Monday, July 13, 2009


North Korea’s Kim Jong II threatens to “wipe the U.S. from the face of the Earth.” Sounds amusing, even funny, at first.

Perhaps we should not take him so literally. Arrogance makes us do that—take things literally—because our strength (military, financial, etc.) is a literal matter. We are literally the most powerful nation on Earth. So, when someone makes such a threat as Kim’s, we prefer to take it literally because that makes it sound all the more ridiculous.

What if the danger Kim poses is figurative? Would we be so quick to laugh then?

9-11 proved our vulnerability and our fragility. Our psyche has been damaged by it, and by Iraq; and to an extent greater than we seem to realize, by Abu Ghraib. It is these types of blows that can change the face of a nation, and erode its confidence and its influence. Kim’s threat, when seen in this light, might not be as hollow as it first appeared. Certainly, no matter what Kim does, the U.S. could, literally, wipe North Korea off the map. But would we ever be the same?

Perhaps Kim has a coup in mind—something that won’t work, but that he thinks will work; something that will work, but not in the way, nor in the time that he has planned.

Perhaps we’d better stop thinking so literally, and star thinking figuratively—wondering if stopping a barge possibly loaded with millet for Myanmar is worth chancing being wiped off the face of the earth.

Perhaps we don’t believe we can be “wiped off the face of the earth.” Perhaps we’re not taking into account that our face could be so drastically altered that we won’t ever so readily want to show it again.

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