war on the rocks

Entry 23: Hawaii Under Threat

January 15, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is the 23rd 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 managed just over 600 words this weekend, which is no bueno. I have to get more done than that to hit the deadline. I had more words in me than I actually put on paper. This weekend was busy, but only partly because Wellington’s unusually warm and sunny weather beckoned me to the beach.

There was also a much written about false-alarm notification to Hawaii residents that a ballistic missile was incoming. For 38 minutes, hundreds of thousands of people thought they were going to die. Many of them had never thought about national security or the threat environment in the Asia-Pacific, leaving them traumatized.

Also, the day prior to the non-attack on Hawaii, my piece in Politico Magazine came out, which I wrote about in #NukeYourDarlings last week. As it happens, in the Politico Magazine piece I specifically identified Hawaii as a most likely target of a North Korean missile attack in the event Kim Jong Un believed (correctly or not) that a war with the United States was impending. A coincidence of timing therefore left me fielding an unusual amount of responses, some praiseful, some inquisitive, and some hyper-critical. After publishing a piece, sometimes you just hear crickets. Other times you get a deluge of responses.

The thing that shocked me after the Hawaii false alarm was how dramatically, polemically differently people responded to it. Some conservatives — and not just Trump supporters — made sense of the moment by explaining that the Hawaii scare was the price paid for living with a nuclear North Korea. The implication accommodates the possibility of war to compel denuclearization. Some liberals, by contrast, threw shade at the basic logic of nuclear deterrence. The implication accommodates the possibility of removing nuclear launch authority from President Trump.

The more typical response fell somewhere between these extremes — that a “maximum pressure” policy against an adversary who can reach you with nukes is probably ill-advised regardless of how you propose to deal with that adversary.

Anyway, this was an instance that validated my concern about the highly polarized environment that’ll meet this book upon publication. It’s not just that the left and the right are reasoning from different premises; at the fringes they’re from a place of pure emotion, which is to say they’re not reasoning at all, at least not in the sense of taking cause-and-effect seriously.

 

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