The Trouble With the Low-Hanging Fruit

December 15, 2017

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in Van Jackson’s daily writing journal, “Nuke Your Darlings,” which tracks his six-month battle to write a new book on North Korea. Will he meet his deadline?


Knocked out 833 words today, though in a lot of ways the current chapter (historical background) is low-hanging fruit. I’m able to work off of mostly secondary sources and authoritative histories, which presents two minor challenges. First, where should I start the story? One of the difficulties of trying to explain the origins of something — in this case the current nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea — is trying to determine where to start. I definitely need to go back at least to the Cairo Declaration in 1943 (when the Americans, British, and the Soviets agreed that Korea should have independence “in due course…”), but I’m wondering if it should go back to the beginning of U.S.-Korean relations in the 1880s.

Second, in constructing historical narratives, what information should I include and exclude? So many books have been written about the partition of Korea and the Korean War that it’s hard to extract the relevant facts without getting bogged down in voyeuristic details. When you’ve got an explicit theoretical framework, that kind of decision is a lot more straightforward; harder to do when you’re also trying to keep the general interest reader in mind. I’ve decided my guiding star for information selection should be this: Does the information illuminate something useful about the current situation? If the answer is yes, then it goes in the initial draft of the chapter. I may have to excise some of it later if it gets too long, but this criterion helps me separate wheat from chaff. Anyway, feeling good for now. I know it won’t last, but I’ll take good vibes where I can get them.


Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks. You can interact with Van in the War Hall