Is There a Black Swan Brewing in Korea?


I’ve got my toes in the water, ass in the sand
Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand
Life is good today, life is good today…

Zac Brown Band

This was the scene in front of our hotel at 6am yesterday. Puffy little popcorn clouds, clean white sand, glassy water in the Gulf of Thailand, and no one in sight. It quiets the mind to be in such a place. After two unsatisfactory hotel bookings in Seoul and Saigon I finally hit a home run with this gem on the island of Phu Quoc. At last we have family peace. Marilynn loves the place.

But… at 7am, sitting on our private terrace listening to the rustling of banana leaves, Marilynn leaned over and asked, “Do you think Kim Jong Un will aim his missiles at South Korean airliners as they’re flying into Seoul?”

Well, nothing gets your attention like a death threat or the prospect of nuclear annihilation. Thursday we’re flying back to Seattle on Asiana Airlines, Korea’s other national carrier and we’ll be in Seoul all day Friday. Seoul is 30 miles from the DMZ that separates the two Koreas, and at this very moment NK’s pudgy little dictator is full of loose talk about rockets and nuclear bombs and an imminent attack on South Korea, Japan and America. It seems that threatening nuclear war is his response to sanctions on the importation of luxury goods for his glamorous, Westernized wife. This would be a Chaplinesque joke if the insecure little dork wasn’t so creepily in the thrall of heavy weapons and under the influence of his father’s military cronies. Is he so stupid he would risk the annihilation of his entire country to prove his courage?

Is he for real? Should we take his threat seriously? Headlines in the NY Times this morning say that the US regards them as credible. I don’t know but while we wait the US and South Korea are flexing their muscles to discourage him. Will that make a difference? I somehow doubt it but I hope I’m wrong.

Coincidentally, I’m currently reading Book Four of Robert Caro’s, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, and I just finished the section on the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are eerie similarities between those times and these. In 1962 the crisis was averted because President Kennedy, against the advice of his Cabinet and military advisers, decided on a blockade of the island rather than a raid to take out the missile sites. Will cool heads prevail in Korea? In 1962 we had reason to believe there was some collective intelligence on both sides. I don’t have faith that the same thing is true in the case of NK. I want cool heads to prevail. I don’t think a pre-emptive strike by America or SK is in the cards, but the little guy with the bad haircut might just subscribe to Wolfowitz’s failed theory of pre-emptive war that gave us 10 years of war in Iraq. But, this isn’t Iraq; this little crackpot is threatening global nuclear war – the ultimate Black Swan – a high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare event that is beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology. 9/11 was a Black Swan event and 9/11 would look like child’s play compared to a nuclear attack on SK, Japan, or the US.

I’m not changing my route or airline. So, on this beautiful Easter Sunday I am keeping my faith in the planet’s survival. This blog began as Surviving Seattle but today it might be more appropriate to name it simply Survival.


  1. I don’t advocate annihilating the entire civilian population of Pyongyang in order to eliminate a North Korean threat, but as you know there is a precedent for that in Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Nagasaki et al. If it comes to eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and we think they are indeed crazy enough, I do not advocate blinking.

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