In his Dec. 5 letter, “Why stick up for North Korea,” James Hughes says I “take up the North Korean mantle as if to disguise the brutality of the North Korean regime.” But in my Dec. 1 article (“The N. Korean conundrum“), I make direct mention of that brutality. At the same time I felt it important to point out the reasons why North Korea might have felt its recent bombardment of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong was justified. The same was true for the North Korean attack on South Korea in June 1950, which led to the present stalemate between the two countries.
A long career studying conflicts between communist and noncommunist societies convinces me that the key reason for international distrust and conflict is the refusal to accept that the other side sometimes acts for reasons that are, or that it reasonably thinks are, legitimate. Some of those factors underlie the North Korean attack on the disputed island, although it does not excuse the killing of civilians in the process.
With North Korea, there is much evidence that its belligerence and nuclear development are a direct result of the refusal of the United States, and Japan to some extent, to continue promised dialogues for normalization of relations. The excuses for these refusals are often flimsy, sometimes based on the hope that the North Korean regime will collapse. This in turn feeds the paranoia that the regime exploits to suppress its population.
We saw this in the past with the Soviet Union, then with China. It continues today with an exaggerated view of the reasons for North Korea’s actions being used as the basis for yet another Cold War confrontation. Dialogue becomes even more essential.