In late March, an explosion in disputed waters off the Korean Peninsula sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. This week, investigators concluded a weapon, possibly a German-made torpedo, destroyed the ship.
North Korea deploys mini-subs and commando submersibles that deliver torpedoes with extraordinary stealth, so Pyonyang's strange Stalinist regime has the capability to conduct surreptitious naval attacks and then plausibly deny responsibility.
North Korea has the weapons, and it has intent -- decades of demonstrated intent. For 60 years, North Korea has repeatedly attacked South Korea. The Korean War began 60 years ago this June, and it isn't over, not officially -- an armistice holds combat in tenuous abeyance, not a peace treaty. One wonders if the naval attack isn't an anniversary celebration of a disguised, macabre sort, appealing to the malign psyche of North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-Il.
The Korean War started with an explosive communist attack that raised the specter of global nuclear war. Now it appears it may end with a communist implosion, one that risks igniting a brief but terrible nuclear conflict in East Asia, should North Korea hit Seoul or Tokyo with a nuke.
Seoul's suburbs lie within range of North Korean artillery. A North Korean fighter-bomber, heading south from communist airspace, will reach Seoul in minutes. South Korea's Samsung Corp. is one of the largest private employers in the Texas county in which I live. This means Pyongyang doesn't need nukes to attack Texas' economy, a fact of life among the 21st century's economically, politically and technologically linked.
Global linkage and Pyongyang's nuclear quest explain the caution stirring this strange twilight of an old war -- caution expressed in Washington, caution followed to the point of kowtow by a South Korean government that hoped the Cheonan suffered a tragic accident.
The South Korean people, however, are outraged, as their government -- if only for its own political survival -- says it is preparing a response.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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