Hundred percent willing, fractionally able

New York Times.

WASHINGTON — As North Korea hints at new military provocations in the coming days, the United States and South Korea have drawn up plans to respond more forcefully than in the recent past, but in a limited way intended to prevent an escalation to broader war.

Thomas Sowell in the National Review.

Yet there on the front page of the April 8 New York Times was a story about how unnamed “American officials” were planning a “proportional” response to any North Korean attack. This was spelled in an example: If the North Koreans “shell a South Korean island that had military installations” then the South Koreans would retaliate with “a barrage of artillery of similar intensity.”

Well that’s just crazy.

Back before the clever new notion of “proportional” response became the vogue, our response to Pearl Harbor was ultimately Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And Japan has not attacked or even threatened anybody since then. Nor has any war broken out anywhere that is at all comparable with World War II.

All the Japanese did was sneak-attack one of our islands. And what did we do? Retaliate with nuclear weapons. Now they’re our friends. The lesson there: ‘Don’t fool around with your enemies when you can crush them.’ Also, now would be a perfect time to start making friends with the North Koreans wink.

Which policy is better? There was a time when we followed the ancient adage “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The track record of massive retaliation easily beats that of the more sophisticated-sounding proportional response.

This is quite odd, I must say. I know virtually nothing of war theory, but I must have heard about “Just War” 25 years ago. There, the “proportional response” idea plays a central role, both in the cause for war and in its proper dispensation (if such a thing is possible). I much later came to know it was something Augustine discussed around 400 A.D. Wikipedia says its roots can be traced back a thousand years before that.

These are fundamentals of Western warring traditions. I can’t imagine any decent West Point education that doesn’t discuss at some length Just War Theory and proportional response. So what’s the point of Sowell’s rant? Is he laughably ignorant? Or is he merely in the mood for an all-out conflagration?

North Korea is a mandatory conscription state. Its government spends between one-quarter and one-third of its budget on the military. Accounting for the home guard, there are something like 9 million North Koreans ready and willing to go to battle on any given day. Would Sowell like to become aware of any of this? Or would he prefer to fight fire with fire, vis a vis the enemy’s well known sophistication?