This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
In the 60 years since North Korea invaded South Korea, the hydrogen bomb was invented, the Vietnam War fought, China privatized, the Berlin Wall torn down and the Soviet Union dismantled.
Yet by some bizarre quirk of history, we are still dealing with a bellicose, Stalinist, terrorist North Korea. An international panel of experts has verified what was fairly obvious from the beginning: The sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan on March 26 was caused by a North Korean torpedo.
The loons in Pyongyang are pumping out their ritual denials, counter-accusations and threats of war, but the evidence is irrefutable: The investigators found fragments of a North Korean torpedo and the residue of its explosives with the wreckage of the ship.
The Cheonan was struck a mile off a South Korean island, a place it clearly had a right to be. Forty-six members of its crew were killed; more South Koreans died in rescue attempts.
The sinking of a ship is traditionally considered an act of war. That undoubtedly makes perfect sense to the North Korean dictatorship headed by Kim Jong-il: It never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War and still considers itself the rightful government of South Korea.
These are people who know how to hold a grudge. The Cheonan’s sinking should remind all of us that the 60-year-old conflict on the Korean Peninsula remains unsettled.
The naked aggressiveness of North Korea continues to amaze. It has frequently mounted small but murderous assaults on South Korean targets and has occasionally carried out major attacks. The last large-scale atrocity – until the Cheonan – occurred in 1987, when two of its agents bombed a South Korean airliner in flight and killed all of its 115 passengers and crew.
China is the big reason the governments of Kim Jong-il and his father, Kim Il-sung, have never been held to account for their acts of war. Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin were the godfathers of North Korea, and the Chinese communists remain either protective of the vicious little country or scared of large-scale hostilities next door. Some genuine pressure from Beijing would quickly break the North Koreans’ habit of regularly attacking their neighbor to the south.
Maybe that’s too much to hope for, but North Korea’s recent acquisition of atomic explosives and long-range missiles has been raising the stakes dramatically for everyone.
The regime in Pyongyang has always been rabid and murderous. Now it’s rabid, murderous and nuclear-armed.