Entry 9: The Footnotes Rabbit Hole

December 26, 2017

Argh! I spent a long time on the book today, but only wrote around 200 words. I went down a rabbit hole hunting for footnotes that eluded me.

I started the morning searching online for a specific quote I remember in congressional testimony from a few years ago. The quote was evidence of U.S. concerns about inadvertent escalation in Korea during the Obama era. Three hours later, I had eight new tabs open in my browser with information that might be useful in the future, but not the quote I was looking for.

I usually try to avoid getting bogged down in the search for citations with a 5-minute rule: I note when I start searching, set a timer, and force myself to go back to writing after five minutes. Yet sometimes I feel like if I don’t chase down the source I need at that moment, I might forever forget what it is specifically I’m looking for. Maybe that’s legitimate. Maybe it makes sense to break self-imposed rules. But maybe letting myself break the 5-minute rule (for hours!) was a way of being lazy while still telling myself that I’m working on the book. I’m so pathetic. As I write this I can tell I’m making excuses for myself. I will try to be better tomorrow.

More depressing news reads after I was finished writing for the day. Secretary of Defense Mattis gave a speech at Fort Bragg telling his troops to be ready for war in Korea. Readiness is sensible, and in different circumstances this would be a pretty unremarkable thing to say. But he also said “storm clouds are gathering” over Korea and he’s not wrong. The frustrating thing is that war in Korea is eminently preventable. Even a hawkish Korea policy could be done in a way that avoided the possibility of a civilization-ending war. This whole “maximum pressure” approach to North Korea is gratuitous.

I’ve been worried about inadvertent nuclear war for months (hence this book project), but it’s messed up to have to actually plan for the possibility that this book will have to pivot to be about how a nuclear war could’ve been prevented rather than being about how to prevent one.


Van Jackson is a senior editor for War on the Rocks.

Image: François Bianco, CC