Since he’s not likely watching NFL football games, we sincerely hope President Trump has been taking in Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War.
No matter your political views, the 10-part series that started Sept. 17 and ends this Thursday on PBS is a dramatic and often frightening reminder of the horrors of war.
War must be the absolute last resort, absent some provocation by another.
That’s not to say the United States hasn’t been provoked by North Korea, which has been testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons and threatening to bomb the U.S.
That entire region of Asia also is being provoked – most notably South Korea, which would absorb the brunt of any new conflagration, and Japan, which is understandably on edge when Pyongyang fires a missile in its direction.
We’re just not there yet. The threats from the bellicose, insular and murderous regime of North Korea have yet to reach full credibility.
Still, we’re getting closer and closer. At what point, if any, can you laugh off or ignore repeated threats of a nuclear strike? How much closer can we allow such a regime to such cataclysmic capability?
But while we thought President Trump’s speech to the United Nations last week was refreshingly candid and unabashedly pro-American – what a change that is! – his rhetoric, particularly in political rallies and Twitter posts, has been unsettling.
We don’t mind that the powers that be in North Korea and its patron China might be unsettled; that could be a good thing. Indeed, the Chinese central bank was finally moved to order the nation’s financial institutions “to stop providing financial services to new North Korean customers and to wind down loans with existing customers,” as Reuters put it.
We’ll see. We’re skeptical China, even now, will follow through on such U.N. sanctions.
Yet we’re also skittish about President Trump’s rhetoric – telling a sympathetic crowd in Alabama last week that he will “handle” North Korea, and warning on Twitter that its leaders “won’t be around much longer!” if they don’t change their ways or presumably their rhetoric.
Again, we support this president and both his tough stances and tough talk. But loose talk and cavalier references to destroying another nation is disquieting, to say the least.
The power of the U.S. presidency, combined with the might of the American military, can be an intoxicating cocktail. And stirring in even a dash of hubris can turn an exhilarant into an accelerant.
Hubris comes with the territory at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. And Mr. Trump brought plenty of his own.
Mr. Trump may be playing not just to his base, but to the enemy, in the things he is saying. Maybe his utterings are designed to get the Chinese to act, and the North Koreans not to. Perhaps he is playing chess when it appears to be checkers. We hope it’s so.
But his recent comments have sounded all-too-heady. We pray Mr. Trump has the requisite reserve, and an appreciation for both the limits of military force and the limitless capacity for suffering in wartime, such that war can be avoided if at all possible.
With this crisis being delayed for decades by multiple presidents, and with the nuclear clock nearing midnight, it’s time every option was on the table for dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat.
But absolutely every other option must be exhausted first before the clock strikes 12.