey. Fortunately, NJ is about as far away from North Korea as any U.S. state could be, but that is cold comfort. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un now says he has America’s Territory of Guam in his hair-string trigger view.
- On Tuesday President Trump threatens to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea, sending a shudder throughout the world. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, furious about the sanctions, had warned a day earlier that his country would “teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force.”
- On Thursday at a moment that requires subtlety, Trump unwisely amped up his rhetoric once more warning the North Koreans of things “they never thought possible.” He talks like the promoter of a WWE wrestling match. But this is real.” (David Ignatius)
- On Friday After Kim Jong Un made his Guam threat more real (“four missiles”), Trump responded with his third provocative warning saying our military is ‘locked and loaded.’
WHAT OUR NJ FEDERAL LEGISLATORS ARE SAYING
In late July all our House members voted for the most recent sanctions against North Korea, as well Russia and Iran. Two days later our NJ Senators did likewise. Rep. Bill Pascrell applauded passage of the bill. Senator Melendez also said, “I am pleased to see the Congress work as a whole to hold Iran, Russia, and North Korea accountable for their continued destabilizing activities across the world.”
Nonetheless, regarding the most recent turn of events in the past week or so our federal legislators appear to be ducking for cover and saying precious little. Sen. Menendez, a lead member of the Foreign Relations Committee, on his website, twitter feed and Facebook page has said nothing. Neither has Sen. Cory Booker. I have seen no recent comments from any of our representatives. Other lawmakers have slammed Trump on his recent comments. Maybe some of our legislators feel tough words are needed but none of them have told us that.
In spite of the fiery rhetoric “America has no desire to invade and conquer North Korea, and the Kim family dynasty has demonstrated that its overriding goal is survival.” Kim Jong Un, is many things, including bellicose and threatening, but there’s no indication that he is suicidal. He lives the life of wealth, comfort and god-like status in Pyongyang. His counterpart in the US, however, ignores the sage advise of President Theodore Roosevelt to “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” Therein lies our dilemma.
It seems unlikely that what is happening now will quickly lead to a catastrophic event, “the likes of which the world has never seen,” as Trump proclaims. Nonetheless the rhetoric and recklessness of our President could yet at some future date lead us down the path that Barbara Tuchman vividly illuminates, and bring us to a moment far worse than World War I.