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Feb 25, 2019, Monday

The Long Train Ride

DPRK/US Hanoi Summit 2019

The Long Train Ride
In chapter thirteen and final chapter of my book, "The Swines: Anecdotes Of A Piggly Family", I use North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un as humorous props to illustrate Sam's struggle with bad hair. But the chapter is really more than a story about a twelve-year-old's battle with ugly locks. At a deeper level, it's about self-identity and the role of the other in shaping it. And still deeper, whether any identity, fixed in time and place, can be achieved at all.

North Korea has long struggled with its own personal identity. For the past century, Korea's geopolitics were shaped largely by everyone except itself. Colonized against its will in 1910 and divided against its will in 1945, the Koreas are perhaps the last remaining vestiges of the Cold War today. Like belly buttons and woolly backs, a divided Korea is an artifact of the past that made little sense then and makes even less sense today.

Both leaders of Korea seem determined to wrest back control of their nations' tied destinies. At a recent meeting with top aids South Korea's President Moon reminded people that Koreans are "masters of their own fate."

"Standing at the center of history, not the periphery, we will take the lead in preparing for a new Korean Peninsula regime," President Moon said. "One that is moving from war and confrontation toward peace and harmony and from factionalism and ideology toward economic prosperity."

A spokesperson for South Korea's Blue House also stated that North Korea and the US could declare an end to the Korean War this week. Although that would fall short of a formal peace treaty (something most establishment politicians and insiders remain against), it would represent a monumental breakthrough and something North Korea has long sought: a formal end to the Korean War and normalization of relations with Washington. While the US loudly demands unilateral disarmament from North Korea, it has remained stingy about reciprocating good-will and trust with Pyongyang.

leaving for hanoi

train map

North Korea's leader's two day plus train ride (approximately 66 hours, according to estimates) from Pyongyang to Hanoi is both a throwback and nod to Kim's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who last visited Vietnam by train in 1958. The armored train departed Saturday and it arrived in Dong Dang, Vietnam, early Tuesday. From there Kim traveled by car to Hanoi (an additional 100 miles) where he was welcomed by top Vietnamese officials with red carpet and official honors.

Little doubt, the train ride was a long and grueling journey. But in the context of Korea's turbulent history, maybe it was closer to a joy ride promising peace and the final chapter to a nation's dark past. If things go as hoped, it could be the ride that begins a new page for North Korea and the Korean people, viz, the end to conflict, war, colonialism and foreign meddling. And the beginning of genuine sovereignty and self-determination for the Korean people, North and South. And eventually, unification.

But cynics and obstructionists abound. Democrats and the usual (pro war) "establishment" suspects in both parties dismiss detente with North Korea. Flanked by hawks (Bolton in particular), Trump appears, however, almost single-handedly determined to forge ahead. He wants to disregard the naysayers, even from US intelligence, and sees good things in store for North Korea if only they disarm.

trump tweet 1

trump tweet 2

hanoi tees peace

Unfortunately, what most Americans and Western media continue to get wrong time and again is that North Korea's primary incentive is not economic but permanent peace inasmuch as the former is impossible without the latter.

North Korea has long sought peace with Washington going back decades but that was routinely ignored because North Korea never had much of a card to play ─ until now. For North Korea, its nukes are its "trump cards." Only for assured permanent peace will it ever give it up. So the question remains, is Washington willing to exchange nukes for genuine peace in Korea? That seems to be what both Kim and Trump are hoping for. But Trump is just one man in Washington, not a dictator.
dprkkim jong unnorth koreatrumpdprk/us hanoi summitvietnamU.S.-North Korea Summit 2019nuclear disarmamentkorea peace treaty