Thursday, April 22, 2004

Nuking Pyongyang?

Pastorius over at CUANAS fisks an article by Jonathan Ariel. The relevant paragraph is this:

    "The fact that North Korea may have a few primitive nuclear bombs is no reason to treat Kim any differently from Milosevic. Pyongyang is a restricted city, populated only be [sic] the leadership and the Communist party faithful. Nuking the entire city, if that is the only way to rid the world of an unspeakable abomination, would be more than justified. The willing accomplices and profiteers of Kim’s crimes are as guilty as he is, and since there are no innocents in the city, there is no problem. Such an act would also send the ultimate lesson civilization has to send if it is to survive, namely that genocide is unacceptable, and he who lives for it by virtue of the bomb, shall die by the bomb."

I share Pastorius' dismay at the logic of this statement. While I am not generally more opposed to a nuclear strike than any other necessary act of war, Ariel has failed to make the case that what he proposes could actually be necessary. Let us be clear: he is proposing a preemptive nuclear strike in order to decapitate the North Korean leadership. His moral case seems to be based on the sentence, "Pyongyang is a restricted city, populated only be [sic] the leadership and the Communist party faithful." If this were literally true, then I would have no objection. If the city were indeed entirely populated by "the willing accomplices and profiteers of Kim’s crimes", then they have indeed forfeited the status of civilians and have become legitimate military targets.

But can such a situation ever be the case? Are there no waitresses or bus-boys in the city? No gas station attendants or housekeepers? No prostitutes? I am willing to take Mr. Ariel's word that all such people would be vetted for party loyalty; that is a well known characteristic of dictatorships. But also characteristic is the fact that many people are forced to claim loyalty in order to survive. Our experience with ex-Baathists in Iraq is a good illustration of this principle. It is all very well to laud those martyrs who are willing stand up to an evil regime, but to condemn those who are too weak to do so as willing collaborators is beyond the pale.

It may very well be that a nuclear conflict with North Korea will become justifiable, but the burden of such a decision is far heavier than Mr. Ariel seems willing to acknowledge.

UPDATE: Oops, can't link directly to the article. The title is "Jonathan Ariel and The People at Maariv International - Whoever They Are - Ought to Be Ashamed Of Themselves" dated 04/21/04 at 1:01 pm.

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