Ball of Confusion: New developments in North Korea and the Syrian conflict

“Ball of Confusion” is a psychedelic soul single released by The Temptations in 1971, whose chorus says, “Ball of Confusion, that’s what the world is today.” This chorus may be truer today that it was in 1971, with recent events in the Korean Peninsula and Syria proving quite confusing indeed.

At a historic summit in the waning days of April, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in the South, this being the first time that a North Korean leader has entered South Korea in around 65 years and discussed a treaty to finally end the Korean Armistice Agreement in favor of a formal peace treaty that will officially end the war.

Also discussed was the (hopeful) eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with a statement that Kim Jong-un signed reading: “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”

This is, of course, good news for those of us seeking to avert nuclear annihilation. However, it’s worth taking all of this with a grain–or several for that matter–in that this statement came from Kim Jong-un, a leader whose rap sheet includes a multitude of human rights violations, internationally condemned nuclear tests and a government-controlled media machine that has consistently sparred with president Donald Trump.

Still, it’s worth noting that Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump’s respective administrations have been in talks recently of setting up a summit to further the diplomatic gains made in Kim Jong-un’s meeting with his South Korean counterpart. If, perhaps, Kim Jong-un has had an epiphany and truly desires to reconstruct bridges that his family burned over 50 years ago, I welcome it.

In a propaganda class in which I’m currently enrolled, we watched a documentary about North Korea. The documentary ended with the argument that, in the game of sanctions, nuclear tests, military exercises, and censorship, the only real losers are the citizens of North Korea. Hopefully if this small window that Kim Jong-un seems interested in opening can be further opened, the North Korean citizenry can benefit as well.

Contrasting the good news in the Korean Peninsula, the Syrian conflict seems to be getting much worse. Most recently, America and a coalition of allies in NATO, including England and France, launched a large-scale missile strike against Syrian military targets aligned with Syrian president Bashar Al-assad in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians and rebels in Douma which killed 70 people and utilized chlorine and sarin gas, with sarin gas being considered by the international community as a weapon of mass destruction.

Opposed to the hope that is easy to feel for the future of the Korean Peninsula, it’s hard for me to determine how to react to this missile strike on Syria. On the one hand, I dislike war at any cost. I see little to gain from armed conflict, no matter how big or how small, but the use of chemical weapons against anyone, civilian or military, is also inexcusable.

I’ve recently been ruminating on a quote by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel that came during his acceptance speech of said award:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Coupling this quote with the images of the suffering coming out of the Syrian conflict, the fleeing refugees, the burnt out cities, the dead children–the dead children–it’s becoming less and less justifiable to avoid some kind of intervention in Syria. The lesser of two evils is never an easy choice, this one made far worse by our previous experiences in the Middle East. Regardless, we must make a decision as to the kind of nation we want to be. One that sits idly by as civilians are gassed, crimes against humanity are committed and a patch of the Earth continually burns, or the kind that steps up to declare to all the world that this is unacceptable. It is a difficult choice, yes, but one we must make.

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