The Fat Man and Little Boy

Kim Jong-Un, North Korean Dictator

The first (and last) two atomic weapons actually used in war were named “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”.  It is deeply ironic that the person now bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war is both a Fat Man and a Little Boy.  Of course I am speaking of Kim Jong-Un, third hereditary dictator of North Korea.

North Korea has had nuclear weapons since about 2003, and proved it with a detonation in 2006.  They developed missiles with longer and longer range, and are at the threshold of having both a nuclear weapon and the means of attacking the United States with it.  The current situation is the result of the unresolved nature of the Korean war of 1950-53, our leadership’s lack of courage in dealing with outright acts of war, and the overall failure of dealing with nuclear escalation.

North Korea has always been a puppet of Russia and China.  It acted on Stalin’s orders to invade South Korea in 1950.  When that failed and North Korea was almost completely occupied, China attacked US and UN Forces.  The US decided to limit the war with China to just the area of Korea, and the war was fought to a negotiated stalemate not long after, leaving North Korea with roughly its original territory.

During and since the Korean War, our leaders failed to deal with outright acts of war by Russia (previously the Soviet Union), China and North Korea in the Korean peninsula.  The world generally recognizes “Acts of War” to include the following:

  1. Making a declaration of war upon another State.
  2. Invading the territory of another State (an Embassy is part of a State’s territory).
  3. Attack on the territory, vessels or aircraft of another State.
  4. Naval blockade of the coasts or ports of another State.
  5. Supporting armed bands in invading or attacking another State and/or refusing to deprive such bands of aid or protection.
  6. Using State means (or supported bands) in assassinating the leaders or citizens of another State.

Stalin broke rule #5, directing and supporting North Korea in invading South Korea.  China broke rule #3 by attacking US and UN forces operating in North Korea.  China then invaded South Korea itself, breaking rule #2.  General MacArthur pointed out all of this along with the warning that failing to crush an aggressor has significant and serious long term consequences.  Can you image what would have happened if Hitler had just been expelled from Poland in 1939 and was forced to just confine himself to Germany?  That’s basically what we did with China and Korea in the 1950s because we didn’t want to deal with another war so soon after World War Two.

Since then, we and our ally South Korea have failed to deal with subsequent acts of war by North Korea.  These included North Korea attacking the USS Pueblo and seizing its crew in 1968, North Korea shelling South Korean towns, North Korean commando attacks into South Korea, and, most recently, the North Koreans sinking a South Korean warship.  Failing to deal with an aggressor only emboldens them.

Although used by Russia and China as a way of sticking their finger in the West’s eye, North Korea was never given nuclear weapons by its sponsors.  North Korea therefore built its own.  In the late 1980’s it constructed nuclear facilities and by 1992 it was working on weapons.  At this time it still didn’t have nukes, but it soon would.  Then was the best chance to end this by attacking the nuclear sites.  At the time North Korea could have only responded with conventional weapons.  More importantly, the Soviet Union had just collapsed and China still had a relatively obsolete military.  We were too afraid of North Korean shelling of Seoul in response.  As a result, North Korea now has nukes, and we have to worry about North Korea nuking a major city like Seoul in response.  This was the predictable result of allowing North Korea to have nuclear weapons.  Now the North Koreans are well on their way to having long range missiles that can reach the continental United States.

The Kim dynasty’s objective in building such weapons is self preservation.  They want to retain complete control over their little kingdom.  They will use nuclear weapons as deterrence against our taking action in response to their next act of war, and to blackmail us into providing them with money and food to keep themselves in power.  In this endeavor, they receive support and assistance from both China and Russia. For example, the North Koreans aren’t building those huge missile transport trucks you see in the news. The Chinese and Russians give them those, among other things.

The big problem is that like a lot of family businesses, the North Koreans are now in Generation 3.  The first generation builds the business.  The second generation keeps it up and running.  But the third generation typically has no experience with building or running the business in difficult times, and typically make huge mistakes that result in bankruptcy.

Our problem is that the Fat Man/Little Boy doesn’t really know what he is doing.  He is going to make a big mistake.  And because we have let this go on so long, by both allowing the situation to become astronomically worse, and emboldening the continual aggressor, his mistake is going to lead to something far worse than the Korean war of 1950.  Far, far worse.

What to Do

There is little that you or I can do about this situation other than prepare for the potential effects on our lives and families.

As a nation, we have to deal with Acts of War.  We should have dealt with them in the past, but we didn’t.  Each time we fail to do so it will just get worse, meaning that what we will have to endure to fix the problem gets worse.  I would prefer that not to be a nuclear detonation in the United States, or anywhere else people live for that matter.

Floating Targets

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)

The Aircraft Carrier (or just Carrier) has been the American Navy’s preeminent weapon since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War Two.  The Carrier allowed the Navy to project ship sinking power out to the limits of the range of its ship borne bomber and torpedo carrying aircraft.  Instead of needing to be within sight of each other, opposing navies could now strike at each other from hundreds of miles away.

Carriers were instrumental in defeating Japan and winning World War Two.  Ever since then, the Navy has continued to rely on the Carrier as its means of projecting combat power into a military theater of operations.  Carrier aircraft have flown combat missions in Korea, Vietnam, and all of the modern conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

There are two big differences regarding Carriers between World War Two and now.  The first is that air to air refueling wasn’t practical until the 1960s.  Prior to then, aircraft had to rely on the fuel they carried internally on takeoff.  Carriers were the only platforms that could provide both air cover and striking power to fleets operating in the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean.  Land based aircraft, particularly fighter planes, could not fly that far away from their airbases.  So only Carrier aircraft could operate far out to sea, or attack Japanese installations like those on islands located hundreds of miles from our nearest land bases.  But since the 1960’s, due to air to air refueling, land based aircraft can reach anywhere.  There may be some short term difficulty in getting the logistics set up for the Air Force to operate in a specific geographic area, but once this temporary issue is solved, the land based Air Force can operate anywhere we want it to.

The other big difference is what exists to potentially sink a Carrier.  In World War Two, the only things really capable were dive and torpedo bombers (which usually operated off of other Carriers) and submarines.  The submarines of World War Two were very slow, had to be within sight of the Carrier, and then had to hit the Carrier with “straight shot” dumb torpedoes.  Still, while the American Navy sank twenty different Japanese Carriers during the war, eight of those were sunk by submarines, not aircraft.  Today’s submarines are vast improvements over their WW II ancestors.  They are super fast, never have to surface, and carry both anti-ship missiles and wire guided torpedoes that can be steered to the target. Since the 1960’s, submarines have repeatedly gotten embarrassingly close to carriers during naval maneuvers.  It would be worse in a real war.

Submarines aren’t the only serious threat to Aircraft Carriers today.  The most serious threat is probably long range anti-ship missiles.  These include weapons that fly at something like a thousand miles an hour a few feet above the waves, while carrying a multi-ton conventional or, worse yet, nuclear warheads, and track the massive Carrier through a combination of active and passive radar with infrared and other backups.  Even more dangerous are ballistic missiles with “steerable” re-entry warheads.

What I’ve outlined here is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the arguments against the continued reliance on $10-15 billion Aircraft Carriers.  But the end result for Carriers in a war with a real enemy like Russia or China is that they will most likely end up like the Battleships in Pearl Harbor, obsolete and near defenseless targets of more modern weapons.

What to Do

We need to stop building these extremely expensive massive floating targets that have marginal usefulness.  To add to the arguments against the Aircraft Carrier, the most recent, the USS Gerald Ford, which has new “electronic” catapults and aircraft landing capture gear, is both a model of cost overruns and “high tech” equipment that doesn’t work.  The ship is has already had $5 Billion in cost overruns and its new equipment for launching and retrieving aircraft is not working.  So this now $17.5 Billion floating island is currently completely useless.

We need a strong Navy to protect the sea lanes and the shipping operating in them.  Both for commerce and for the supply lines we would have to defend in a major war.  That Navy should be equipped for the modern war it will have to fight, not a war with Imperial Japan that just involves bigger ships and jet aircraft.

Most of the money we are now spending on our Navy (not unlike much of it spent for the Army and Air Force) is being wasted on weapon systems designed not for battlefield efficiency but for maximizing the profit of defense contractors.  We need to pressure our representatives in Congress and the appointees in the Defense Department to push for truly cost effective weapons, ships and aircraft.  Our Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen need effective modern weapons.  The key word being “effective”.