Don’t you just love what-If questions? I do — they make me think. They make me have to… speculate. And when I speculate, based on an infinite number of variables, I can think up all manner of possible futures. Let me give you an example. First, some background…
My wife and I started surprising our friends and relatives a couple of months ago with the announcement, “We’re going to be parents again.” We loved to watch their jaws drop open when we said this. In response to this, one of the daughters of some couple-friends of ours said, “Naaaa… that’s impossible!” At that, everyone had a good laugh. Then we completed our announcement, “We’re going to host a foreign exchange student for the following school year.”
Jeong Hae Yun (she wants to be called Betsy), a sixteen year-old girl from South Korea, will be part of our family beginning this August through at least the end of May next year, and we’re really excited about it. We’ve been empty-nesters for over fifteen years now, and we have missed the sense of purpose that comes from having a young person living with us. She may even become one of my World Geography students because she will be attending classes on the same campus were I teach in Waxahachie, Texas. But what if something terrible happens on the Korean peninsula and surrounding area while she is here?
All the news lately of Kim Jung Il’s “saber rattling” with intercontinental missile tests and nuclear weapons production, coupled with his deplorable record for cooperation with the international community, has me worried. What if ongoing diplomatic efforts fail? What if North Korea’s “glorious leader” refuses our offer for six-nation talks with informal, one-on-one talks with the U.S. on the side?
According to a CATO Institute article (The CATO Institute is non-profit public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C.) published June 23d, when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz visited South Korea in late-May, he announced Washington’s intention to “reposition” some of its military forces stationed in South Korea. At that time, most U.S. troops there were deployed in the northern part of the country, between the capital, Seoul, and the Demilitarized Zone that separates South Korea from communist North Korea. Since then, according to the Korean Times, many U.S. troops remaining on the peninsula (According to a NewsMax.com article, forces there had been previously reduced in number by about 7,000 for service elsewhere in the War on Terrorism) have been moved to locations around the port city of Pyongtaek, a location out of range to most North Korean artillery and closer to port facilities. This redeployment, which has generated several protests from local farmers who have lost property to eminent domain, is still in-progress.
The CATO article goes on to say that Wolfowitz offered only a vague justification for such a move, contending that repositioning forces would make them more effective in meeting the threat posed by North Korea. That, I think, is a curious statement to make. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the principal rationale for stationing the troops near the DMZ has been that they would serve as a tripwire in case of a North Korean attack. I know, because, I was stationed in South Korea for a year while still on active duty. This tripwire function would guarantee U.S. involvement in any future conflict. North Korea, knowing that it would then face war, not only with South Korea, but also with the United States, would be deterred from taking such a reckless gamble.
So, why has the Bush administration abandoned the long-standing tripwire function of U.S. forces in South Korea? Could it be that we are considering a preemptive military attack on North Korea’s nuclear installations and we want to move American troops out of harm’s way. Most military analysts agree that if the United States were to launch such an attack, the North would likely respond with an intense artillery and missile barrage of the Seoul metropolitan area and, possibly, with a ground attack through the DMZ. American troops stationed between Seoul and the DMZ would then end up being pretty-much dead tripwire forces.
As “unthinkable” as this scenario sounds, it isn’t “unimaginable.” Because, if diplomacy fails, what possible sanctions could be imposed against a nation with millions already starving. Could we live with the spectre of a rogue nation like North Korea, bad as their economy is today and as unpredictable as their leader is, possessing WMD (weapons of mass destruction), weapons that might well be used against our East Asian allies, launched against west coast targets in North America, or even sold to al Qaeda to be used anywhere in the world at any time? I think not.
I can imagine a possible future wherein Mrs. Garry and I might just really be parents again. No, it’s not at all impossible.
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