Entry 22: On “Bloody Nose” Advocates

January 12, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is the 22nd 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?

I was chatting with a mix of friends who also focus on Korea issues lately — we all had very different research agendas last year before the nuclear crisis broke — and it came up how the Trump administration and its surrogates are normalizing war talk. By constantly leaking to the press about “bloody nose” strategies and making threats of war in demand of things that simply aren’t possible, the administration is shifting the boundaries of acceptable discourse to make it perfectly respectable to advocate for mass violence.

War always has its advocates. But once it’s acceptable to make logically unmoored arguments in favor of militarized violence, the number of hawks-turned-war supporters swell. That was how the decision to invade Iraq played out in 2003.

So I see a great malignity in otherwise respectable scholars and pundits putting their pens to work in the cause of proactive violence that doesn’t seem to track with a strategic view of the situation. Op-eds calling for military strikes against North Korea show no sense of proportionality, no sense of analytical humility, and no sense of how using violence to “solve” the North Korea problem jeopardizes America’s many other interests and priorities, to say nothing of the moral imperative to not be the catalyst for the large-scale death of innocents.

Arguments of this sort leave me to conclude that they’re written by opportunists of the worst kind, because they don’t make sense even apart from violating humanitarian sensibilities. I’ve served in uniform. I’ve been obsessed with fighting my entire life. I have no principled objection to purposive violence. And when circumstances demand it, I’d readily be involved myself if I felt it’s what had to be done. But preventable violence is wanton violence. The use of force in service of unserviceable or wrongheaded goals is self-destructive. Sometimes, the moral and the strategic converge.

I wrote just under 400 words today. The picture that’s starting to form about Obama era policy on North Korea is a bit damning. I have to go where the evidence takes me. More to come.


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