‘All the world’s a stage,’ wrote Shakespeare, ‘and all the men and women merely players.’
There are numerous characters on this stage. I have written previously about one of them, the Annoying Woman. There is another character, the Global Bad Boy.
There is a lot of competition for this one. Views differ about who is the baddest bad boy right now. Sorry, Lefties, it’s not Trump, it’s one of your own. Kim Jong-un.
Fatboy Kim heads up a highly militarised country, laughably called the ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’. At present the weighty warmonger is rattling his sabre. By ‘sabre’, I mean nuclear bombs. By ‘rattling’, I mean detonating. This is causing widespread consternation. The blimpish belligerent is also launching far too many missiles in all the wrong directions.
However, the rotund recidivist is but the latest in the line of baddies. His predecessors are Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Leonid Brezhnev, Nikita Khrushchev, Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. All these violators of international peace caused suffering to the world. But who does the corpulent communist most closely resemble?
It has to be Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Preußen, or Kaiser Bill to those who did not like him. There is a key resemblance between the prison state of North Korea and Imperial Germany.
In both countries, the armed forces functioned like a state within a state, and the civilian population was subordinate to the militarists. In Germany, Wilhelm commanded his forces as Supreme Warlord. Campy to our ears, this was his genuine title.
Rather like North Korea, Imperial Germany precipitated or exacerbated a series of international crises. And it was Germany in 1914 that internationalised a Balkan crisis into a World War.
However, Germany did this in such a way that it could plausibly deny tipping the world’s richest continent into conflict. Germany directed the crisis to make Russia appear responsible. Germany went to war when Russia refused to demobilise following Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia. Germany could argue that it was fighting a war of self-defence against an enemy that had mobilised against it. The sticking-point here is that in its ‘self-defence’, Germany invaded neutral Belgium before attacking Russia.
Of course it was not that simple, or the debates about the origins of the First World War would be as easy as the origins of the Second. Russian mobilisation was in response to Austrian aggression, which Germany encouraged and supported. Germany could mobilise faster than Russia, so it could afford to wait until Russia mobilised. In the early 20th Century it was believed that the country that mobilised its forces the fastest would win the war. This was based on Prussia’s stunning victory over France in 1871 when superior organisation and mobility defeated the French and caused the collapse of the Second Empire six weeks after France declared war.
Also, mobilisation did not mean war, except in Germany. Germany’s mobilisation plans were war plans, unlike in every other European country. As far as Germany was concerned, Russian mobilisation was an act of war, even though Russia actually had less intention of going to war with Germany than the other way round. Russian mobilisation was designed to prevent or limit Austrian aggression against Serbia, and also to protect against a German attack. The idea that Germany would invade Belgium in the West should Russia in the East mobilise appeared ludicrous. Consideration had to be made that Germany would use the bulk of its army against Russia to avenge Austria in a Balkan war. It was the inflexibility of German plans that caused the war to spread.
The driver of German policy, the fear that Russia, using French capital, would modernise and eventually overwhelm Germany, disappeared in 1917. But Germany could not stop fighting.
What has all this got to do with North Korea? Like Imperial Germany, it does seem that North Korea is engineering a succession of international crises, but also like Imperial Germany, North Korea does not want to appear the aggressor should the balloon go up. So it will commit any sort of act short of direct aggression against another country, apart from its regular harassment of South Korea.
How should the world react to this new crisis? It would seem that so long as North Korea does not attack its neighbours in force, there is no reason to attack North Korea. All the stout Stalinist is doing is asking for trouble, but that does not mean he should get it.
In an ideal world, North Korea would disarm and devote its energies to feeding its starving population, while opening up the country and reforming its economy. But we do not live in an ideal world. This one will run and run, which is the best we can hope for. Eventually North Korea will change, like Communist China, or collapse, like the USSR. But until then the Bad Boy may just want to be noticed before he becomes irrelevant.