Four days ago, Donald Trump singed into law new sanctions targeted at North Korea (Iran and Russia, too). Yesterday, national security advisor H.R. McMaster said all options are on the table when it comes to dealing with a potentially nuclear North Korea threat, including a “preventative war.” A little later yesterday, the U.N. approved of the “most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation” on North Korea over their recent missile testing.
These are only the most recent developments in the long standing game of cat-and-mouse between the U.S. and North Korea. In fact, little more than a year ago, Barack Obama batted his paw by imposing sanctions on North Korea that China warned would cripple their economy... because if there’s a good strategy for spreading liberal democracy around the globe and incentivizing peace and goodwill between nations, a global superpower strutting its stuff by forcibly barring off trade with, and further isolating, an already poor, isolated, and deeply illiberal nation is surely the way to go.
Unfortunately the parade of sanctions targeted at North Korea by countries with nuclear capabilities that dwarf Pyongyang’s will only worsen international tensions and redirect citizens’ resentment and hatred from the brutal regime itself to the interventionist forces impoverishing them even more. The bright side to all this that at least North Korea isn’t dealing with a foreign regime that has ever blatantly lied about another country having weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to launch an invasion aimed at regime change…well, except for that one time.
Whether the cat or the mouse will finally lose its temper first, we do not know. Whether the cat or the mouse will ever even lose its temper at all, we do not know. Because of the incomprehensible destructive capacity of the weapons the U.S. is trying so desperately to prevent the spread of, it’s not just the citizens of North Korea and the U.S. that are left in this chilling uncertainty about their future, but the entire world. All we citizens of the world do know is that somehow, someway, the fate of over 7 billion people lies in the hands of Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump.
That’s part of why nuclear weapons are so damn scary. It’s not just that those two unhinged megalomaniacs are playing a high-stakes game of chicken, gambling the lives of millions and billions in the process. It’s that while nuclear weapons exist, the fate of the world is in someone’s hands. The power lies with whoever has the right familial legacy in the case of Kim Jong-Un, or whoever has enough two-faced, schmoozing prowess to win over just enough of the American electorate in the case of Donald Trump. In other words, whoever happens to be running the show can wipe out all human life with a whim.
Have you seen Trump’s tweets? Do you really want that guy with his finger on the trigger to end all known life? That’s too easy, though. Have you talked to your neighbors lately? I’m sure they’re nice people…but would you be ok with putting this power in their hands? What about people you’d entrust even your life with? You might trust your partner with your life, but the whole world’s? What about yourself? Have you looked in the mirror lately? I doubt even the most virtuous among us would be so brash as to think we have the wisdom to decide the fate of 7.5 billion souls. Only within a depraved, power-hungry sense of life would someone want to be entrusted with that kind of inhuman responsibility.
The question is quite simple: should everyone on Earth have a gun pointed to their head at all times? We have endured exactly that for over seven decades, with various close encounters and sighs of relief. But at no time has the gun been put down. At no time has the threat ceased. Murray Rothbard adeptly understood this issue:
For just as murder is a more heinous crime against another man than larceny, so mass murder—indeed murder so widespread as to threaten human civilization and human survival itself—is the worst crime that any man could possibly commit. And that crime is now imminent. And the forestalling of massive annihilation is far more important, in truth, than the demunicipalization of garbage disposal, as worthwhile as that may be. Or are libertarians going to wax properly indignant about price control or the income tax, and yet shrug their shoulders at or even positively advocate the ultimate crime of mass murder?
The logical question to ask, then, is: how credibly should we take this threat?
Today, August 6th, 2017 marks the 72nd anniversary of one of the people running the show deciding to use nuclear weapons against innocent civilians in the deadliest terror attack in human history. Harry Truman murdered between 90,000 and 166,000 people in Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. You might say that dropping an atomic bomb on innocents was the only alternative to a full-scale invasion that would cost even more lives. But what if the numbers don’t really add up? You might say that dropping an atomic bomb on innocents was the only way to finally end the war. But what if the U.S. was making the negotiations harder than they had to be? You might say that the qualified political and military intelligentsia approved of dropping an atomic bomb on innocents. But what if many important people actually opposed it?
Ultimately, those potential rationalizations give a lot of weight to the killers’ ability to predict the future (when we should actually be very skeptical of that ability) and not enough weight to perhaps the most basic, common-sense moral rule: mass murder is wrong. This rule holds in many situations, too:
Mass murder is wrong when carried out to make political statements.
Mass murder is wrong when carried out to intimidate others.
Mass murder is wrong when carried out to save others’ lives.
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