From Comrade to Rocket-Man

(**UPDATE added below)

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of what just happened on the Korean peninsula! And how fast!*

In 1989 I was 24 years old, had just moved to San Francisco, and had just gotten my first on-air job out there at KTID in San Rafael. I remember living in North Beach, just up the hill from the Trattoria Contadina, and marveling at the happiness of the East German people breaching the wall to greet West Germans on the other side.

I didn’t fully understand or appreciate it then, but I do now. I knew enough to know they’d lived in what I perceived to be a dark, cold, grey place, largely cement, and un-free, a relic of the old Soviet Union, also a dark, cold, grey place, largely cement and un-free. Being American, it didn’t require any esoteric knowledge to know freedom is better, and what they had in East Germany was not freedom, so obtaining it would, of course, be a joyous event!

I remember Tom Brokaw anchoring the coverage. I don’t remember a thing he said but I remember the young people, my age at the time, taking sledge hammers to the high, ugly wall, and pulling their new friends up to stand victoriously on top of it.

It took two and a half years from “tear down this wall” to the wall actually coming down. Reagan’s advisors were literally begging him to not say it in the limo on the way to the speech. They feared a “red line” (as it were) that, should it not happen, would make Reagan look weak. As we’ve learned from recent, bitter history, a President’s words mean something: you can’t put down a “red line” or a line in the sand unless you a prepared to back it up, or the Office is harmed, we’re ALL harmed as Americans. It weakens the presidency, and the country, quite apart from the man.

Reagan knew the Soviets were on fumes, he knew it was an enormous risk, but he’d basically spent them into oblivion. He did a more subtle version of Trump’s “my rocket is bigger than your rocket” by actually, well, building rockets! Where Trump said it, clumsily, audaciously, Reagan just went quietly about the business of making Gorbachev win the pissing contest – with Gorbachev spending everything he could beg, borrow or steal to have bigger, better, badder rockets than Reagan did – and it worked.

To borrow a phrase popular today, he “broke him.” But in Reagan’s day, when you “broke” someone, that meant you bankrupted him. And two and a half years later, the cold war, having lasted Reagan’s entire adult life, ended, not with a bullet, but a handshake.

It was an extra-ordinary moment. When people say “war is just diplomacy by other means” Reagan “diplomacy-d” Gorbachev into peace by making him buy weapons of war until he ran out of money. “Peace through strength” indeed.

And now we have “Rocket-Man,” the 3rd generation of the 68 year reign of the Kims, crossing into South Korea as the first North Korean leader to do so since the Korean war “ceased hostilities.”

This all just happened in the last 24 hours. I don’t know how it will end, but it damned sure skippy looks like a rock solid start. The BBC called it a “seismic” event.

I’m speechless. *Fingers-crossed.*

*”Fast” meaning from Kim Jong-Un shooting off rockets & threatening the nuke the world, to “Hey howdy! Let’s be friends!” Less than a year! You’d think there would be some period of peace, some looooooong transition away from three generations of that kind of thinking, but here we are.

**UPDATE: A few hours after I pub’d this blog post, I came across this video. Seemed worthwhile to add it.