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Post Is Kim Jong-un Rational?
Created by John Eipper on 09/10/17 8:40 AM

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Is Kim Jong-un Rational? (Istvan Simon, USA, 09/10/17 8:40 am)

I thank my friend Cameron Sawyer (9 September) for challenging the assumptions of my post on the rationality of Kim Jong-un and his policies. I would like to respond first to his question. He asked on what basis I think Kim Jong-un is rational.

I explained this already partly in my post. I think the Fat Boy is rational, because his policies are the continuation of his father's policies, which were also rational (from the North Korean point of view), to pursue nuclear weapons as an absolute insurance policy against us forcing regime change in Pyongyang like we did in Iraq, Afghanistan, and to a certain extent in Libya. This is rational and makes sense.  China is the controlling power in North Korea that could force Kim Jong-un to his knees.  China could decide to stop all fuel and food deliveries to NK, two very big weapons held by China. But Kim Jong-un is rational because he correctly predicted that China would not do that, even if he murdered his half-brother, who was under Chinese protection, and he turned out to be right. He calculated the Chinese reaction correctly and thus got away with murder and at the cost of loss of face for Xi Jin Ping and the Chinese leadership, and at the cost of the life of his half-brother and the sacrifice of the two NK agents who were arrested for the murder.

Cameron's analogy to Hitler is actually perfect. We can say that it was extremely reckless for Kim Jong-un to murder his half-brother when China seems to have all the cards to whether he survives or not, so we can say he gambled. Hitler also gambled that he could re-occupy the Rhineland militarily, and he was also correct in predicting the non-reaction of the Western democracies. So, both Kim Jong-un and Hitler won this risky bet, risky to more prudent and cautious leaders. But the fact that they won these bets indicates also insight and intelligence on Hitler's and the Fat Boy's part, not merely pure luck.

Cameron Sawyer is strictly speaking correct that I cannot know with absolute certainty that the Fat Boy is rational. But absolute certainty is not given to humans, only a probability, based on careful observation and intelligent analysis. So it is on this probabilistic basis that I affirmed that the Fat Boy is rational.

What do we know about the Fat Boy? We know that he is a gambler like Hitler was. We know that he likes to provoke like his father did, but his provocations are carefully calibrated and he has avoided major wars and combat so far. He takes risks, but seems to be accurate in gauging the likely reaction of those he provokes. We know that he cares not a whit about his people--he risks famine to pursue his nukes, and he lives in luxury while his people live in poverty. We know he is ruthless. He murdered his uncle and his half-brother. We know he craves power. We know his regime is the last Stalinist dictatorship on Earth. Will he use his nukes? I doubt it. All of the above suggest that he is rational and that he will not.

JE comments:  Perhaps "rational" is not the correct adjective for this discussion.  Is Kim suicidal?  Hitler ultimately proved to be, with his invasion of the Soviet Union.  Evan Osnos in the New Yorker quotes a North Korean official that even in a nuclear exchange, the North would "win" because it would have inflicted incalculable damage on the US.  This is both sickly rational...and suicidal.


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  • More on the Kim-Hitler Analogy (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 09/10/17 5:41 PM)

    Istvan Simon's analysis of Kim Jong-un (10 September) is cogent and interesting.



    I would like to drill into the analogy to Hitler, which I think is, unusually for an analogy to Hitler, instructive and interesting.



    Hitler was certainly a "gambler," as Istvan says, and his gamble in the Rheinland paid off. He took another gamble by making, in 1940, an extremely energetic and aggressive attack on arch-enemy France, which had a larger army than Germany's, and succeeded again, defeating a much larger and better equipped force with a short, sharp blow. But these successes went to his head, and the idea that "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down," as Hitler famously, or infamously said on the eve of Barbarossa, was a disastrous miscalculation, based on an irrational view of his enemy which flew in the face of facts which he had at his disposal. I think he was drunk on his own aggression, and I think Kim Jong-un may also be.


    JE comments:  Drunken, yes.  A 33 year-old petty tyrant with nuclear weapons is almost certain to be.

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  • Irredentism and War: Rhineland and Elsewhere (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/11/17 11:09 AM)
    The famous Godwin's Law about Hitler has struck again. (See Istvan Simon, 10 September.)

    What the hell does recovering the Rhineland have to do with North Korea? The Rhineland was part of Germany, inhabited by Germans who wanted to be part of Germany.


    After WWI at Versailles, Germany lost (excluding the Rhineland) an area of 70,500 square kilometers with a population of 6,475,000, of whom 3,481,000 were ethnic Germans. Of these, 769,000 were kicked out of their homes, and many were killed, especially in 1939.


    On top of this, 3,000,000 ethnic Germans were lost from Austria-Hungary. Therefore, the so-called democracies left about 6,500,000 people without their motherland and completely discriminated against.


    Perhaps because I was born in Fiume (Rijeka), I know the terrible pain of these people and of their brethren who remained within the motherland. Therefore I strongly believe that these people had the right to be reunited as they wished.


    Lord Halifax in his meeting with Hitler in 1937 clearly let him believe that the UK was favourable to a redefinition of the borders and to the recognition of the rights of the ethnic minorities. In many places they were the majority, such as Sudeten, Danzig, etc.


    A recognition of the rights of the ethnic groups would have prevented WWII, the Holocaust, and 50 million deaths.


    Unfortunately Churchill preferred to completely destroy the British Empire just to destroy Germany.


    JE comments: Irredentism has started, or at least justified, many a war. (France, for example, was fired up in 1914 to reclaim Alsace and Lorraine.) The rub is when two different peoples inhabit the same territory. The result: Israel-Palestine.


    Do WAISers agree with Eugenio's penultimate paragraph?



    "A recognition of the rights of the ethnic groups would have prevented WWII, the Holocaust, and 50 million deaths."


    To my mind this is quite a reach.  Hitler's modus operandi was exactly the opposite:  to deny the rights--and often the lives--of ethnic minorities. 


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    • Hitler and Minorities (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/13/17 5:22 AM)
      When commenting on my post of 11 September, John E wrote of Hitler denying the rights of ethnic minorities. (Granted, he wanted the Jewish people out of the Third Reich one way or another, but no nation wanted them; only Italy accepted several thousands.)

      Are you sure?


      Hitler agreed with Italy to accept all the people from Alto Adige who identified as German. (He was the only German or Austrian not to give Italy problems about this situation, from 1918 to the present.)  He agreed also to withdraw German minorities too far away from the Fatherland, such as the 60,000 Germans from the Baltic states taken by the USSR, 118,000 from former Polish territories taken by the USSR, plus 140,000 from Bucovina and Bessarabia.


      In 1941, there were 577,000 Germans in Romania, almost 1,000,000 in Hungary, and 60,000 in Slovakia. Liechtenstein was entirely German. Luxembourg was German in the countryside, but the main towns were instead dominated by French-speaking people.  However, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg were of no interest to Hitler.



      Very debatable was the situation of the Autonomous Bohemian Protectorate. You will not like this: the working and social conditions of the people inside the Protectorate improved with German influence (this alone would not have satisfied me). After the institution of the Protectorate, Italy should have broken the Pact of Steel. This possibility was discussed, but a decision was postponed. This was a mistake.


      Generally the Axis powers gave satisfaction to the minorities. For instance, consider the union of the Albanians of Kosovo to Albania. For their part, the Ustasha wanted a Greater Croatia and finally Slovenia. But the Slovenes did not want to become Croatian, so they got an autonomous state united to Italy for the main part. This was also a great mistake. The northern part of Slovenia, with many Volksdeutsche, became part of the Third Reich. In the occupied territories of the USSR certain freedoms, as much as war conditions permitted, were given to the minorities--especially if they, due to their hatred of Bolshevism, agreed to cooperate against the Soviets.


      Unfortunately in the war in the East, Nazi ideologists wanted to be involved and brought defeat.


      JE comments: Nazi defenses of "minorities" was limited to the German diaspora, as well as useful ethnic groups sympathetic to German expansionism. Was there a single exception to this? The examples given above suggest that there was not.


      Most of us are very uncomfortable with viewing Hitler as a defender of minorities.  Istvan Simon (next) has sent a forceful rebuttal to Eugenio Battaglia's post of September 11th.

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    • Hitler and Rhineland, Sudetenland (Istvan Simon, USA 09/13/17 8:32 AM)
      Eugenio Battaglia's opinions are often diametrically opposite to mine, and once again (September 11th) he does not disappoint.

      I have to say that his defense of Hitler is deeply offensive to me personally, because my maternal grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz and my father was almost starved to death, used as slave labor at the Henkel aircraft factory, near the camp at Oranienburg where he had been deported to. A more disgraceful regime than Hitler's can hardly be found. The only thing worse or comparable in recent human History that I can think of is Mao ZeDong's disgraceful regime in China and Stalin's in Russia. Yet Eugenio has the temerity to defend Hitler's decisions in the Rhineland and still much worse, later in the Sudetenland.


      So let's just review this history step by step. Eugenio cites ethnic compositions of the Rhineland and Sudetenland in defense of his theory. But ethnic composition has little to do with borders, and therefore his entire argumentation is absurd. To begin with, Eugenio acknowledges in his own post that German ethnicity was only about 50% of the inhabitants of the Rhineland, and an even lower ratio in the case of the Sudetenland. However, all that is besides the point, because even if the ethnic compositions on these lands were 100% German, it still would not follow that Hitler had any rights to annex them to Germany. Ethnic composition only determines borders in the feverishly sick and racist mind of Hitler and his cohorts.


      I am of Hungarian Jewish descent and a proud American citizen. Let me state it clearly: the fact that I reside in the United States does not give Hungary any rights over the borders of the United States. If there were say a county of the United States, hypothetically, where Hungarians had settled predominantly, so that let us say again hypothetically 80% of the population in this hypothetical county were ethnic Hungarians, still under this scenario Hungary would have zero rights over this region of the United States.


      So having disposed of the logical absurdity of Eugenio's argumentation, let us turn to the actual events in the Rhineland and Sudetenland. Even if we accepted the view that the Versailles Treaty was unjust to Germany, something that I have not conceded, it still would not have given Hitler the right to reoccupy the Rhineland militarily, because there was a treaty that Germany had signed that this would be a demilitarized zone. There was no dispute about the Rhineland being part of Germany. Here the only issue was whether Germany could or not station military forces on this territory. So the answer is no, it could not because it had signed a legally binding treaty that it would not. The Treaty could be renegotiated, if Germany felt that it was unjust, but that is not what Hitler did. He unilaterally moved his troops there.


      At the time when this occurred, Germany was still very weak as a military power. So the Generals that advised Hitler, who were a lot saner than him, all advised against it, knowing full well that if France had reacted militarily to the move, Germany would not have had a chance. Indeed the orders were that any mobilization by France would be answered by an immediate withdrawal of German forces. We know this from the German archives captured after the war by the allies. William Shirer's excellent The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich gives a full account of this History.


      The case of the Sudetenland, is of course much much worse. For the Sudetenland was not German territory.  It belonged to Czechoslovakia, and Czechoslovakia was a wonderful democratic little country, a much better country than Germany at the time, a cultured highly humane freedom and music-loving country, that is not my own, but nonetheless I greatly admire and love.


      Just as an aside that illustrates what an extraordinary little country Czechoslovakia was, my father told me that his train passed through Czechoslovakia on the way to Germany, and the Czechs knew what "cargo" the trains transported, and in every overpass the Czech people threw bread and water bottles onto the train in a display of humanity that moves me to tears to this day.


      No matter what the ethnic composition of the Sudetenland was, it does not follow that Hitler had any rights to it, and he did not. Though the Nazis had sympathizers that were creating trouble in the Sudetenland, no democratic elections ever established that this land desired to become part of Germany, and I am fairly sure that in fact if such a choice were presented to them it would not have voted to join Hitler's Germany in free elections that were not vitiated by Nazi storm troopers, as they were in the vote held in Austria.


      It is for this reason that Munich was a shameful episode of capitulation by England, a great power, to Hitler's blackmail, to the eternal shame of Neville Chamberlain. Not only he shamefully ceded the Sudetenland to Germany, but in so doing he sealed the fate of Czechoslovakia, because the defense of Czechoslovakia depended on the geography of the Sudetenland, so indeed the Czechs had no chance after losing the Sudetenland in defending the rest of their mauled little country.


      JE comments:  Irredentism, as Istvan Simon points out, always has a flip side.  A more apt analogy than Hungarians in the US would be the Hispanic populations of, say, New Mexico.  They stayed put while the borders shifted.  The only "successful" settling of border scores since WWII happened in recent memory, with the Russian takeover of Crimea.  Or am I overlooking another example?


      Didn't Saddam Hussein use an irredentist justification for his invasion of Kuwait in 1990?  This move led to his downfall.

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      • False-Flag Operations: Germany and Elsewhere (John Heelan, UK 09/14/17 10:34 AM)
        Istvan Simon (13 September) should also review the German false-flag operations Project Himmler (aka Project Konserve): "The goal of this false-flag project was to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany, which could be used to justify the German invasion of Poland. Hitler also might have hoped to confuse Poland's allies, the United Kingdom and France, into delaying or stopping their declaration of war on Germany."

        Other contemporary false-flag operations were: The strategic railway at Jablunka Pass (Jabłonków Incident), located on the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia; the German radio station Sender Gleiwitz (Gliwice) (this was arguably the most notable of Operation Himmler operations); the German customs station at Hochlinden (today part of Rybnik-Stodoły); the forest service station in Pitschen (Byczyna); the communications station at Neubersteich ("Nieborowitzer Hammer" before 12 February 1936, now Kuznia Nieborowska); the railroad station in Alt-Eiche (Smolniki); Rosenberg in Westpreußen district (per Wikipedia).


        Other nations have used similar excuses, such as Operation Northwood aimed at Cuba and Project TP-Ajax aimed at Iran, Israel's Lavon Affair. More worryingly, Noam Chomsky alleged earlier this year, "Donald Trump's administration could stage a false-flag terrorist attack to maintain the support of voters after they realise his 'promises are built on sand.'" If so, one looks towards the Korean isthmus with some concern.


        JE comments: False-flag operations are the Gold Standard for conspiracy theorists--which may make them, paradoxically, easier to carry out.  Regardless of how genuine an attack is (think 9/11), some will find a false-flag conspiracy.  This Cry Wolf factor makes the real false-flag event deniable.

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      • Had Ethnic Minorities Been Respected, Hitler Would Not Have Risen to Power (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/18/17 12:46 PM)
        In response to Istvan Simon (September 13th), not recognizing the rights of minorities is an internationally recognized crime.

        Hitler would have not risen to power if the ethnic Germans had had the possibility of choice according to what President Wilson was preaching. Rhineland and Sudetenland were ethnically German. In my earlier post I simply stated that of the territories taken from Germany after World War I, 54% were German; therefore the shifting of borders was justice only for the remaining 46%.


        Czechoslovakia was a wonderful democratic country only for the Bohemians (even the Slovaks were discriminated against). Likewise, South Africa was a wonderful democratic country for white people and Israel is a wonderful democratic country for Jewish people and not for the occupied Palestinians.


        By the way, Israel's right-wing political parties in the government have voted for the annexation of the West Bank.


        A comparison with communities which immigrated to the US or Argentina or other places is not pertinent.


        Our esteemed editor, when commenting on shifting borders, was correct to mention Crimea, but he forgot the wars for the creation of new nations based on ethnic principles--Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia or better the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo and peacefully Germany (East and West) plus the Czech and Slovak Republics (confirming the division of March 1939), and the dissolution of USSR. Pretty soon we may even have Catalunya and Scotland....


        About Saddam's war against Iran:  was it only irredentism or was some big country meddling and pushing him, also supplying intelligence, etc?


        Of course I strongly sympathize with Istvan's family tragedies and I can understand his feelings, even if I still believe his post was based on misinterpreted data.


        JE comments: My example of Crimea referred to an irredentist "settling of scores," with a larger country taking from a smaller country what it allegedly used to possess. The breakup of Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia is not the same thing, although Albania hypothetically annexing Kosovo, or Romania conquering Moldova, would be close analogies.


        Historians have often argued that there would have been no Hitler had the terms of Versailles been more lenient. But Eugenio Battaglia's ethnic minority argument is harder to accept. Did the unemployed and desperately poor German "mainstream" of 1933 really care about Sudetenland?

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