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When Historians Provide Bad Policy Ideas


I’m all for historians entering public debates. I am less enthused when they advocate utterly terrible ideas in major publications, such as University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri, who calls for the United States to bomb North Korea.

Hard to see what could go wrong in that scenario!! Love this paragraph as well:

China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict. Beijing will continue to worry about the United States extending its influence up to the Chinese border. If armed hostilities erupt, President Obama should be prepared for direct and close consultations with Chinese leaders to negotiate a postwar settlement, in a larger multinational framework, that respects Beijing’s legitimate security interests in North Korea. The United States has no interest in occupying North Korea. The Chinese are unlikely to pursue an occupation of their own.

China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict. Well then. Might as well just bomb North Korea and see what happens!

Jeremi Suri is the kind of historian that Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney could love.

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  • It’s a good thing Suri didn’t call for Kim Jun Ung’s head on a stick!

    • Only the freshest humor this morning I see.

      • Dude, you have to realise that, barring some future, more spectacular kerfluffle, the title of your Feshschriftt will be “Loomis: A Laboring Mind on The Sharp End Of A Stick” or some such.

        • Timb

          And, you should own it. You were right and you were attacked by the sort of craven morons who think armed guards in kindergarten is the solution

        • firefall

          What a great title for a book :)

      • Pseudonym

        Brewed just minutes ago from only the finest freshly grown coffee beans, the perfect complement to your pancakes and bacon.

    • Random

      Beat me to it.

  • c u n d gulag

    Well, as some Conservatives’ll tell ya, them North Koreans been wantin’ to bomb us again – just like they did before, at Pearl Harbor.
    Or we bombed THEM at Pearl Harbor.
    History is still out on that.

    You can’t make this sh*t up:

    And here it is, all this time, I thought it was the German’s who bombed us at Pearl Harbor.

    • Bill Murray

      I suppose our conservatives might bring up the Blue House Raid, the USS Pueblo incident or the Axe Murder incident

    • Warren Terra

      That Tumblr is weird. On the one hand, yes, the people publicly shamed there are utter morons (Poe’s law excepted); on the other hand, they’re nobodies, and the guy making that Tumblr is basically nutpicking as a hobby.

      • c u n d gulag

        I take that as a small sample of Good Ol’ Murkan outright feckin’ stupidity.

        • Fred Smith


  • Timb

    Well, it is refreshing to see someone take North Krea at its word. Most other analysts seem intent discerning their intentions and capabilities. Suri just skips that and takes liars at face value.

    And, when has that strategy ever caused a stupid and unnecessary war?

    • Mechazaurus

      You’re not saying that North Korea’s leaders might say things they don’t actually mean do you? What, are you some sort of Kantian nihilist or something?

      • joe from Lowell

        I think it’s been pretty well established that we should take politicians at their word when they posture in public.

        Especially when they’ve used that posture over and over.

        • cinesimon

          Yes if a politician insists on continuing a lie, it’s “well established” that we should eventually believe it.

  • Thom

    The amazing thing is that Suri’s piece makes no use of history to aid his analysis. It seems to be all based on guesswork.

    • RepubAnon

      Yeah, one would think that a discussion of how World War 1 started would be in order, coupled with a side dish of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and the Marine Corps “Advance to the Rear”.

      Alternatively, one could also quote the famous philosopher Vizinni from the Princess Bride: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” As Vizinni also felt that starting wars was an honorable profession, he would undoubtedly think a preemptive strike on a North Korean missile site was a good means to accomplish that end.

      • Anonymous

        I suspect that his perspective might be shaped by his time studying Kissinger, and nuclear options explored during that era? Perhaps that led him to be more comfortable with options that people haven’t discussed publicly much since then? Whether or not that is the case, as noted above, this article of his doesn’t build an argument from history.

    • Mike Schilling

      He’s no Victor Davis Hanson.

  • Barry Freed

    Don’t question his expertize. He’s given a TED talk. (Well, TEDx but still).

    • Thom

      He has expertise (in some things), but he’s not using it here.

      • Yeah – his edited collection of documents on 1968 is actually not bad. Sadly, collecting good documents and offering sound policy are very different activities.

      • Barry Freed

        I apologize for neglecting to use the sarcasm tag.

        • Bill Murray

          I thought the z in expertize did this

  • Usually ideas this dumb have to come from the political science department. ;-)

    • The peril of cross-listing, made flesh.

    • redrob64

      I’d be offended by that, but, “Oh Lisa, it’s funny because it’s true.”

    • joe from Lowell


  • Lego My Eggo

    Dr Suri:

    What part of “North Korea almost certainly has a nuke and almost certainly has a ballistic missile capable of delivering it and will almost certainly deliver said nuke on said missile into downtown Seoul if we bomb the north” do you not understand?

    It’s like a switch gets turned off in their brains.

    • Tucker

      They don’t even need nukes. It’s no like they don’t have 3 gazillion artillery pieces aimed southward with in easy range of most stuff they would want to blow up.

      • Timb

        Yeah, how is that missed? Is the American public unaware that North Korea can level Seoul with WW1 era weaponry?

        • Yes, they are.

        • joe from Lowell

          Is the American public unaware that North Korea can level Seoul with WW1 era weaponry?

          The American public was very disappointed when Seoul was voted off American Idol, and doesn’t take kindly to anyone threatening him with muskets.

      • Warren Terra

        Heck, even if they don’t have a nuke, they have the radiological material for a dirty bomb; they could probably just paint the stuff on the artillery shells they already have dialed in on Seoul.

  • LeeEsq

    Bomb North Korea? Why not? I can’t think of anything that could possibly go wrong. Wait, that’s not true. I can think of an infinite number of things that could go wrong, all of which have a price tag of uncountable deaths.

    • gmack

      Yes, but most likely those deaths won’t be me or anyone I know personally. Plus I’ll get the benefit of getting some really entertaining television; it will all be very exciting as I cheer on the good guys against those evil bastards who started this war, and I can weep copious tears as I see our heroes solemnly mourned when they are finally laid to rest. So it’s pretty clear that the benefits will outweigh the costs, right?

    • Helmut Monotreme

      Who are you trying to kid? 7 billion is a large number, but it’s whole lot less than ‘uncountable’. Unless you mean ‘uncountable’ in the sense that there won’t be anyone left to count, or that some of the bodies will be so vaporized that it will be impossible to get an accurate count.

      • I’m not sure that this sort of literalism is particularly useful.

        • Helmut Monotreme

          I was just trying, in my way, to add my voice to the chorus of folks who find the idea of bombing North Korea to be counterproductive, unnecessarily provocative, and at worst, suicidal.
          But I’m not a Texas Historian, who for all I know, might be impatient for the apocalypse.

        • Pseudonym

          Yes, let us all focus on the true moral monsters here, those like Helmut Monotreme who question the cardinality and countability of the set of possible deaths. Why, I bet Helmut Monotreme isn’t even a real name! Sounds like someone didn’t get his morning cup of coffee yet.

    • Mike Schilling

      Honestly, it’s not only countable, it’s finite.

      • S_noe

        Not if you include potential humans who will never be; then we have a countable but infinite death toll, a la the abortion/miscarriage/seed on the ground holocausts.

        • Mike Schilling

          You’re assuming the lifetime of the human species is infinite, which is foolish with the Rapture almost her

          • Mike Schilling

            e (had to take a bathroom break. Where did you think I went?)

  • Keaaukane

    A historian with bad policy ideas? He’s stealing Victor Davis Hanson’s act!

  • Patrick Pine

    The only thing about this that makes sense – the historian is from Texas….

    • Thom

      He’s from New York.

    • I don’t know – that such ideas come from the “Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs” seems to make a lot of sense.

      • spencer

        If there’s anything a football coach knows about, it’s leadership in global affairs.

        • Anonymous

          He was a Wisconsin historian, but left recently, blaming Scott Walker’s anti-university actions for convincing him to look for someplace less frustrating: http://thinkprogress.org/education/2011/05/23/177563/uw-prof-walker/

          My impression is that Suri’s work is pretty well-respected. Looks like his interventions into public discourse are somewhat idiosyncratic, given that he’s pro-war here, but also compared Walker to Joseph McCarthy. And interesting that his work on Nixon’s use of the ‘madman theory’ was also in the press this week: http://www.fpif.org/blog/nixons_madman_theory_was_not_the_vietnam_wars_only_test_case_for_nuclear_weapons

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            He did produce a self-promotional video that contains the lowest ratio of content to production values of anything posted on YouTube (quite an extraordinary achievement, when you think about it).

            But, yes, his scholarship is taken seriously.

          • Barry Freed

            And interesting that his work on Nixon’s use of the ‘madman theory’ was also in the press this week

            It sounds like he’s gotten he’s started to identify with his subject just a bit.

            • Barry Freed

              ARghh. If you can’t gimme some truth at least give me a preview button.

              • firefall

                Ask for a preview button and we could wind up with Disqus, a cure worse than the disease

                • timb

                  I love Disqus

          • Quincy

            I took a class from him at Wisconsin. He’s a good lecturer. I do remember him coming across as slightly too enthusiastic for my tastes about the merits of detente and Eisenhower-era u.s foreign policy, but I wouldn’t have expected anything like this. I vaguely recall a disappointing NY Times op-ed he wrote last year so it’s possible I’d be less impressed with his class today than I was as a 20-year-old.

          • He was a Wisconsin historian, but left recently, blaming Scott Walker’s anti-university actions for convincing him to look for someplace less frustrating:

            So he went to Texas? His judgement is clearly questionable….

          • Lee Siegel

            I was referring to Mack Brown – the person for whom the endowed chair is named – and not Suri.

            • spencer

              Arrgh, stupid gag nyms.

  • Douglas MacArthur

    China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict

    It surely is.

    • Bill Murray

      past results are no guarantee of future performance

      • Contents may settle during shipment.

        Particularly if they explode.

        • Hogan

          Do not taunt Happy Fun PLA.

    • Warren Terra

      Second time lucky!

    • Harry Truman

      Aren’t you retired?

      • Hogan

        No, he just faded away.

  • Pseudonym

    Bomb North Korea, Before It’s Too Late The Smoking Gun Is A Mushroom Cloud

    Because they can totally hit the U.S. with their long-range missile-launched nuclear warheads, so we should take them out first, as a matter of self-defense.

    Even worse, they might threaten or blackmail South Korea or Japan, so we’d better do something quick before asking what the South Koreans or Japanese think of our idea.

    Also, this idea of taking out missiles while not pursuing regime change is totally sustainable.

    Next up, some penetrating analysis of the domestic political situation: both sides are equally to blame!

    • cal1942

      Thanks for the link Pseudonym.

      Hate to be hasty but after a couple of paragraphs I wonder how U of T thought this guy was a historian. Maybe W really did get his revenge on U of T.

      • John

        Just because he comments idiotically on contemporary affairs doesn’t mean he’s not a good historian.

    • Eric the Fruit Bat

      Sorry, there can only be the one one true asshole (Niall Ferguson).

  • biggerbox

    These guys always think so small. If North Korea is really a threat to America’s core national interests, we do have the power to really just stop that right now.

    What really needs to happen is that John Kerry needs to go and express our great respect to the Chinese, and their sphere of influence, and that it’s only with the greatest deference that we ask if they would prefer to intercede with the North Koreans and maintain a tame client state, or just have us go ahead and replace it with a pool of slowly-cooling radioactive glass? (Either way, they get a buffer on their border from South Korea, but we can understand if they prefer not to suffer the ecological consequences of the simpler solution.)

    • James E. Powell

      Why would China want or need a buffer on its border with South Korea?

    • Caravelle

      Either way, they get a buffer on their border from South Korea, but we can understand if they prefer not to suffer the ecological consequences of the simpler solution.

      We are talking about the country that painted a mountain green, right ?

  • R. Porrofatto

    Shorter Professor Suri:
    1. Kim Jong-un will fire a missile at the U.S. or its allies if we don’t stop them.
    2. The U.S. should bomb North Korea to prevent them from firing the missile.
    3. Kim Jong-un won’t retaliate because that would be crazy.

  • Major Kong

    Alex, I’ll take “Insanely Stupid Ideas” for five hundred.

  • Mel Knight

    If there was ever a moral argument for bombing a regime into vapor, it applies to NK. What they’re doing to the poor NK people is beyond Orwellian; it’s Dante’s Inferno on earth. Of course, carpet bombing the country won’t work. But, if our boys at the CIA could take out Kim Jong Un, it might give the NK masses enough courage to revolt and take over their withering country. When Bush/Cheney saw visions of Iraqi oil pouring into US tankers, they swooned; and to get that oil, they gladly bombed the hell out of a country that had done exactly zero to the US. They always claimed it was really about WMD or “liberating” the besieged Iraqi people. But NK really IS worthy of regime change, yet the lack of oil makes it totally uninteresting and impossible. So, the NK citizenry will waste away in a horrible, prolonged death spiral. No good solutions. Just horror and death.

    • Mechazaurus

      But, if our boys at the CIA could take out Kim Jong Un, it might give the NK masses enough courage to revolt

      Actually, everything I’ve ever heard and read about North Korea makes me think it probably won’t.

      • timb

        Yeah, that weird idea that a regime is made up of only one guy is still in fashion in some places. There are thousands of people who identity and power are based on the continuation of the Kim dynasty.

        The idea that the assassination of Kim followed by a) a chaotic, anarchy of a “people’s revolt” or b) a North Korean general assuming power in a military dictatorship is preferable to c) the status quo has been proven wrong since Roman times

    • R. Porrofatto

      To paraphrase George W. Bush, “Kim Jong-un is worse than Hitler.” Gosh, if only they DID have oil!

    • Pseudonym

      If the CIA could take out Kim Jong Un and the entire military and political leadership of North Korea in one surgical strike and quickly replace them with a provisional government administered from South Korea that didn’t result in any disruption of law and order or food supplies or things like that and then could ensure a peaceful and orderly transition to a reunified Korea under a fair and legitimate and popular democratic government while ensuring China raised no objections and at the same time magical pink unicorns flew out of my butt and gave everyone a hug, yeah, regime change would be a good policy.

      • joe from Lowell

        and the entire military and political leadership of North Korea

        Thank you.

        We talk about North Korea as if it’s the witch’s castle in the Wizard of Oz, with all power coming from the figurehead, but we really have no idea how the internal politics of the Hermit Kingdom really work. “Derp derp, let’s just cut the big red wire.” Boom.

        • Pseudonym

          One of the problems I have with analyses of the cost in lives, money, refugees, etc. of Iraq War II: Electric Boogaloo is that to a certain extent some of those costs were pre-ordained however Saddam’s Ba’athist regime eventually fell. It might have ended up a clusterfuck on its own, even if it wasn’t our clusterfuck. Has there been any kind of analysis of this? I’m too much of a dilettantish ignoramus to know anything about this, but consider my curiosity piqued.

          • Hogan

            To paraphrase Daniel Davies, the one thing you can say for the status quo is that it’s no worse than the status quo. You’d be surprised how many plans fail to clear that hurdle.

          • Nathanael

            Well, there’s been some amateur analysis. It seems pretty clear that if the Ba’athist regime fell on its own, it wouldn’t leave large portions of the local population *hating the US*, so from a US perspective the Iraq War was a really stupid idea.

            The Iraq War also revealed that the US government can’t win wars, which has changed the entire geopolitical situation (and not in ways which favor the US government.)

            The Iraq War also told every country in the world that the US would attack you if and only if you didn’t have nukes. Which is why North Korea is very insistent that it has nukes.

            The Iraq War, on the whole, was an absolute disaster for the US. For Iraq? Well, it might have gone down similarly had Saddam’s regime collapsed of “natural causes”. Or it might not have. It couldn’t possibly have gone *worse*.

        • Caravelle

          Honestly, to me just the fact that they’ve had two peaceful transitions of power proves it’s not a one-man operation. It’s all within one family, sure, but if Kim Il-Sung or Kim Jong-Il had really been the only people standing between North Korea and some kind of representative government their deaths would have resulted in a power vacuum and noticeable internecine squabbling.

          As it is, whatever squabbling there is (if Kim Jong-Eun’s posturing is for internal consumptions then who knows what’s going on behind the scenes that he thinks he needs to do that) it’s all so well-hidden we don’t even hear about it.

    • Douglas MacArthur

      I guess I missed the part where being bombed into vapor seemed to the suffering NK masses to be an improvement.

      • ChrisTS

        Well, it might be relatively quick.

      • Colin Day

        Shouldn’t you be preparing to land at Inchon?

    • Warren Terra

      Um, yeah, “If the CIA could take out Kim Jong Eun”. Cleanly, I assume? That’d really be keen, especially since there’d certainly be no panicked response, and I understand Kim Jong Eun is personally responsible for the day-to-day imposition of all the regime’s awful policies. They can use my unicorn, if that helps; it farts rainbows, which’ve got to come in handy.

      PS: RE the ability of the CIA o take out Kim: given a decade of hostility plus six onthsof total military control, we eventually managed to catch Saddam. And Fidel, who was on the CIA’s hit list, is still alive. But surely they’re secretly capable of fulfilling your every desire.

      • Pseudonym

        AHEM. The unicorns are otherwise occupied, in case you missed my earlier comment.

    • Hogan

      And of course it’s perfectly simple to tell where the regime stops and the people start. We just have to kill everybody above a certain military rank/civil service classification. And nobody else, like their families. Such a task should be well within the capabilities of a bunch of Yalies who couldn’t get into law school the CIA.

    • joe from Lowell

      But, if our boys at the CIA could take out Kim Jong Un, it might give the NK masses enough courage to revolt and take over their withering country.

      Or it might lead to fighting between internal factions. Or it might lead to the collapse of a state on which huge numbers of people are dependent for their daily existence. Or it might create a massive power vacuum that is quickly filled by local racketeers. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking things can’t get worse.

      The Saddam government was just as “worthy of regime change” as the North Korean.

      I’m big on Arab Spring, and supporting locals with broad public support who want to overthrow horrible dictators, but you’d better be damn sure they’re already in place to take up the fight and establish control reasonably quickly afterwards. They aren’t going to just spring up out of the rubble.

      • The Arab Spring

        And we’re big on joe from Lowell!

    • I doubt it. We’d likely just end up with a really nasty military junta in his place. All you’d remove is the personality cult.

    • As a general rule, being attacked at home by foreigners isn’t the kind of thing that turns people against their own leaders.

      • Domino

        See: Dubya’s approval rating right after 9/11

    • Nathanael

      North Korea is a puppet state of China. It will exist in the exact state it is in until China decides otherwise. This has been obvious since China intervened in the Korean War in, IIRC, 1950…

      I have to credit Truman for sacking MacArthur, and Eisenhower for negotiating the armistice. Had we had lunatics in charge, it could easily have spiralled into WWIII. MacArthur was a lunatic, given that the Soviets had already acquired nukes in 1949.

      What’s most interesting to me is that the Chinese were undermanned, undersupplied, and in a panic over their situation, *and they were winning*, *and they were going to continue to win*.

      Had US military experts actually figured out what this meant about the future of warfare, then the outcome of the Vietnam War, Iraq War, Afghan War, Somalian intervention, etc., might have been properly understood.

      • para

        If the DPRK were a puppet state of China, things would be an awful lot more straightforward. As usual things are not quite as simple.

        • Hogan

          More like a ventriloquist dummy in the Twilight Zone.

    • spencer

      But, if our boys at the CIA could take out Kim Jong Un, it might give the NK masses enough courage to revolt and take over their withering country.

      Yes, because this has worked so well all the other times we’ve tried it.


  • Uncle Kvetch

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading The Newspaper of Record, it’s that “What the hell, might as well throw the dice” is a perfectly croumlent approach to foreign policy…second only to “Suck on this.” And who am I to second-guess the experts?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      My understanding is that sometimes the US needs to take a little regime, smash it against the wall, and say “suck on this!” Perhaps this is one of those times (there’s a Bit Coin bubble to burst, after all) and the DPRK is one of those regimes. Can’t hurt to try!

  • LosGatosCA

    Rolling the dice with nuclear weapons is such a manly thing to do, it’s hard to believe someone has not suggested this sooner.

    Even if something did go wrong, how bad could it be? Really. A few million folks die, airborne radioactive dust lowers the average IQ around the world a few points, it’s not like them yellow people value life as highly as we do, either. Our resolve to meet insanity with insanity could be a strong signal to the other Asian countries that we aren’t going stand for their export dumping into our market anymore, also, too.

    I’d say the minor costs are clearly and obviously outweighed by the intended and unintended benefits.

    • Warren Terra

      I’m not sure “rolling the dice” is the right metaphor. “Playing mumblety peg, while drunk”, maybe?

      • Hogan

        Russian roulette?

        • jawbone

          Making war decisions while drunk or high on…I dunno…or Neolib Corporatist hubris or NeoCon Corporatist overreach?

        • Russian roulette with a single round howitzer sounds about right to me.

        • firefall

          Russian roulette with an automatic

          • sparks

            As a kid/teen that used to be my favorite line about someone stupid: “He’d play Russian roulette with an automatic”.

    • -dg

      I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

      • Anonymous

        50 million, tops. But our essence would no longer be pure.

  • joe from Lowell

    The North Koreans make far too many empty threats and carry out far too many meaningless gestures for us to treat the preparation of a non-nuclear (note how Suri elides that point) missile as an imminent threat to our core national interests.

    If, I don’t know, the Chinese or Iranians or Pakistanis were making such threats, that would be a different matter, but the North Koreans carry out this type of military theater all the time.

    • Nathanael

      The Iranians don’t make this sort of threat, ever, so yeah, that would be worrisome. The Chinese actually do bluster sometimes, so I would worry a little but not much. Pakistan… oh my god, Pakistan is a mess internally — I’d start asking “Right, which faction is making these threats?”

  • angler

    yikes! I knew Suri 13 years ago when he was just starting out in the profession, nice guy very ambitious, on top of the latest trends in the field and studiously free of left-right opinions. He’s making his mark.

    • Chris

      One of American’s “Top Young Innovators,” he is!

      • Chris

        Or, more simply, “America’s…” If I can’t be pedantic with myself, with whom can I be?

        • And if not now, when?

          (Also, too, the rest is blog-commentary.)

  • jawbone

    Why use a missile when NK is close enough to harm SK using a big damn catapult? Heh.

    • jawbone

      Also, I imagine there are lots of people in positions of power who have been lusting to be able to, oh, occupy North Korea and move “defensive” weaponry right up to the border with China.

      Bet they think that would scare the Chinese into…maybe using our trade surplus they hold to build really good “defensive” weaponry against us?

      Why do we keep poking China?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Or we could just launch thousands of Jimmy Durantes at them!

      • DocAmazing

        That might lead to protracted conflict.

      • Bill Murray

        then we could win by a nose, or I guess a thousand noses

      • herr doktor bimler
      • Hogan

        And then it’s good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

  • Earnest Iuppie

    “I’m all for historians entering public debates.”
    We need more of them, not less. Being a historian you know that.

    The giveaway for Suri is not that he’s a historian but that he’s a professor of “Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy”

    A little history for you

    “CHARLES J. HANLEY and HYUNG-JIN KIM Associated Press Writers
    SEOUL, South Korea — In a political about-face, a South Korean commission investigating a century of human rights abuses has ruled that the U.S. military’s large-scale killing of refugees during the Korean War, in case after case, arose out of military necessity.

    Shutting down the inquiry into South Korea’s hidden history, the commission also will leave unexplored scores of suspected mass graves believed to hold remains of tens of thousands of South Korean political detainees summarily executed by their own government early in the 1950-53 war, sometimes as U.S. officers watched.”


    The most eye-opening sections of “The Korean War” detail America’s saturation bombing of Korea’s north. “What hardly any Americans know or remember,” Mr. Cumings writes, “is that we carpet-bombed the north for three years with next to no concern for civilian casualties.” The United States dropped more bombs in Korea (635,000 tons, as well as 32,557 tons of napalm) than in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. Our logic seemed to be, he says, that “they are savages, so that gives us the right to shower napalm on innocents.”

    • jawbone

      I did not know this until recently when it has been discussed in some of Left Blogistan. I knew about the alleged illegal killing of civilian refugees, but I did not know we’d used carpet bombing against the North. And I only learned about the civilian massacres only in the past decade, iirc.

      So much we leading edge Baby Boomers were never taught in schools, colleges, or universities. I recall actually being shocked that we were so ruthless toward Native Americans, No white hats there either.

      Sometimes I wonder if children growing up after the Baby boomers were taught these things in school and thus are more skeptical than most of us were. I mean, even when I learned about our bad acts and lying concerning Viet Nam, I think I believed that our leaders usually were fair and honest…. Uh oh,

      • Nathanael

        “Sometimes I wonder if children growing up after the Baby boomers were taught these things in school and thus are more skeptical than most of us were.”

        We weren’t taught most of this stuff in school. We heard it from people’s parents and uncles. The people who were there, basically.

        So yeah, there’s a reason we’re skeptical, including of what we learned in school.

    • Yes, the US conducted a very large scale bombing campaign over Korea for virtually the entire duration of the fighting.

      But the US didn’t just randomly bomb population centers, either out of spite, or in an attempt to wear down NK will to fight. Instead, two main target types were focused on via two different types of campaigns.

      First, heavy bombers (B-29s) focused on the industrial capacity of NK. Remember, in 1950, NK was the far more industrialized of the two Koreas. The south was virtually all agrarian. Not that the north was an economic powerhouse, but it had far more capacity than the south, and industrial infrastructure was still seen as a legitimate target of war. Yes, I’m sure many civilians were killed as a result, but probably not as many as you might think.

      The second target set was the logistical infrastructure, and it was targeted both by heavy bombers, and by smaller tactical aircraft. Major rail marshaling yards were typically bomber targets.

      The US Air Force and Navy cooperated in a massive campaign called Operation Strangle that attempted to choke off the supply of NK and CHICOM forces south of the Yalu River. The attempt was to target every train, truck, oxcart, sampan, junk or other logistical effort. Train tracks, roadbeds, tunnels, bridges and such were all targets of vast numbers of bombs. But you’ll notice, all these targets are fairly low population density.

      Were large numbers of villages targeted? Sure. But generally only when they were actually occupied by enemy military forces. Even the humongous US forces could only generate so many sorties daily, and wasting bombs on civilians would make little sense when there were plenty of CHICOM and DPRK Army troops to bomb.

      • Caravelle

        Thanks for the details on what happened, it’s very informative. This though :

        Not that the north was an economic powerhouse, but it had far more capacity than the south, and industrial infrastructure was still seen as a legitimate target of war. Yes, I’m sure many civilians were killed as a result, but probably not as many as you might think.

        Leaving aside the “legitimate target of war” issue, why would bombing industrial infrastructure result in fewer civilians killed than I might think ? I think industry is staffed by civilians, all the more so in the 1950s when there was less automation than today.

        “I’m sure many civilians were killed” (it was a bombing campaign in an all-out war in the 1950s, you know many civilians were killed) “but probably not a many as you might think” sounds to me like an awfully weaselly thing to say considering it isn’t backed by a single number.

  • spartikus

    “There is no threat to Austin, Texas immediately. North Korea is an international problem, but it’s not a problem that threatens our security,” said Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas.

    Said by Prof. Suri not 10 days ago.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      You’d think that following the Penn State fiasco, institutions would stop naming distinguished chairs after football coaches. But it’s nice to know that the quality of policy advice being offered by the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs is matching the on-field leadership provided by the original Mack Brown.

      (Boomer Sooner!)

    • joe from Lowell

      Note that in today’s piece, Suri doesn’t say that North Korea’s missile threaten our physical security, but our “core national interests.” He doesn’t say exactly what interests, though.

      • sparks

        Being The Biggest Swinging Dick In The World?

        • Nathanael

          Only one I can think of which would have anything to do with North Korea.

          I think our Core National Interests are:
          (1) Survival of the human race (so, stop global warming)
          (2) Self-governance (so, stop imprisoning people without trial, stop imprisoning people for exposing security flaws, stop assaulting protestors, stop rigging the elections with gerrymandering, etc.)

          But apparently other people have a different idea of what the US’s Core National Interests are.

  • DrDick

    Santayana wept.

    • Santayana is spinning in his grave so fast he just hit the rev limiter.

  • TapirBoy1

    I had Suri for history of American foreign policy when I was an undergrad about a decade ago. He was an excellent teacher, and he also happens to be a liberal and an Obama supporter.

    So I’d just thought i’d put that out there. That said, can’t say I agree with him on this one.

    • He seems to have contracted Broderitis:

      Washington is currently dominated by tribes, not enlightened representatives, that rule by tabu. You cannot even acknowledge that some new taxes are appropriate, if you are a Republican. You must not agree that entitlement spending requires some limits, if you are a Democrat. This is not governance. It is guerilla warfare

      • James E. Powell

        That statement assumes that entitlement spending does not already have limits. Does he not know this?

        • It ignores so many things. Things we’ve been arguing about for days.

      • sparks

        Suri’s developing condition should really be in the DSM VI with a suitably catchy name – say, High Broderoid Punditits

        • Borderline Lack Of Perosnality Disorder?

          • sparks

            Broderline, surely.

    • So nuking North Korea is now a liberal policy? Okay, one more reason why I am not a liberal. I do not think we should be nuking anybody.

      • Hogan

        So nuking North Korea is now a liberal policy?

        It’s a policy supported by someone who used to be a liberal. But maybe you need to be in a political science department to understand the distinction. (I kid!)

      • Jon Hendry

        If he’s a liberal, that seems to be secondary to his careerist impulses. He may not know much, but he knows the way to really make money in his field, is to be a hawk, no matter how stupid your hawkish positions are.

        • Brutusettu

          Maybe, if so, it looks like he wants to see how much of a performance artist he can be while making money in his field, with his “we have always been at war with Eastasia” doublethink premise as noted below.

          The op-ed came across as a long winded way of booming; “Alright let’s do this, Jeremiiii Suuuuuuuuuuuuuurrri”

          It just cannot possibly be an earnest case that Suri thinks Kim isn’t blowing out hot air in response to US/SK military drills, but that Kim is so unstable that he’s a threat, but so easily swayed to be and then stay passive that he’ll just let American bomb NK military targets and then assume that’s all the American led forces will do.

  • Jon Hendry

    Suri tweeted on 3/29:

    #whyaustin NK leaders associate TX with Amer "imperialism" + "militarism." They believe Austin embodies Bush, Perry. They do NOT know Austin

    And the best way to convince NK that Austinites are not militaristic imperialists… is to write an op/ed calling for NK to be nuked?

    • I’m guessing Austin and Pyongyang are not sister cities any more.

    • Caravelle

      Wait… Was that whole op-ed written because he’s mad NK leaders dissed his city ?

      • Hogan

        That would make him very Texan indeed.

  • cpinva

    my initial reaction, upon reading the first couple of paragraphs, was “who is this idiot, and why is the nyt’s printing this?” upon completing reading it, i assumed the author was about 20 years old, with absolutely zero knowledge of either past or present, with respect to the korean peninsula. my father is a marine korean war vet. i am fairly well versed in the conflict, and china’s interests in the area. a big one being they don’t need or want 25 million ravenous n. koreans pouring over their border. a second big one being, they aren’t just going to sit idly by, while the US attacks n. korea, regardless of what they might think of kim.

    jesus, what an idiot.

    • He’s making a career (Korea?) change – he’s auditioning for the Dick Morris slot on Faux News.

      • Bill Murray

        No way. there is no evidence of toe sucking

  • Brutusettu

    The North Korean government would certainly view the American strike as a provocation, but it is unlikely that Mr. Kim would retaliate by attacking South Korea, as many fear.

    Wow, Suri just knows that no military commander in NK will launch artillery and rockets at SK if the US just drops guided bombs on NK military installations. Even though not long ago NK fired live rounds at SK after SK live fired artillery test.
    SK will just have to live up to the threat and the US can destroy NK’s non-existent nuclear ICBMs threat.

    Suri will gladly send others to fight a war today, to save even the chance of a war tomorrow:

    A war on the Korean Peninsula is unlikely after an American strike, but it is not inconceivable. The North Koreans might continue to escalate, and Mr. Kim might feel obligated to start a war to save face. Under these unfortunate circumstances, the United States and its allies would still be better off fighting a war with North Korea today, when the conflict could still be confined largely to the Korean Peninsula. As North Korea’s actions over the last two months have shown, Mr. Kim’s government is willing to escalate its threats much more rapidly than his father’s regime did. An unending crisis would merely postpone war to a later date, when the damage caused by North Korea would be even greater.

    I might have missed it, but Suri seems to have completely ignored the influx of American troops in the region for military drills. NK has their own “Cuban Missile Crisis” every year and Suri ignores that in his column.

    • herr doktor bimler

      An unending crisis would merely postpone war to a later date, when the damage caused by North Korea would be even greater.

      They might have two missiles in another five years!!

      • herr doktor bimler


    • Caravelle

      “Mr. Kim might feel obligated to start a war to save face” ?


      Gosh, aren’t those Orientals strange and inscrutable ! It does make it complicated to deal with them; you know, normal people we could just bomb and they’d be like “haha fair cop man”, but Asians with their strange concepts of “honor” and “saving face” might actually retal^H^H^H^H^H start a war over it !

  • I’m to believe that North Korea is so dangerously unhinged that they would attack without warning – yet so meek and easily cowed that they will sit quietly and not retaliate when we start bombing them.

    • sparks

      Well, they won’t be bombing us.

    • Brutusettu


    • Anonymous

      Is this a version of the ‘they will be intimidated by a show of force’ principle? In other words, they will act wildly, without fear of consequences, if we do not attack them. But if we do attack, that will teach them the consequences of (making threats)? (Presuming, I guess, that the ‘lessons’ of being attacked in the 1950s, or seeing what happened to Iraq and Afghanistan, are currently being ignored in NK?

      • Hogan

        ‘Won’t last long. Lot of cowards, the Klatchians,’ said Colon. ‘The moment they taste a bit of cold steel they’re legging it away over the sand.’

        Sergeant Colon had had a broad education. He’d been to the School of My Dad Always Said, the College of It Stands to Reason, and was now a postgraduate student at the University of What Some Bloke In the Pub Told Me.

  • Shakezula

    For every dumbshit scenario, there is a dumbshit ready to espouse it.

    It’s in the Rule Book, right after the Pythagorean Theorem.

    p.s. “China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict, ^if you are a dumbshit.”

    • FMguru

      To be fair, it’s not like there’s any kind of historical precedent for a communist Chinese response to a threatening US assault into North Korea. These are totally uncharted waters we’re swimming in here.

  • Ok, although it does embarrass me to admit it I was briefly shocked to see such ideas in America’s Paper of Record. I don’t know what I was thinking.

    • Nathanael

      Shamerica’s Shpaper of Shrecord.

  • News Nag

    Check out this 1:30-minute video by Suri about…well, I don’t really know what it’s about. I do know it’s what Mr. Rogers would have produced if he were a smug self-satisfied successful P.R. guy who thought he was some kind of modern Renaissance genius who knows every modern secret it takes to figure out everything worthwhile in the modern world. It’s that good! And he narrates it, so you get to hear the David Brooksian comfortable self-righteousness schtick while he’s babbling his way through an assembled collection of trite aphorisms and other banalities. He’s the anti-clever-christ. Somebody tell me what this video is about beside his bloated ego.


    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Well, News Nag, clearly pointing out that Suri is a dumbshit matters…because it matters to you.

      Now buy his book!

  • David Eoll

    China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict.

    Gee… too bad there haven’t been any other wars on the Korean Peninsula that we could use to extrapolate a guess. Hmmmm….

    And this guy is a historian??!!

    • David Eoll

      The U.S.’s role in a potential Chinese invasion of Canada is hard to predict…

  • SoKo Living

    OK. Let’s just back up the stupid train for a second and take a look at things…

    1) Kim Jung Un is very young and very new to the whole “Glorious Leader” schtick in NK. Therefore, to alleviate fears and concerns of his people he’s acting all kinds of belligerent. Just check out the recent propaganda film that was released depicting a 3-day attack on SK in which all American and S. Korean forces would be destroyed and 150,000 Americans would be taken captive.

    2) If NK is legitimately attacked (as in the brainwashed masses can see it) they will be forced to attack.

    3) NK is thought to have the world’s largest stockpile of biological agents, they have all kinds of artillery aimed at Seoul, and even if they don’t have the capability to launch nuclear-tipped ICBMs, they do have enough nuclear material to make all matter of short-range dirty weaponry.

    4) NK makes threats like these all the time to extort aid and concessions from the rest of the world. Usually we just withhold food and such, which only negatively impacts the civilians of NK. In response to the “satellite” launch and nuclear testing however, China is withholding luxury goods from NK, which negatively impacts the movers and shakers of NK. That’s why they’re really pissed off now.

    In summary, attacking NK proves their propaganda right and forces the leadership to attack. There’s no reason to do that however because what we are witnessing is the equivalent of a teenager throwing a hissy-fit because their parent took away their computer and smartphone for getting an F in their Civics class.

    • Nathanael

      Good summary.

      However, it’s perhaps worth acting as if we take North Korea seriously, *just enough* that Kim can say to his people “See? The US takes me seriously!”

    • A Different Football-Crazed University, Definitely Not U of Texas Though

      We eagerly await your application for the Galen Hall Endowed Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs.

  • Earnest Iuppie
  • At risk of seeming self-promoting, I wrote this op-ed piece 10 years ago almost to the day, and I think it stands up pretty well. I’m not as convinced as I used to be that it would work, but if we’re swapping historians’ crazy ideas, or crazy historians’ ideas, whatever, on the North Korea problem…

    Avoiding A Pearl Harbor in Korea

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  • cmm

    This is always when I start wondering how USians would react if other countries’ press opined as casually about bombing/invading the United States as we do about them. Or sent drones to pick off their criminals who we are sheltering (we call them political asylum seekers). The drone question in particular is scary because they are not that expensive and as ways are figured out to make more at lower cost, countries like Cuba and former SSRs will have them, at least for spying purposes, if not armed. We should really be careful about the precedents we set for preemptive attacks and drone attacks/espionage because we are likely to find ourselves on the receiving end of such justifications one day.

  • Tirxu

    What I just love is the disconnect between:

    Since the United States cannot possibly know the missile’s trajectory before a launch, and Mr. Kim has said he is targeting America and its allies, we have reason to believe that civilians face serious danger.


    Second, Mr. Kim would see in the American strike a renewed commitment to the defense of South Korea. Any attack on Seoul would be an act of suicide for him, and he knows that.

    Is Mr. Kim a dangerous madman who will bomb America, or a cold calculator who does not want to commit suicide?

    • Caravelle

      Second, Mr. Kim would see in the American strike a renewed commitment to the defense of South Korea.

      No. No he wouldn’t. US neocons would see in the American strike a renewed commitment to the defense of South Korea. Mr. Kim would see it as an unprovoked attack by the evil imperialist Americans on the long-suffering North Korean people.

      You know, if I recall what I read of NK propaganda correctly.

      I’m probably not much better than Mr. Suri at reading minds but at least I’m aware that other people’s are different from my own and that they might not interpret my actions exactly as I intend them to be interpreted.

    • redrob64

      Is Mr. Kim a dangerous madman who will bomb America, or a cold calculator who does not want to commit suicide?


      We have always been at war with Eastasia.

  • Robin in CRIA

    NK is to China as Israel is to the US. NK is uding SK as a foil; Israel is using Iran. NK starves its own people; Israel is starving the Palestinians, whom they occupy and terrorize no less than NK its own people. Both tails trying to wag their respective dogs. Each seeking to have their stronger ally fight the battle for them.

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