North Korea and JFK vs. Nixon

Sunday, April 10th, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics North Korea and JFK vs. Nixon.

Our Speakers are Nicholas Eberstadt and Irwin Gellman.


Larry Bernstein:
Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer period for deeper engagement.

Today’s discussion will be on two topics: North Korea and the 1960 Presidential Campaign between Nixon and JFK.

Our first speaker will be Nicholas Eberstadt who is the Henry Wendt Chair of Political Economy at AEI. Nick is an expert on North Korea and he is very concerned that North Korea will attack South Korea. Kim and his cronies have articulated their vision for a united Korea and Nick thinks they mean what they say. The plan as ludicrous as it may sound as Putin invading Ukraine is that South Korea is an illegitimate American supported puppet regime that must be toppled and by force if necessary.

Our second speaker will be Irv Gellman who is a popular historian who has a new book entitled Campaign of the Century: Kennedy, Nixon and the Election of 1960. Irv disagrees with the historical narrative about this incredibly close presidential race. There is so much to discuss including election fraud, JFK’s mistresses, and the first television debates.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker Nick Eberstadt.


Nicholas Eberstadt

Topic: North Korea Seeks (Nuclear) War with the South
Bio: Henry Wendt Chair of Political Economy at AEI


Point one: North Korean leadership is not crazy—we condescend and misunderstand when we say that it is.

The DPRK couldn’t have outlasted the Soviet Empire by all these decades if it were irrational. Call North Korea a rogue state if you want—ouch!—but that epithet doesn’t help us understand its ideology, internal logic, or objectives.

North Korea is a classic revisionist state. It is fundamentally dissatisfied with the geopolitical realities it faces—and wholly committed to changing the offending facts on the ground.

The Kim regime regards the South Korean state as an illegitimate monstrosity that must be destroyed and swept off the Peninsula—full stop. Since Washington guarantees Seoul’s security, the US-ROK military alliance must be also destroyed, and American troops must be forced out of Korea, so that Pyongyang can proceed with unconditional reunification on its own terms. Pyongyang spells all this out, again and again, for anyone willing to take their words seriously.

Pyongyang didn’t just come up with these ideas. They have informed and animated the North Korea state throughout three generations of Kim family rule. The rationale is integral to the state’s basic doctrine, as laid out in Juche thought and the “Ten Principles of Monolithic Ideology”. Racial reunification is in effect the sacred historical mission of the Kim regime—forswearing that mission would undermine its very claim to authority.

Second: The North Korean state is methodically preparing to fight and win a limited nuclear war against America on the Korean Peninsula. Those preparations have been underway for decades. This is what the never-ending “North Korean nuclear crisis” is all about.

North Korea almost unified the Peninsula unconditionally back in June 1950, remember—but that attempt failed, and the Kim regime has never given up the quest.

For a while, in the late 1950s and 1960s, it actually seemed like the North might be able to overpower the South through economic competition, amazing as that sounds today. But Pyongyang lost the economic race badly, as central planning systems typically do against free markets, even before the end of the Cold War, meaning that success in a conventional military contest—a reprise of 1950—was no longer viable.

Nukes and WMD are the regime’s Plan B. There is an entirely logical design to the North’s race to become a nuclear weapons state and a manufacturer of ICBMs. These are its key to consummating a Korean unification on its own terms.

By amassing a credible nuclear arsenal and the long-range missiles to train them on the US, the North hopes—I believe—to get Uncle Sam to blink in a future showdown, at a time and place of the Kims’ own choosing. If Washington blinks in a nuclear faceoff against the DPRK, the US-South Korean alliance loses its credibility, and collapses. Then the North gets to go mano a mano with the South.

Yes: if push really does come to shove—thinking the unthinkable—the Kim regime would be annihilated. But the Kim regime seems confident it can outplay the Americans in this high-stakes game. They believe they are better at brinkmanship than Americans. One might even be tempted to say they have the nukes to prove it, this despite three decades of seemingly forceful US opposition to their nuclear quest.

Finally: notwithstanding the perennial calls for diplomatic engagement with the North, there can be no negotiated settlement, no splitting the difference, no win-win solution to the North Korean nuclear issue.

The reason is as simple as it is unpleasant. Like all Ur-Revisionists, the North will not be satisfied with some meet-in-the-middle compromise over an intolerable grievance—the intolerable grievance in this case being the continuing existence of a separate state on the Southern half of the Korean peninsula—a prosperous flourishing democracy, no less!

To most of us, the notion that tiny impoverished North Korea could beat and eat the South after driving out Uncle Sam (assuming they could) sounds utterly laughable. But not to the North’s leadership. They regard South Koreans as defiled, corrupted, pampered and gutless. They think the South has no will to fight on its own. And as long as the Kim regime is in power, they are going to try to prove that they are right.

In sum: expect the North Korean nuclear crisis to continue until Pyongyang gets a better class of dictator.

Nicholas Eberstadt Transcript:

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Irwin Gellman

Topic: The 1960 Presidential Campaign JFK vs. Nixon
Bio: Historian and author of several books on FDR, Eisenhower, JFK and Nixon
Reading: Campaign of the Century: Kennedy, Nixon and the Election of 1960 is here

Irwin Gellman Transcript:

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