The Forgotten Threat: North Korea as America’s Most Durable, Dangerous, and Diverse Enemy

*Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on December 9, 2015. It can also be found online here (or PDF). 

The Forgotten War has become the Forgotten Threat. The Korean Peninsula is a strategic orphan, “usually considered background noise” compared to media darlings like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic State (ISIL), Russia, and even Cuba. The Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College last published a paper on North Korea over four years ago. When commentator Fareed Zakaria lists the four big challenges facing the United States in foreign affairs today, Korea does not make the cut. This follows in suit with the collective amnesia about the war that divided the Koreas. One recent book review considers Korea “the neglected war.” A few weeks ago, bestselling writer Simon Winchester breezily suggested, “if America had not interfered and had just let the Soviets come” then “Korea would have been a former communist country, but it would have been united. There would be no division into two countries, no DMZ, no threats of nuclear weapons, no lunatic dynasties like the Kim dynasty of today.” When history is forgotten, fiction runs amok.

Which leaves space for Hollywood — and movies matter, commanding public opinion as king to subject. In 2004, a handful of marionettes (and Matt Damon) made North Korea a puppet-led punchline in Team America: World Police. Several recent films have pushed the North Korean threat further into fictionalized territory: Red Dawn (2012), Olympus Has Fallen (2013), and last year’s The Interview (2014). It is not hard to see why, as one scholar assesses, most of the world perceives North Korea and its leadership as “crazy.”Or, in the plain words of one U.S. senator: “They’re nuts.” North Korea has become more joke than threat.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

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