You often hear that the United States no longer has big goals, the way it did when President Kennedy challenged the country to put a man on the moon. And by big goals, I mean something that costs an enormous amount of money, focuses the entire country on the objective, takes years to accomplish, and delivers more in the way of psychological and technological benefits than it gets from actually accomplishing the goal. Walking on the moon was trivial compared to the emotional and psychological boost it provided, and the technology developed along the way.

I think we already had this generation's equivalent of a moon landing, except it involved landing helicopters in Pakistan. And instead of astronauts sticking a flag in the moon, Seal Team 6 stuck a bullet in Osama Bin Laden's skull.

Killing Bin Laden cost the United States, oh, let's say ten trillion dollars, if you include everything from the opportunity costs, to the interest expense, to the Iraq war, to homeland security, and of course the war in Afghanistan. And by the time we got Bin Laden, the objective itself was trivial compared to the effort. But man, did it feel good.

In the long run, the technology developed to fight terrorism will probably be as important to the world as the technology developed getting to the moon. And like the moon race, we didn't choose the objective so much as it was chosen for us by international forces. The race to the moon was a message to the Soviet Union. The bullet in Bin Laden head was a message to anyone who thought attacking the mainland United States was a good idea.

Countries are like people in the sense that they develop personalities. Countries are the sum of their parts plus the sum of their histories. When a country does something notable, good or bad, that becomes its personality for a century. And getting the personality right has a huge economic value.

For example, Cyprus will probably have a century-long reputation as the unemployed uncle who rifled through your underwear drawer looking for your hidden sock full of money so he could buy beer. Russia is a well-dressed mobster. Canada is the guy who mows his lawn and then mows yours too because he was "...already out there, eh?"

The personality of the United States changes periodically. Sometimes we're generous and inspiring. Other times we're total dicks. It's a complicated country. But no one thing defines the personality of the United States more than our willingness to spend ten trillion dollars - and kill anyone who gets in the way - just to put a bullet in one asshole's skull. That gives me neither pride nor embarrassment; it's just a statement of fact.

This brings me to North Korea. I don't know enough about complicated international affairs to have informed opinions, so I'll put this in the form of a question from a citizen: Why isn't North Korea China's problem?

The old United States, with its old personality, probably needed a strong military presence in the area to keep things from getting out of hand. And of course we wanted to be there for our allies.

But today the United States has a different personality, and that provides different options. Today we could pack up all of our stuff, slap China on the back and say, "It's all yours, buddy. Call if you need anything. Glad to help." And we'd totally mean it.

The best part of our new personality is that Kim Jong-un understands that if someday he lobs a missile at the mainland United States, we'll spend ten years and another ten trillion dollars to put a bullet in his head. We'll even shoot his kids on the way up the stairs. And realistically, if North Korea did attack the United States, China would either step out of the way or do some regime-changing themselves in North Korea, as a favor to their biggest customer.

My observation over a lifetime is that when it comes to a fight, the craziest person has a huge advantage because he's not worried about his own losses. When Kim Jong-un's father was running North Korea, he had the craziness advantage. Today I'm not buying their act. From my dim vantage point, it looks like acting crazy instead of the real thing. If they want to see the real thing, all they need to do is send a rocket a little too far toward California.

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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2013
> "You often hear that the United States no longer has big goals"

i dunno ..

.. what about the Project to destroy Iraq? The Project to destroy Libya? The current Project to destroy Syria? The ongoing Project to destroy Iran?

.. the psychological benefits: these projects create a lot of national pride. There's nothing that people enjoy more than assertion of power. That's what wholesale death and destruction with impunity accomplishes: national pride. And i'm pretty sure the technologies of killing people and destroying infrastructure are making massive strides! So, it's win-win all around for absolutely everyone!
Apr 25, 2013
You know, I just have to add a final comment here.

I made a post that said, in effect, 'North Korea, bad; United States, good." And I got an aggregate of five negative votes.

How interesting.
Apr 23, 2013
@nasch, disenfranchised may have been a strong way to put it. Looks like the older brother complained that he didn't have American friends and didn't understand American culture. His uncle describes him as a loser who never assimilated. And I guess, the general consensus is that he kept clinging to his Chechnyan heritage. As an Olympic hopeful, he was knocked out in the first round in his first fight at the tryouts, so... he wasn't going anywhere with that, and I guess it was most of what he had going for himself.
Apr 23, 2013
The two problems are related. The navy has developed functioning laser weapons systems and reports I've read indicate the power can be scaled up another 10X.

So they won't need a $10 trillion bullet. Weapon systems are just around the corner that can assassinate people from outer space - either by reflecting the beam from a ship or mounting the laser on a satellite. Much of this is thanks to the space program - so the R&D that went into the space race is very much involved in the next generation of bullet.

China won't do anything about Kim because, historically, they have always maintained satellite states as a buffer between themselves and the outside world. It's why China got involved in Korea and Vietnam: allowing outside powers to wield that much influence so close to their border violates the policy of maintaining a buffer. For them, Kim is like a junkyard dog on a leash and China enjoys the feeling of security of having a rabid animal at their disposal to unleash.
Apr 19, 2013
The manhunt for the remaining Marathon bomber is still happening and I started thinking conspiracy theory...

Since American forces are winding down in Afghanistan, we're dangerously close to having no war -- but now Chechnya is almost in play. If Dzhokhar escapes (Halliburton, are you listening?) and then in a couple months releases a jihad video from Chechnya, then we're back in business.

Congress will be delighted to pump a few trillion into bombing Chechnya. Russia will be delighted to be on our Coalition Force. Putting a bullet in Dzhokhar's head will be a grand finale -- I'd say give the honor to the Army Rangers this time around.

"Dzhokhar" is such a great name for a villian that I don't see how this could miss.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2013
Why do you say disenfranchised? And they've been in Boston for at least a few years, whether you consider that recent or not I don't know.
Apr 19, 2013
And yep... used Emigrated instead of Immigrated. I'm an idiot, thanks for noticing.
Apr 19, 2013
So... the Boston bombing is a pair of disenfranchised muslim boys who recently emigrated to this country. "What a shocker!" said nobody anywhere. I guess the Kazakhstan/ Chechnya-Russia thing was a slight twist, though.
Apr 19, 2013
[California typo. Fixed. -- Scott]

LOL, hadn't heard that one before, good one.

(But why are people down voting my comment? Is there something wrong with it? It seems that people will down vote anything).
Apr 19, 2013
The one core belief of the United States is that we don't like to lose. We will go out of our way to make sure that we get the upper hand. We went to the moon because the Soviet Union did the following before us:

1. launching an intercontinental ballistic missile.
2. placing an inanimate object into orbit.
3. placing an animate object into orbit without returning it safely.
4. placing an animate object into orbit and returning it safely.
5. escaping earth's gravity with an inanimate object.
6. communicating back and forth from space.
7. placing an object near the moon.
8. orbiting the moon.
9. Hitting the moon.

And they rubbed our noses in it any chance they got. Soviets are even greater sore winners than losers. So the U.S. had to literally "shoot for the moon" to prove they were the best. In between the announcement in May 25th, 1961, and the first lunar landing on July 24th, 1969, the Soviets continued to do the following (and rub our noses in it).

10. taking pictures of the dark side of the moon.
11. launching a probe to Venus.
12. sending a man into space for over 24 hours.
13. having two spacecraft in space at the same time.
14. launching probe to Mars.
15. sending a woman into space.
16. sending multi-person crew into space.
17. landing on the moon safely and transmitting back to earth.
18. spacewalking.
19. First animate objects sent to the moon.
20. Docking two spacecraft in orbit.
21. delivering moon dirt to the earth.

And so being first to send man to the moon, and then safely returning said man, we declared ourselves the ultimate winners of the space race. At this point the Soviets stopped rubbing our noses into everything, or we just stopped listening to them. I've omitted our space firsts during this time for dramatic/comedic effect.

We don't have any big goals because we don't have any big challenges that we perceive ourselves to be getting our collective behinds handed to us. We tend to ignore/dismiss anything called facts or research that shows us falling behind, except during presidential election cycles.

We don't seem to have a rival that is willing to rub our noses in our faces, or causes us a truly nationwide fear. We still don't like to lose, but we can't collectively agree that somebody is truly beating us in an area that we deem important. We seem to have this aura of invincibility that requires large scale mayhem to just make us doubt this invincibility. Our personality hasn't changed, its just that no one else is bothering to point out they are better than us like the Soviets did.

The relationship between The US, China, and North Korea can be ridiculously simplified to the rivalry between three siblings. The middle child (China) knows that he can't torment the elder child (The US) without getting a noogie. The middle child knows however that he can convince the junior sibling (North Korea) to do something stupid to the eldest sibling and watch the hilarity noogie free. As long as North Korea believes that the middle child has their back, they continue on bravely forward. Now the middle child realizes that when the eldest child complains to the parents (The UN) about the youngest child, The middle child has the powerful role of either making the eldest look like a whining fool or throwing the youngest under the bus. Either way the middle child wins relatively unscathed.

The crazy person is not dangerous because he has nothing to lose, he is dangerous in figuring out what he believes is a worthy target.

I believe that North Korea, if they are going to do something, will do something to a much grander scale than Bin Laden. A simple bullet after ten years and trillion dollars would not be adequate enough "repayment" for his action(s). I don't look forward to their action, nor to our response.
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2013
America is like a Saloon full of 250 million people with a constant free-for-all going on with lots of differing opinions, heated discussions, yelling, screaming, kicking, biting, punching...then suddenly in walks Kim Jong. You can hear a pin drop as everyone pulls themselves together in a nanosecond and...well, let's just say I wouldn't want to be him.
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2013
America is like a Saloon full of 250 million people with a constant free-for-all going on with lots of differing opinions, heated discussions, yelling, screaming, kicking, biting, punching...then suddenly in walks Kim Jong. You can hear a pin drop as everyone pulls themselves together in a nanosecond and...well, let's just say I wouldn't want to be him.
Apr 18, 2013
From previous post-
"The powers that be have very effectively brainwashed many of us into thinking that its America's duty to police the world and protect the defenseless and oppressed where ever they may be. Ultimately the powers that be use this attitude to direct the nation's wealth into their pockets"

Eh, who am I kidding, fear is the most valuable tool for any regime to employ. The US government/military/industrial complex can justify any expenditure and action to theoretically protect the nation by simply manipulating the public's perception of some imagined or manufactured threat.
Apr 18, 2013

Let me research it some more. You may be right about the ranking, but the point I was trying to make was that, regardless of the ranking, it's still a poor country that puts the majority of its GDP into its military while letting its people starve. I don't think $1,800 per year per person on average counteracts my point, regardless of whether they're the poorest country or just really, really poor. But thanks for the factcheck.
Apr 18, 2013
@Phantom II,

Where do you get your information? The CIA World Factbook (and several other sources, including World Bank, Fox News, Wall Street 24/7) put them way, way above "the poorest country in the world." They're around 197th out of 229 with a good bit of Africa in the $350 - $1000 range.
Apr 18, 2013
Its discussions like this that make me really really envious of Switzerland's attitude of neutrality and mind our own business. The powers that be have very effectively brainwashed many of us into thinking that its America's duty to police the world and protect the defenseless and oppressed where ever they may be. Its nice in theory, but at some point you bankrupt your society trying to impose your sense of morality on the rest of the world. Ultimately the powers that be use this attitude to direct the nation's wealth into their pockets, through runaway military spending. I've felt for a very long time now that the best thing America can do to be a light unto the rest of the world is to create the best possible society we can to model for the rest of the world to see what is truly possible. Sadly, every day we are moving further and further in the opposite direction.
Apr 18, 2013
There are so many different ideas and topics here, it's tough to know how to respond to them all.

I don't think that the moon shot versus killing bin Laden is an apt analogy. One that would be more to the point, in my opinion, is the moon shot versus winning the Cold War. Killing bin Laden was a case of good versus evil. You might say that about the old Soviet Union as well, but what you had there was more a battle between two diametrically opposed views of the relationship of the citizen to the state.

We won. They lost. And now we're trying to emulate the losers. Go figure.

I don't agree that sometimes we're total dicks. We have our flaws, but overall we've freed more people, and kept more people from having their freedom taken away, than any other country that has ever existed. My favorite SF author of all time, the late Robert Heinlein, gave an example of the American personality in one of his books. It might have been in "Starship Troopers," but I'm not sure.

In any case, one of his characters was teaching an ethics class. He gave the example of someone who is kidnapped by some evildoers. His question to the class concerned if we should send people in to save the kidnapped person knowing that some of them might get killed. His Socratic question was, "Why should we trade many lives for one? We wouldn't pay the same for one potato as we would for a whole bushel of them, would we?" One of his students said, "People aren't potatoes," which was the whole point of the exercise. In case you missed it, here it is again: people are not potatoes.

To our country's 'personality,' as you call it, people aren't potatoes. They never have been, and they never will be, as long as America exists. Contrast that to the various statist countries (of which North Korea is one). People are potatoes. The state is the only thing worth protecting.

That's what makes us different. That's what makes us unique.

Now, as to your question: why isn't North Korea China's problem? In a very real sense, it is. I recently did some research on North Korea, and here are some interesting facts:

North Korea has a population of around 22 million. They have 1.2 million people in their active armed forces, and another 8 million in the reserves. They are the most heavily sanctioned country on earth. They are also the poorest, with a per capita income averaging around $1,800/year. They are arguably the only country on the planet you could call 'Fourth World.'

Have you ever seen the night picture taken from a satellite showing North and South Korea? South Korea is lit up like a thousand sparklers, while North Korea is almost totally black. There's the end result of people being potatoes.

China is supporting North Korea economically, for a selfish reason: the last thing they want is for ten million North Korean refugees to run across the border into China, which is what would happen if another war broke out. So China can't ignore the threat of a nuclear North Korea, or one that starts up another war with the South. And they do seem to be sending messages; just a few days ago, Chinese President Xi made a statement to the effect that no country should be allowed to "instigate regional chaos." For the Chinese president, that's a very strong statement.

At the same time, we can't afford to turn our back on the problem, as you seem to suggest. South Korea is an ally; Japan is an ally; Guam is a US territory not to mention Alaska. All are in the range of North Korean missiles. We need to be able to protect our allies and our territory.

But there's a larger reason to remain active in the region: if we absent ourselves from the playing field, China will move into the vacuum. That would make China the new superpower, at least in Asia and the Pacific.

Ask yourself this: would you rather the US be the world's superpower, or China? Which country treats people less like potatoes? The Chinese are developing a blue-water Navy, and recently had their first successful landing of an airplane on an aircraft carrier. President Obama is deploying naval forces to Australia, and moving missile defense (thank you President Reagan, for 'Star Wars,' which is where this technology came from) to the west coast and Japan.

So to answer your question, Scott, we simply can't walk away without ceding the world, or at least the Pacific Basin, to China. This is about much more than North Korea. You might be interested in researching the global political picture as it relates to all of Asia. It's an eye-opener. I applaud your interest, and hope you will continue to think about world issues.

+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2013
By "crazy" it should actually be "rationally crazy". The craziness part is exemplified by lobbing artillery shells at a fishing village located on a South Korean island. Another example would be the kidnapping of Japanese villagers from their homes and forcing them to teach Japanese to their military. How about kidnapping actors to act in NK home movies for Kim Jong Il. The rational part is in using this apparent or perceived craziness to extort money and resources from the international community. They know that if it were not for this act, they would have no money, no food, and no way to control their people.

NK is accurately described as "The Hermit Kingdom". It relies on a medieval structure of serfs (general commoner) who provide the labor and muscle to support their local lords who report to the king. The problem is this works well for an agrarian society but not so much for a country with modern aspirations (which they have). So the only way to get more resources is through threats of violence on their neighbors. China understands this and provides material resources to support the Hermit Kingdom for fear of losing the Kims. Make no mistake, China will lose NK if social collapse or reunification occurs which will undoubtedly drive NK into the arms of the west. This is completely unacceptable to China's self-image of being the center of power in the Asian-Pacific arena and would present a threat to the Chinese mainland.

To answer your point. China doesn't see NK as necessarily a problem but a strategic and political asset. It keeps the Japanese and South Koreans (two staunch American allies) in check as their economic strength represents a threat to Chinese influence in the area. In that respect, China will forever support NK no matter how nutty the regime is even if they do threaten to start a war. This is something I don't think most people understand.
Apr 18, 2013
My fear is that you are wrong about Kim Jong-Un being crazy. He was raised in an environment where his father and grandfather were made to be larger than life figures, personally responsible for all that is good, and also personally responsible for holding back all that is bad. I'm afraid that Lil' Kim bought into it, believes it, and will try to live out the legacy until someone educates him. And by "educates" I mean "kills."

I'm not an expert on North Korea by any means, but I do know that we fought North Korea, and they still exist.

I think Kim Jon-Il was good at acting crazy while Kim Jong-Un really is crazy.
Apr 18, 2013
North Korea has always acted crazy rather than actually being crazy. Sometimes they need to do something more shocking than threats to make people believe it, but they are careful not to go over the line that would cause someone to force regime change.

North Korea is an annoyance to China, but occasionally China will make North Korea tone it down as a favor to the USA - which is useful when they need a favor back from the US.
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