North Korea says, “We’ll rain fire down upon the White House.”
North Korea says, “We’ll test missiles whenever we want.”
North Korea says, “We’re closing the North/South border.”
North Korea says, “We’re moving missiles around, preparing to strike.”
North Korea says a lot of shit.
And South Korea yawns and says, “North Korea does this all the time.”
There didn’t used to be a North and South Korea. After World War II, the peninsula was reclaimed by the Allies from Japanese occupation. The Soviet Union took control of everything north of the 38th Parallel while the United States took the south. It’s been a game of political tennis over that border ever since, going hot once from 1950 to 1953. Over thirty-six-thousand American casualties ensued.
This is how good intentions go bad. Korea gets liberated by the Allies then, instead of leaving, the Allies stay. War and threats of war become normal waking states.
The same thing happened in Germany at the end of World War II. Germany was divided and the camps didn’t leave. Both sides, although allies in a bigger war, turned sour. Threats over a line drawn in Berlin almost turned hot in 1961, causing the construction of the Berlin Wall.
So all this occupation started in 1945 and while Germany was finally reunited after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, Korea remains divided. And while the United States military remains ever present in Germany despite no threats from or to that nation, it also remains ever present in South Korea where threats pour in so often, the South says, “Eh, happens all the time.”
Why are we there? And why are we still in Germany? And Japan for that matter? It’s because when you ask for (or forcefully get) the assistance of the United States, we stick around. Everywhere we send an aircraft carrier or parachute in troops, we stay. We never complete a mission and go home. We’re the Herpes of the world, never quite killing our host, just irritating the hell out of them.
In trying to track down how all this started, how the United States went from “…entangling alliances with none”, I couldn’t find an Ah-Ha moment. At first, it seemed like the meddling in Hawaii might have been it, the time when American businessmen used their influence in Washington to get U.S. troops to assist with the overthrow Queen Liliʻuokalani. This was, after all, the first time Americans had executed an overthrow of a foreign government. But although the first regime change, we have to go back even further.
How about the constant push westward and the Trail of Tears? Yeah, that counts as regime change. And when we ran into the Pacific ocean, we didn’t stop. We continued across the ocean and took Hawaii, then the Philippines for a time from Spain. So it appears Americans are naturally a migrating bunch to the trembling of the world. The most recent occupation is that of Iraq. Despite the Obama Administration’s insistence we’ll be out soon, it ain’t gonna happen. Guaranteed. Our embassy over there is larger than the Vatican. We’re not giving up that kind of real estate.
The United States has military personnel in one-hundred-and-thirty countries, nine-hundred bases. The sun does not set on the American empire. We have bases in rather friendly, non-hostile places (England, Portugal, Brazil, Australia, Greenland, etc). We have bases in countries which are in constant turmoil (Israel, South Korea, Iraq, etc). We have bases in countries who’s friendship is questionable (Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc). We’re so involved in everyone’s business, not just at home, that it’s going to happen – we’re going to have enemies. Some, individually, as in the case of Osama bin Laden. Others come in the form of foreign governments like North Korea’s Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. Why do we warn children not to poke sticks into bee hives when, as adults, we prod without discretion?
Our military in foreign countries has been justified on the grounds that we need “jumping off points”. If we get attacked by North Korea, we’re already in the South. No waiting period to respond by having to engage in a slow roll from California. But let’s understand something. If we weren’t fooling in South Korea, the North would probably care less about us half a world away. Let’s also remember that despite our huge worldwide military presence, none of it stopped Osama Bin Laden, the orchestrator of the greatest attack on the American mainland since the War of 1812. What did Osama say about his motive? He told us. Several times. He warned us through interviews with journalists that if we didn’t stop meddling in Muslim countries, he was going to act. He came through on September 11, 2001. Big time. And while I find that act unforgivable, accepting that the United States had to take action, take out Al-Qaeda and must continue in the fight to re-lid Pandora’s Box, I can’t help thinking that it could have been avoided.
A few days before the 2004 presidential election, Osama was on video again. He said,”People of America this talk of mine is for you and concerns the ideal way to prevent another Manhattan, and deals with the war and its causes and results. Before I begin, I say to you that security is an indispensable pillar of human life and that free men do not forfeit their security, contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. If so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike for example – Sweden?”
When I hear North Korea running it’s tin cup along the bars, I am reminded of Osama’s words. Will we learn from 9/11? Or end up provoking a country that has nuclear capabilities? I don’t want to find out.
It’s also been said that, in our defense, we’re “guests” in the countries we have bases in. Short of Iraq and Afghanistan today, maybe that is true. But I ask you, how would you feel if North Korea were guests of Canada and Mexico? I don’t have to speculate. History already has an example. The Cuban Missile Crisis.
In 1962, the Soviet Union moved nuclear missiles onto Cuban soil (with Castro’s permission). The American public went nuts, Duck & Cover went into high rotation and the Kennedy Administration threw up a naval blockade to stop more from coming in. The United States and Soviet Union came the closest the world would ever see of nuclear war. It’s almost by luck and accident that the button wasn’t pushed back then.
Time to bring the men and women in uniform home. I see news coverage of dads and moms who have been away for a year or so. I see them return, greeted by mothers, wives, husbands, children. Seeing that uniformed soldier hugging his loved ones back on American soil tears me up. I’ve never been in the military. The closest I came was toy soldiers on the kitchen floor with my father. Or, World War II re-enactments with the British 9th Paratroopers. But I can sympathize. Come on, bring them home. No more Osama’s. No more Kim Jong Uns. Come on.
There is only one incident in American history where, despite the Libertarian inside me wincing and telling me that it was just Teddy engaging in dick waging, I kind of dig. In 1907, then President Theodore Roosevelt felt it was time to announce to the world that the United States was ready for the big time. He sent the newly formed naval ships, dubbed the Great White Fleet, on a worldwide tour. The purpose was to demonstrate that America was now capable of sitting at the grown ups table; or, as my father explained, “Teddy was saying, fuck with us, you fuck with this.”
I have no problem with acts like this from my country. No problem flexing some muscle and demonstrating this fully operational battle station to deter foes. But let’s bring all of our troops home. Germany and Japan and most of our other allies are rich and strong enough to defend for themselves. Why am I, in Livonia, Michigan, paying tax dollars to support South Korea, which irks North Korea, when we should just pull out? We left Vietnam. We can leave South Korea…and Japan…and Germany…and Brazil…and Greenland for Christ’s sake. Greenland. Let’s not be herpes.