President Trump’s belligerent and aggressive threats to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea in response to its rapid advances in nuclear weaponry and ballistic missiles has set the world on edge and left many Americans asking whether a war—possibly even a nuclear one—is about to break out.
That question became acute when Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has been a lone voice for diplomacy within the administration, made an about-face after Trump made his reprehensible comments from his New Jersey golf club. North Korea, Mattis said in a public statement issued by the Pentagon, should not take any action that “would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
The chilling language from the administration was reminiscent of President Truman’s warning just before he dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945. If Japan doesn’t accept the US terms of capitulation, he said, “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Tens of thousands died when he unleashed that power—and nearly 3 million were killed when the United States firebombed North Korea during the Korean War only five years later.
Apparently delighting in the attention, Trump doubled down on his threats for the rest of the week, ending it on Friday sounding like a cowboy drunk on power: by tweeting, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” All that was missing was a war whoop.
But any hopes for a different approach were dashed by the media, particularly CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, which bought into the war fears with a 24/7 onslaught in which every utterance from Trump was treated as the hottest of news. When the usual guests appeared—mostly former spooks and generals—the conversation was all about numbers and death: How far can North Korea’s missiles go? How many people would die in a war? Do we have the capability to take them out?
One of the most ubiquitous of the commentators is Gordon Chang, who became famous on the basis of his simplistic and bombastic books about China and North Korea. He spends his days hopping from CNN to MSNBC, spouting his view that military confrontation is inevitable because Kim Jong-un want to “blackmail Washington in hopes of breaking the U.S. alliance with South Korea,” as he wrote in The Daily Beast this week. Despite his scare-mongering, nobody in the South seemed concerned.