October 12, 2017

LIEBERMAN | New Views on North Korea

Print More

Stress dreams run in my family. My mom gets them about travel, my dad gets them about work and my brother gets them about sports. Lately, mine have been about impending nuclear warfare. The other night I had the most unbelievable one. It etched itself vividly in the back of my brain. No amount of analysis or explanation could shake it, and I’ve carried it with me since.

It starts recognizably, with Kim Jong-Un stately perched in some bunker in North Korea. I see his three right hand men, Ri Pyong Chol, a former general; Kim Jong Sik, a rocket scientist; and Jang Chang Ha, the leader of a weapons center. They are quiet, solemn, focused — a sharp juxtaposition from the famous photos of their smiling faces following a successful missile launch. One of the men delivers a small, sealed box, and I wonder, what does it hold? My subconscious anxiety might lead to me down several rabbit holes, to the secrets of nuclear fission or something like that.

But the lid of the box is lifted with the focused, gentle care only a reckless dictator could bequeath. It’s not a small explosive, like my dream-self feared. It’s five frames from Warby Parker — a home try-on kit. I’m relieved as I watch him place the first pair of glasses on the bridge of his nose. His associates applaud the clear plastic frames and the thin, round wire ones. It’s some sort of kiss-the-ring ceremony but with on-trend accessories. He had a pair of tortoise shells on his face when I awoke with the same sweaty shock and guilt I get after hours of online shopping. And, so, I wonder: What could this mean?

With fears of World War III on the horizon, it’s no surprise that North Korea creeps into my subconscious. There’s a tight, anxious knot in my stomach when it comes to nuclear warfare, and this might be a gross under-reaction. Part of me pushes this fear to the back burner, it seems so incredulously melodramatic — something that will happen someday, but certainly not to us, certainly could not be happening now, right?

However, an American president colluding with Russia seemed radically unrealistic when it first hit the headlines, but nearly a year later the evidence has turned my disbelief to disgust. We are in an age of political drama usually reserved for House of Cards. So maybe we should be worried?

The president doesn’t seem deeply concerned. After seeing a tweet branding one of the most dangerous dictators in the world, “rocket man,” I couldn’t  hold myself back anymore. I imagine a world in which Elton John reconciles decades of unrest in Eastern Asia. For the first time in almost a year, I feel at peace.

This isn’t something that feels comfortable to joke about. It is the quiet, stifled giggle in a hospital, absorbing the absurdity of a dire situation, laughing so I don’t cry. Are we all going to die?

I begin to wonder if the political food-fighting between North Korea and America isn’t all about image. Maybe this is some type of self-defense mechanism, a Hail Mary to keep me from completely losing my mind. But, to be fair, sometimes our leaders don’t deliver the clearest view of reality, but instead what matches their presidential aesthetic — or preferred image of themselves. So, in an attempt to detangle my psych, I come to the conclusion that these conflicts aren’t so different, in concept, from a Warby Parker home try-on kit. Bear with me here. Maybe these two powerful men are trying to see how big they can really go, what they can get away with, what’s a good look for them.

During his recent performance at Cornell, Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, described the American-North Korean conflict as a hot potato, passed off from president to president. But in the present day, the president is grasping this conflict in his plum-sized fist. The embers of history produce an irreconcilable conflagration of flustered, frustrated tweets — tweets that literally might begin the end of the world. Does anyone else feel like they’re in an episode of Black Mirror? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been catching a lot of heat for the ways in which his brainchild might have interfered with our democracy, but where are the creators of Twitter?  @RealDonaldTrump literally wields the power to declare war in 140 characters or less. This isn’t something I have a sense of control over. I can’t censor the commander-in-chief.

So, for peace of mind’s sake (because self care is important in this political climate, right?) I think it’s easiest to believe that these threats are about image, not about reality. The United States, Russia and North Korea are flexing until their t-shirts burst. Sure, I’m terrified. But just like the many presidents that came before DJT, I have no idea how to solve the North Korean conflict, and it’s easier to picture Kim Jong-Un with a home-try-on-kit with anything much more lethal. Since this issue feels deeply out of my control, I’m choosing to focus my waking energy and time on the social justice issues posed by this administration.

Sarah Lieberman is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Blueberries for Sal appears alternate Thursdays this semester.