With this weekend’s news cycle understandably absorbed with the events in Charlottesville, it’s easy to forget that a game of nuclear brinksmanship between a pair of stubborn leaders is accelerating rapidly towards the use of nuclear weapons.
Luckily, late-night comedians are here to remind us about the impending fall of civilization. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight dedicated its main topic to North Korea this week, and answers some surprisingly basic questions: what’s going on, how did we get here, and are we all about to die?
Oliver’s monologue begins exactly as you’d expect: addressing what’s happened in the last week, and how one man with a Twitter account can feasibly orchestrate the end of civilization. But he devoted a surprising amount of time to covering the other side of the debate, or why North Korea and Kim Jong-Un are acting in a rational way, at least from their perspective.
As he explains, the DPRK has watched the US “deal” with regimes like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and how US intervention in those countries ended. In the case of Iraq, sanctions followed by inspections and deals — the textbook diplomatic response — ended up with the overthrow of the regime, and a decade of complete instability.
For Kim Jong-Un, avoiding that fate is a rational move. As Oliver points out, “It’s true that dictators generally don’t end their careers like disgraced American politicians with a stint on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ although that would have been an incredible season.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t an episode with a happy ending. The conclusion is that America and North Korea both have powerful leaders who are used to issuing empty threats in order to impress people and try and “win” negotiations. One of them is going to have to lose face at some point, or this situation is going to end as messily as we’re all imagining.