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This is Not a Game

April 27, 2017

North Korea has been a looming, vaguely mysterious threat on the edge of my awareness since childhood. It seems to be name-dropped more often as a rhetorical device than a literal place, and I’ve come to associate it with hyperbolized, only half ironic predictions of some human-wrought apocalypse.

I still never expected a headline to inform me—casually, in the middle of avoiding my homework—that we could be on the brink of nuclear war.

Because of a tweet, no less.

I’m well aware that the United States and North Korea have been performing an odd, precarious dance between threats and caution for decades now, and that this isn’t the first time the notion of war has ever been mentioned. But with help from with our country’s current instability and the doubt many hold in our most powerful elected leader, the first article I read on the subject sent me into a brief panic. My tactic for comfort in previous instances—something nonchalant along the lines of, We’re smart and suave enough to avoid that—didn’t have an effect.

Perhaps that was because the president’s twitter was littered with offhand catchphrases about the situation, such as, “North Korea is looking for trouble.” Perhaps it was because this sentiment was included in a brightly-phrased threat that ends in an exclamation point and an extra ‘U.S.A.’ for good measure.

Reading this sequence, I had the impression that I was looking over a script for a high school movie, not a discussion of foreign policy from a world leader. Here’s the a scene from the movie, if you were wondering: a mainly unlikable jock throws out the most cocky and masculine responses he can imagine to a crowd of infatuated classmates while his less popular challenger is still within earshot.  (He then slicks back his unimpressive hair and walks right past another fight without a second glance.)

President Trump’s display of machismo, or bravado, or whatever it is he intended through his favored platform, does not make me feel safe. As Japan’s prime minister seeks to amend the pacifist constitution his nation has held since World War II for the sake of North Korea, as our own military lends a missile-intercepting contraption to South Korea, what we need from him is not “reassurance” over the internet in volatile little bursts.

Whether or not there is any immediate danger, this is no place to be flippant. South Korea and Japan are already in immediate range of North Korean missiles. President Trump needs to be careful with his words—not out of fear of North Korea, but out of respect for those allies and for American citizens. You don’t need to be bombastic to communicate you’re not afraid. Now is as good a time as any to apply the advice our parents probably imparted in grade school: stay cool and collected, respond logically. Leave the colorful, exaggerated threats to the other side, because we know that’s their specialty anyway. Don’t let anything get under your skin.

Maybe writing this shows that things have gotten under my skin; maybe my concern at this is disproportionate to the concern I feel towards the other humanitarian dangers in our world. I admit that my first thought upon hearing about all of this was, Thank God I’m going to college in a landlocked Midwestern state, and that much of my initial research was spurred by fear for the family I have here and in Korea. Maybe I am just as passion-driven and illogical. Maybe Syria, where the war is not imminent but immediate, would be a good redirection for my focus and Trump’s.

But the fact of the matter is: this is not a game. At least I know that. If history textbooks one day have to write sections about the war we’re imagining now, I sure hope they don’t need to include any tweets.

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