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Chris Honoré: ‘Like the world has never seen’

According to a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead that could be placed on top of an ICBM, a missile, according to a recent test, capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

At the conclusion of a meeting held at the Bedminister Golf Club to discuss the opioid epidemic that is gripping our nation, Trump was asked about the threat Kim Jong-un and North Korea now posed to the region and to the U.S.

He crossed his arms and, as if quoting from the Book of Revelation, said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury and frankly power like the world has never seen.”

In truth, Mr. Trump, the world has seen the fire and the fury of nuclear war and its stark aftermath.

Believing that if America invaded Japan, the casualties sustained by our troops would exceed 200,000 (another study estimated over 1 million), and after offering terms of surrender to the Japanese, which were not accepted, the decision was made to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. On Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, flying out of the Mariana Islands, the U.S., using Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, essentially obliterated both cities, killing 90,000 to 146,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki. The blast in Hiroshima was the equivalent of 16 kilotons of TNT and the total destruction radius was 1 mile. Fires stretched 5 miles from the bomb’s epicenter.

During the following months untold thousands died in both cities from the effects of burns, radiation sickness and other injuries, all compounded by illness and malnutrition. It was devastation unlike anything we had ever seen before.

For Donald Trump to say with a detached bravado that he will unleash fire and fury on North Korea is to threaten the unthinkable, replete with a kind of Mad Max ideation. Call it a stunning leap into the apocalyptic while the pool press that was present wondered if he was reading from a script. He wasn’t.

Indeed, our nation does possess such power. But despite what Donald Trump might believe, every situation is not a nail. Lindsey Graham, in an interview with NBC, said that Trump had told him the following: “If there’s going to be a war to stop (Kim) it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here.” It’s a reprehensible statement.

Since World War II, the reality of nuclear war has always seemed an abstraction, buttressed by the conviction that it is so awful, our nuclear arsenal is referred to, euphemistically, as a “deterrent.” Their use is an unimaginable option.

What we face now is a crossroads moment, a diplomatic stress test (not a military test; there is no viable military option). It is imperative that we find a way to deal with this totalitarian regime, led by a young megalomaniac who for reasons that defy understanding is deified. Chillingly, his military generals surround him, clapping vociferously as if their lives depended on their show of enthusiasm, their faces locked in rictus smiles revealing what? Fear? Panic? Adoration? If they were asked to fall on the ground and spread their arms in supplication would they not do it?

We (and other stakeholders) must find a way to engage this boy/man in diplomatic dialogue, knowing that he is deeply insecure and paranoid, all the while understanding that he holds 25 million South Koreans hostage, residents of greater Seoul, just 35 miles from the DMZ and within range of an array of lethal artillery.

But how to engage Korea? Do Donald Trump and our hollowed out State Department possess the needed skills and experience to defuse what is a seemingly intractable situation? The challenge for State is not just to talk down the North Korean “dear leader” but to talk down our own. Kim has recently thrown into the mix shooting missiles toward Guam. This threat was followed by Trump doubling down, insisting that the U.S. is “locked and loaded.”

Has the unthinkable become the thinkable?

— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.