rich quatrone | america does not take the high ground against a less capable nation


So, here we have it, John Kerry
rattling back a sword to the 28 year
old Kim Jong-un. And each day
we read the headlines on the
internet, headlines that are forced
before us whether or not we want
to be reminded that inferior men
are risking our lives and the lives
of millions.

I remember maybe ten years back
seeing a photo in the New York Times.
It was a picture of maybe a dozen
North Korean men and women carrying
fire wood in zero temperatures out
of a snowy forest, their backs bent almost
at ninety degrees to the ground.
These were hungry women and men
with children and no heat for their
small homes.

I remember a Washington “think tank
expert” talking on WBAI about North Korea
and how much of a threat it was to the
“rest of the world.”

So I called the station and waited to
get through. I posed this question:
“Why haven’t we learned after WWI that
putting all the blame on a nation only leads
to further despair and then to the rise of
fascist leaders, left or right, who rule
with a hard hand and give some kind
of twisted pride to the people? I asked,
whey don’t we feed the people of North Korea?
Why don’t we send food and medical supplies
and other kinds of aid instead of isolating them
and condemning them for being a “rogue nation”?

And then, of course, there was the fraudulent president,
the thief president, George Bush, with privilege but no
brains or character, calling the North part of some
“Axis of Evil.”

So, here we are today, April 12, 2013, in a predicament
where the flower of all this arrogance and error comes
to full bloom. And the world shivers.

Here we are in the richest, fattest country in the history
of the planet, as I sit huddled in my garage apartment in
one of the richest towns in this rich nation, where there
is so much wealth I want to hide my face for even being
here. Here we are hoping for a miracle.

And yet, there’s John Kerry hurling his threats back
at Kim Jung Un, when Kerry should know so much more.
Kerry, whom I respected for his brave speech before
the the US Senate after Vietnam, telling us how wrong
and terrible that war was.

So, we seem compelled to take this terrible, wrong-headed

I ask, is there no one with courage in Washington leadership?
No one to say, wait, stop, let’s not mirror what this angry, hurting,
and now foolish North Korea is doing.

Instead, let’s offer peace. Let’s offer food and medicine and aid.
Let’s work on doing this, work out the details.
Let’s step back from the edge of anger and hideous destruction.
There’s still time, let’s do this.

And so, as an American poet, who admittedly has not done
enough to keep us all together, I lament.

And I watch.

0 Replies to “rich quatrone | america does not take the high ground against a less capable nation”

  1. We do give North Korea food aid. We have been giving them food aid (and energy assistance) right along. We gave them food aid mainly to talk Kim Jong-un down from building up nuclear capabilities. He has shown no indication of doing that. We warned them if they launched their ballistic satellite (against US regulations) then it would become difficult for us to provide that aid. They launched it anyway, and as a result we have heightened economic sanctions against the communist country. Also, does a country that is threatening to nuke Seoul for no reason deserve food aid? Probably not. They are our enemies, not our friends.

  2. There’s only one response to this so-called “poem”, or rather, mindless rant. Ignore it. As my father Dave Church (published on this site when he was alive) once said, poets are not statesmen. But I’ll say this: offering peace and aid and food and medicine is what the U.S. and China and others already do, and is the usual response to saber-rattling from North Korea. It probably won’t be any different this time around in the end. Kim Jong Un knows this, as his father did. But in the meantime, saber-rattling allows the young dictator to prop up his image to a starving population that has no other reason to support his regime. And then he’ll get “concessions” from the international community that supposedly “threatened” his regime. This is just basic foreign policy. Now, it is also true the young dictator is young and untested. So again, very basic: a nation like the U.S., or South Korea, or Japan, needs to be ready to defense against a missile attack. Which, again, probably won’t happen, but, again, it would be an incalculable failure of responsibility not to have defenses ready. So please, write about a butterfly or something. That’s the domain of poetry, not statesmanship.

  3. One more thing: when Bush referred to North Korea as part of the axis of evil, it is understood that he was referring to the governing regime, not the people, of North Korea. And yes, the governing regime of North Korea is evil.

  4. And yet one more thing (guess I can’t help myself): not that I’m a Bush spokesman or fan (though I think he deserves more measured criticism), but Bush gets high popularity ratings in Africa these days because of PEPFAR, the program he proposed to provide aid and medicine to AIDS victims in Africa. From what I understand, it’s been a remarkable humanitarian success.


    My dear Jonathan:
    Your thinking is the standard thinking that has brought so much peace to the world and equality here in the states. I never suggested aid to quell the belligerence of NK. I suggested it as a humanitarian act, to be given not only to NK but to any nation so hungry and hurting. Fuck their government. They will send nukes or not send them. Your remark that we end or lessen aid because of the NK’s continued threats is precisely part of the problem. Feeding hungry people is not based on getting a desired concession from governments. It’s simply the right thing to do. And since America continues to maintain this myth that it is such an unselfish nation (I’m sure blacks here would agree with you?), then let it give freely from its vast abundance. My “rant” (hey, rants are good when required. Ranting against ignorance is always good) also suggests that simply continuing to blame a nation and isolating it, as we did with Germany in the 20s and 30s, leads to Hitlers of varying statures.
    You need to be a bit more generous, my friend. To me and to the North Korean people suffering under dictatorship.
    Rich Quatrone

  6. I didn’t say we should not offer aid to the North Korean people. I also do not wish to engage in a simplistic debate about whether the U.S. is a selfish or unselfish nation. The U.S. is not perfect. The same for any other nation. But foreign policy involves a complex calculus of costs and benefits, and the parts are always moving. I defend Kerry and the U.S. in this case in the sense that, as I stated, it would be an incalculable failure of responsibility not to prepare defenses and let the young dictator know the consequences of an attack. Policy does not end there. But one still must consider the incentives of concessions to the North Korean regime. I’m sure you’ll disagree, but the mantra is “peace through strength”.

    Anyway, my apologies if you take offense. We can agree to disagree. I don’t think poets have a place in statesmanship unless they’ve had sufficient experience or undertaken the arduous research efforts to understand the complex calculus involved in foreign policy decision-making. Poetry is art, and art is about depicting what we might call the “clarity of ambiguity” in life. Simplistic policy positions is just not the business of art. It is the business of politics and polemics.

  7. As you know, I do not view statesmanship as the proper domain of poets. But lend me your forgiveness for an ad hominem attack made in the immediate rush of reaction. I prefer civil debate. I tend to sorely disappointed by the foreign policy musings of poets, but ultimately I’m interested in facts and analysis when it comes to such matters. So we’ll leave it at that.

  8. By the way, how would you propose to bypass the North Korean government to deliver food and aid to the people of North Korea? As you know, NK is a tightly-controlled society. The government would surely know about any ventures inside the country, and thus would have to give its consent. Which likely means that the U.S. or any country or organization involved in delivery of aid must work through or with the government. How would you propose to work this agreement or cooperation to ensure the government does not skim, mismanage, or otherwise corrupt the delivery of aid? These are complex practical concerns that are part of any foreign aid calculus.

    Another comment: it seems you treat food/aid delivery and Kerry’s statements as mutually exclusive. In other words, one or the other. But surely Kerry can very reasonably assert that the U.S. will defend against any aggressive behavior by the NK regime, while life goes on in many other dimensions: i.e. food and aid continued to be delivered/distributed to NK, Kim Jong Un appoints a new finance/economist minister as he recently did and apparently instructed or allowed him to look into more market-oriented reforms, etc. In other words, there are hundreds of decisions constantly being made, all data points in the ever-changing calculus of foreign-policy decision-making.

  9. “The ark was built by amateurs, and the Titanic by experts. Don’t wait for the experts.”
    — Murray Cohen.

    Again, Jonathan: your notion of something called “the ever changing ‘calculus’ of foreign-policy decision-making” (a bit of poetry itself) is just expert enough to exclude all us ignorant citizens, poets, teachers, carpenters, candy store owners, cops, and so many others. According to your line of thinking, we are to sit back and wait for “our wise leaders” to save us from doom. But the history of the world, especially that of the bloody, violent, obscene 20th century, and now the mind-numbing outset of the 21st, teaches us otherwise. Your “calculus” has not worked. Let’s try my “simple-minded” arithmetic.

  10. Not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying foreign policy decision-making is complex, not that we should leave it to the so-called “experts”. 9/11 and other national disasters like the financial crisis are examples of what we can call a failure of the nation’s elites. But just because our elites failed us does not mean that decision-making is not complex.

    Also, I did not offer any calculus. That’s just a word to convey the notion that decisions involve the weighing of costs and benefits of many factors. It takes good hard thinking to do that “weighing” and come to a decision.

    Foreign policy is rather particular in that actors (i.e. states) might be said to be quite “rational” in the game-theoretic sense of pursuing national self-interest. Foreign aid is one thing, appeasement is another. You mention the lessons of the Germans in the 20s and it’s not a bad example. But we should also recall the lesson of Munich.

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