When the Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter made a hard landing Tuesday, injuring six crew members, it was noted in passing that the accident occurred at the Jipo-ri Range — about 12 miles from the DMZ.
The U.S.-South Korean joint exercises will continue through April. Supposedly to ease any North Korean concerns, live firings, for example from M1 tanks, are mainly aimed south.
Yes, Kim Jong Un is just the latest family member running a harsh, militaristic dictatorship in which two-thirds of the nation’s 24 million people are hungry and in poverty, while he and others have a relatively luxurious life.
Yes, North Korea has over the years committed violent acts against South Korea and has violated United Nations Security Council resolutions by conducting nuclear weapons tests and developing and testing long-range ballistic missiles. And in recent months, North Korean civilian and military leaders have threatened South Korea and the United States.
But try, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of 30-year-old Kim. He succeeded his father in late December 2011 and for the past five months has been maneuvering to consolidate his authority over the Korean Workers’ Party and Korean People’s Army. Early on he replaced three older generals who had been close to his father and talked of getting closer to the people.
He appeared with his young wife, went to a theme park, and talked of solving the food shortage. He got the party last month to adopt a policy of economic development but balanced it with a plan to increase nuclear forces. Last November, he made Kim Kyok Sik defense minister, choosing a hard-line general who was accused of the shelling of a South Korean border island in 2010. He also chose a reformer, Pak Pong Ju, as prime minister to replace Vice Marshal Kim Jong Gak, a member of the military.
Last month, he called on the United States and South Korea to halt their annual joint exercises and then released a torrent of threatening rhetoric.
What better way to solidify power, as the youngest world head of state, than to go further than his father and grandfather in challenging — at least verbally — the United States?
My perspective on North Korea is informed by history — including my own. In 1970, I visited the DMZ during an 18-month period when I worked for Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Directing a probe of the military involvement in U.S. foreign policy, I was in South Korea to learn what U.S. forces in Korea were doing, along with Seoul’s role as a U.S. ally in the Vietnam War.
Two things I learned then still influence me.