We’ll talk about North Korea in a minute but first you should know I love the sea and more Kawai especially when I’m in Tokyo out of uniform in her arms. I tell her about studying at Harvard two happy years, and likewise two incisive years as naval attaché in Washington, D. C. I like baseball, you know. I’ve seen the Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the early twenties, and with friends from school and work I play cards and chess and learn English, and my second two years I rent a car to drive around the United States, and without much money I stay in modest places fine for me. I see a vast country of empty plains and vibrant cities getting stronger and decide Japan must not confront this industrial giant. In a few years I also state we shouldn’t attack Manchuria and China or sign the Tripartite Pact with fascist Germany and Italy. Groups of young right-wing officers are enraged and threaten to kill me. I try not to worry.
I’m a specialist in naval aviation and the best strategic planner in the Japanese Navy but can’t overcome politicians and diplomats who’re bumbling with aggressive elements in the U.S. Roosevelt’s the most powerful among a belligerent group that demands we surrender our conquests in China and Southeast Asia. If our nation wants to fight, it must do so my way or I’ll resign. Ultimately, our high command understands when I explain we must use planes from aircraft carriers to strike undetected and swiftly at the heart of the enemy. At Pearl Harbor we sink and damage a number of ships including battleships and kill about two thousand in the attack but their aircraft carriers and submarines are out of port and the commander responsible under me ceases operations prematurely, after only a second wave of warplanes, and leaves enemy storage and supply depots untouched.
It’s still a great victory and I’m a hero. For the moment, we’re all heroes in Japan. But we’ve got to batter the giant near Midway Island and make him quit in the Pacific. I think we’ll get him when we find him. I’m stunned he often spots us first and sinks four aircraft carriers. We get one of his but this is a disaster. Instead of my wife I tell Kawai, loveliest of all geishas, that we won’t be able to stop the enemy from plowing across the Pacific. Inside the Navy, I speak of victory at Guadalcanal. We fight several months, trying to lure Americans into a decisive battle they ignore while slowly crushing us. In early 1943 I tell some officers the truth, we can’t win this war. No one listens long. They want me to rouse discouraged men in the Solomon Islands. It’s not a trap, I tell worried aides. I’ll be fine in one of two bombers escorted by six fighters. I try to enjoy the flight. We’re already over Bougainville. I think I hear something. Maybe it’s my nerves. No, I’m hearing other engines, much louder now, and look out the window and see more than twice as many attackers firing machineguns. Then I hear something I also feel – a shot into my left shoulder. I don’t feel the next one, a machinegun bullet to the head and my plane crashing in the jungle.
Some in the Navy and Army gloat that my demise is good for Japan since I’m to blame for Midway and Guadalcanal. Feel that if you please. Every commander makes blunders. I’m more interested in avoiding future disasters and therefore enthused to join Kim Jong Un for a conservation at one of his palaces near Pyongyang.
“I’ll never submit to the Americans,” he tells me.
“You wouldn’t be submitting. You’d be cooperating.”
“People our color who cooperate with the United States don’t end up well.”
“Those who resist end up worse.”
“I’m not going to concede my inalienable right to possess nuclear weapons ready to strike my tormenter.”
“Be careful,” I tell Kim. “Listen to Secretary of Defense James Mattis when, on Korean soil recently, he warns U.S. Soldiers, ‘There’s very little reason for optimism, storm clouds are gathering.’ They must be ‘ready to go’ to war so his ‘diplomats can speak with authority and be believed.’ He says he wants tough new sanctions that’ll compel nations to cut off sales of oil and other essentials to your country. That reminds me of what the United States did to Japan before World War II.”
“Preicsely,” says Kim. “The Americans aim to strangle us while they threaten us with joint military exercises, spy on us, pollute the minds of my people, and most of all maneuver to destroy my regime. If I surrender my nuclear weapons, how do I deter the Americans from attacking me?”
“I don’t have any guarantees for you in that regard. But I suggest working with the Chinese, South Koreans, Americans, and Japanese to establish the framework for a peaceful and independent state in the north.”
“Do you think my regime can survive another twenty years.”
“I doubt you’ll last that long, President Kim,” I say.