For some two weeks, last month's Korean confrontation followed the usual script. North Korea committed an ugly act of war. A military face-off began. Pyongyang spewed vitriol and threatened nuclear war.
This time, however, following the attack, artillery duels and intricate diplomacy, the diplomatic stand-down phase included a North Korean statement of "regret."
That is most unusual.
North Korean tyranny elites live Hollywood high on the proceeds of organized crime and a nuclear war extortion racket where Pyongyang threatens to nuke its neighbors unless the civilized world coughs up cash.
Little wonder that for six decades the Kim regime has made it clear that when it comes to dirty war, the mass starvation of its own people and repeated threats of nuclear immolation, it regrets absolutely zero.
Why the slight but totally intriguing acknowledgment of guilt?
During the August confrontation, South Korea once again clearly demonstrated it is prepared to meet North Korean aggression with military force. The second reason Pyongyang concluded it was losing is a guess, but a guess with a basis in fact: China recognizes that South Korea's money and economic success are worth more than Communist comradeship with North Korea's impoverished regime.
The North's act of war was hideous. On August 4, two South Korean soldiers stepped on land mines laid by North Korean infiltrators near their guard posts in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). The mines were North Korean "wooden box" mines. One soldier lost one leg; the other lost two legs.
The North Koreans' dirty deed preceded an annual military exercise conducted by South Korean and U.S. military forces. Pyongyang regularly stirs trouble when the South conducts field exercises.
The August 2015 attack ignited angry diplomatic exchanges. On August 10, Seoul demanded Pyongyang formally apologize and punish the soldiers who planted the mines. South Korea began a cross-border information campaign using a loudspeaker system. The campaign included news and what amounted to credible advertising more than propaganda. South Korea touted its economic success.
The South Korean broadcasts included entertainment. I do not know whether they programmed South Korean performer Psy's hit recording "Gangnam Style." Psy war is short for psychological warfare, but in this case, the term would do double duty.
The Kim regime is intensely jealous of South Korea's economic and cultural dynamism. The demand for an apology and the South Korean broadcasts galled the regime.
The North launched artillery attacks. Southern forces replied. Prior to the 2010 sinking of the South Korean Navy vessel Cheonan, the South tended to limit military responses to attacks. Forty-six young sailors died aboard the Cheonan. Since then Seoul has increasingly responded with tailored military retaliation that mirrors Pyongyang's attacks. South Korea does not seek war, but it will no longer back down.
The U.S. deployed B-2 bombers to Guam. B-2s can deliver bombs that can penetrate buried command bunkers. Think of this as a dagger to the Kim regime's throat. However, South Korean media indicated both the U.S. and China were diplomatically active behind the scenes and encouraging a diplomatic resolution.
When face-to-face South-North negotiations began, North Korea introduced other topics, to include aid. Why? Pyongyang knew it was losing. If the South kicked in a little aid, it could maintain it got something out of the confrontation. But the South was ready to fight, and Chinese support for the Kim regime was less than tepid.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said the broadcasts would continue until North Korea apologized.
On August 25, North Korea expressed regret. South Korean media said "regret" didn't cut it for lost legs. South Korea's diplomats, however, called the statement what it was: North Korea admitting, in public, it had been humiliated.
That is a victory. Oh, peace is not breaking out. But this time the dictatorship cracked. It's not much of a crack, but dictatorships are brittle things.