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Does Kim know what lies ahead?

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   April 23, 2013 at 12:05 AM   |   Comments

HERNDON, Va., April 23 (UPI) -- As the United States simultaneously struggles to take on the gun control issue and not take on a war with North Korea, an incident related to the former underscores concerns about dealing with the latter.

On April 10, two boys, aged 4 and 6, were playing in the town of Toms River, N.J. The younger boy went into his house, returning with a .22-caliber rifle. Playfully aiming it at his older friend, he fired. Shot in the head, the older boy died.

He was a young child lacking the maturity to understand the deadly nature of the weapon held in his hands. Irresponsible parents had failed to teach him, absent responsible conduct, guns discharge, claiming human life.

Disregarding early childhood photographs of a very young Kim Jong Un dressed up as a little general, Pyongyang's current leader never served in uniform. Yet in 2012, five months before his ailing father's death, Kim, overnight, became a four-star general.

Today at age 30, the world's youngest head of state lacks the maturity to fully understand the military and political powers he wields and the consequences of irresponsibly wielding them.

Like the 4-year-old New Jersey boy, Kim -- having inherited the world's fourth largest army (composed of soldiers whose fathers/grandfathers fought its last war) -- now plays with a loaded gun capable of discharging should he act irresponsibly.

Long gone from Kim's army are soldiers who fought in the Korean War, which ended 60 years ago this July. For "Boy Kim" and his generals, the Latin phrase "Dulce bellum inexpertis" ("war is sweet to those who have never fought") aptly applies. Having never experienced the horrors of the battlefield gives rise to a bravado only silenced when the bullets start to fly.

Kim's bravado recalls memories of Moammar Gadhafi. Bravado led to violence when, on April 5, 1986, Gadhafi supported the terrorist bombing of a German discotheque, killing U.S. servicemen. His bravado and violence ended 10 days later after U.S. President Ronald Reagan ordered an airstrike against Libya.

Coming close to death in the strike (escaping after tipped off by Italy), Gadhafi saw the light, swearing off terrorism and eventually even surrendering his weapons of mass destruction.

Probably unknown to Kim now (and the United States then), U.S./North Korean combat occurred during the Vietnam War. Pyongyang had pressed Hanoi to send its pilots to learn U.S. air combat tactics. Hanoi reluctantly agreed. Just two months later, after every engagement with the United States resulted in the loss of a North Korean pilot flying a North Vietnamese plane, Hanoi sent Pyongyang's pilots packing as it could ill afford more aircraft losses.

Today, an obelisk stands in front of 14 North Korean graves in a cemetery outside Hanoi -- a reminder of the price Pyongyang paid for its earlier adventurism against the United States.

The North Vietnamese pilot responsible for training the Koreans reported they proved unwilling to learn. They chose to engage U.S. pilots as they had during the Korean War, even though tactics and technology had drastically changed.

This same ignorance was demonstrated when North Korea recently released a U.S. map, supposedly depicting a missile strike against Colorado Springs, showing the target 900 miles off mark.

Pyongyang has long had a plan of attack for South Korea. Years ago, South Koreans began discovering huge tunnels dug under the DMZ by the North -- through which to drive tanks -- left unfinished on the South's side, only to be completed in advance of an attack. Seoul uncovered four tunnels but many more are believed to exist.

The North has also purchased thousands of South Korean police and military uniforms -- to be worn by their agents entering the South should an attack occur. Donning these uniforms, their mission is to disrupt good order in the South as South Koreans become confused over who is friend and who is foe.

It is interesting to see how today's bravado by Kim contrasts with the image fellow students held of him while attending the English-language "International School" in Gumligen, Switzerland.

They describe him as a quiet student with a great sense of humor -- two traits little evident today, unless the U.S. map depicting missile routes was an attempt at humor.

Despite being short and overweight, he reportedly was a good basketball player who was "fiercely competitive (and) very explosive." One classmate described him as a "playmaker (who) made things happen." Another added, "He hated to lose. Winning was very important."

There are indications Kim may be toning down his rhetoric, most likely due to China's influence. But, clearly, Kim has undergone a drastic personality change since his student days. One wonders whether an alleged March 2013 assassination attempt against him, erupting in a gunfight in Pyongyang due to a military power struggle, triggered his new-found belligerence.

His tough guy persona towards the West, thus, could be for internal consumption -- keeping opponents at bay while they too ponder where confrontation with the West is heading.

It is scary if Kim, playing with a loaded gun, does not know the answer himself.

--

(Lt. Col. James G. Zumwalt, a retired Marine infantry officer, served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.)

--

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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