Trump’s decision to change the paradigm with North Korea illustrates the precept in my annual Passover post: Tyrannies must be decapitated, not placated.
Starting with Bill Clinton, America fawned over North Korea’s tyrannical rulers, sending them money and promising not to hurt them. In those same years, North Korea’s rulers expanded their concentration/death camps, presided over unnecessary famines, and somehow managed, with every passing year, to find more ways to crack down on a people already starved, terrorized, and denied any rights.
It did not matter one whit to the Kim dynasty that their people experienced incomparable suffering (most of it at the hands of the Kims). The only thing that mattered to the Kims and those closest to them was maintaining their power, prestige, and oh-so-comfortable lifestyle, complete with the finest food (as their people starved), the most luxurious products from around the world and, of course, sex slaves. Lots and lots of sex slaves.
Then something changed. Beginning in January 2017, instead of an American president saying to Kim Jong-un “What can I do to make you happy?” we got a president who said “I’m going to kill you.” He also said to the Chinese, “I’m not very happy with your behavior either, although I’m sure we can resolve our differences when you stop using economic war against America and trying to turn the international waters off of China into your own pond.” Very impolitic. Very mad man. Very undiplomatic. A very big break from more than a quarter century of “diplomacy.”
The usual talking heads amongst the chattering class promised Armageddon. Interestingly, something entirely different happened: With the threat brought directly home to him, Kim Jong-un changed his behavior. He sent athletes and sex slaves to the Olympics. He reached out to South Korea. And of course, most importantly, he scuttled off to China and, rather than admitting the truth — namely, that he feared the “crazy” guy in the White House — announced that the wise Chinese had persuaded him to abandon his nuclear dreams. Even if Kim and the Chinese won’t admit it, you and I know where the credit goes for this announcement.
Watching Trump’s conduct and its outcome, I had to ask myself, has he been reading my annual Passover post or, perhaps, talking to one of Ivanka’s rabbis? Or maybe he’s just had a chance to think about things as he’s attended family Seders over the years.
Did I just hear someone say “What annual Passover post?” Well, this one. As I do every year, I’ve edited it to reflect current concerns.
An antisemitic Jew I know, rather than seeing the Passover ceremony as a celebration of freedom (commemorating as it does the world’s first and, for a long time, only successful slave revolt), justice, and morality (insofar as it gave us the Ten Commandments), derides the whole ceremony as the unconscionable and immoral celebration of the genocide of the Egyptian people. What troubles him so much is the fact that, after each plague, when Pharaoh seems about to soften and let the Jews go, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, leading to the necessity of yet another plague, culminating in the death of the first born.
As those familiar with the Bible know, his objection is predicated upon ignorance. The tenth plague, which saw God strike down the first born in every family that did not have the blood of the Pascal lamb above their door, was not a random punishment. It was, instead, divine retribution for the Pharaoh’s own ruling, in effect beginning before Moses’s birth, that all first born Jewish males should be drowned in the Nile.
Still, an atheist could argue that God was petty when he enacted retribution against innocent people who were not complicit in Pharaoh’s genocidal attack on the Jews. I know that the antisemitic Jew who gave rise to my thoughts about Passover would have made that argument had he been just a little bit more knowledgeable about the Book of Exodus.
Some people try to explain away the escalating plagues in Egypt, culminating with the first born’s death, by saying that the plagues are nothing more than dramatic license, meant to increase the tension and danger surrounding the Jew’s escape from Egypt. After all, if the exodus had been easy, it wouldn’t have been much of a story. Imagine if Moses had asked, “Hey, Pharaoh, can we go?” and Pharaoh had answered, “Sure.”
That’s not a narrative with much punch or heroism, and God’s involvement is minimal or, at least, unexciting. It’s much more dramatic, and resonates more strongly with the people reliving the narrative every year, to have an escalating series of plagues, with the audience on tenterhooks as to whether those pesky Jewish slaves will actually be able to make a break for it.
This reasoning is silly. The Bible is not so superficial. There is, instead, a much more profound purpose behind the ten plagues, and that is to remind us of the tyrant’s capacity for tolerating others’ suffering, as long as his power remains in place.
What Pharaoh discovered with the first nine plagues is that life can go on, at least for the ruler, no matter the burdens placed upon his people. A blood filled Nile River may, at first, have seemed appalling, but the red receded and life went on. Pharaoh still held together his government. The same held true for each subsequent plague, whether lice or boils or wild animals or frogs, or whatever: As long as Pharaoh could maintain his power base, he could always reconcile himself to the incremental decimation visited upon those he ruled.
Sheltered in his lavish palace, Pharaoh might have a theoretical concern that a starving and frightened populace could turn on him. However, as long as he was assured that his people, despite the horrors inflicted against them, continued to fear and worship him, their suffering was irrelevant. It was only when the price became too high — when Pharaoh’s power base was destroyed because his citizens were destroyed and when the plague struck in his own palace, killing his own first born* — that Pharaoh was convinced, even temporarily, to alter his evil ways.
Human nature hasn’t changed much in 3,000 years. Think, for example, of both the Nazis and the Japanese at the end of WWII. For the Nazis, it was apparent by December 1944 (the Battle of the Bulge) that the war was over. Hitler, however, was a megalomaniac in the pharaonic mold, and his high command, either from fear or insanity, would not gainsay him. Rather than surrendering, the Nazi high command was willing to see its country overrun and its citizens killed. Only when the death toll became too high,when it was apparent that nothing could be salvaged from the ashes, and when the high command realized that the Americans and Russians were coming after them, personally, did the war on the continent finally end.
The same held true for the Japanese. Truman did not decide to drop the bomb just for the hell of it. Even the fact that it would impress the Soviets was an insufficient reason for doing so. What swayed Truman was the fact that his advisers told him (credibly as it turned out) that the Japanese Bushido culture would not allow Japan to surrender even when surrender had become the only reasonable option. Instead, the military warned Truman that, although the Americans would inevitably win the war, if Truman didn’t take drastic action, victory would take another year, and cost up to 100,000 American lives and at least that many Japanese lives (including Japanese civilians).
Truman therefore had two choices: another year of war, with the loss of 100,000 Americans and up to a million Japanese civilians; or an immediate stop to the war, with no more American casualties and an estimated 100,000 civilian Japanese casualties. Put that way, the choice was a no-brainer. The outcome would be the same for the Japanese, but Truman would save the lives of more than 100,000 Americans, not to mention the lives of British, Australian, and Dutch troops. The atom bomb also saved the lives of the civilian prisoners of war all over the Malayan peninsula. One of the Dutch POWS, incidentally, was my Mom, who was on the verge of starving to death in a Japanese concentration camp.
The Japanese high command was Pharaoh. No amount of smaller plagues could stop the command from its chosen path. Only a large plague would swiftly lead to the inevitable conclusion.
The only way to destroy an evil institution is to decapitate it. That’s what God did with the 10th plague. That’s what Truman did when he dropped atom bombs on Japan. That’s what the Allies did when they engaged in total war against the Nazis. And that’s what Trump threatened to do against Kim Jong-un, breaking a failed paradigm that had held sway for a quarter century in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom. In each case, making sure that the tyrant felt the pain personally was the only way to end that tyrant’s rampage of murder, torture, and enslavement.
What the Progressives resolutely, deliberately, and stupidly fail to grasp is that the innocents were always going to die, with the only question being whether they would die quickly or slowly. That’s the problem with an evil regime. If you’re unlucky enough to live under that regime, whether or not you support it, you’re going to be cannon fodder. Pharaoh will let you die of plagues, and the Nazi and Japanese leadership will let you be bombed and burned — as long as they can retain their power.
People of good will dedicated to freedom sometimes have to recognize that the generation raised up under tyranny is a lost generation that cannot be saved. The Bible recognizes this too, because it bars from the Promised Land those who were slaves in Egypt. Even when Pharaoh no longer lashes his whip over them, they are incapable of freedom. One can remove them from the lash, but one cannot turn them into a free people. They are a lost generation.
For this reason, when one sees a people groaning under tyranny the most humane thing to do is to destroy the tyranny even if those same people will suffer. Most of them were always going to be lost. Our actions are for the benefit of subsequent generations and, if we are lucky, for those who survived both the tyranny and the liberation.
Protecting America sometimes demands proactive behavior. And there is nothing more proactive than an overwhelming response when a tyrant starts putting out feelers to see how far he can go. Had Chamberlain done that in 1938, WWII might have been avoided.** Had Obama done that in 2009 . . . . Well, think about it:
Thanks to Obama’s inaction during the 2009 Green Revolution, the Iranian people have suffered ten more years of fearful tyranny than they would have when they were willing to face down the tyrannical mullahs. Moreover, if Obama had acted and the Mullahs had been deposed, it’s entirely possible that Syria’s civil war, which Iran is financing (and fighting) on Assad’s behalf, might never have happened. The 500,000 who have died in Syria would still be alive. ISIS, which was birthed in Syria’s bloody war, might have died a’borning, saving thousands of lives in the Middle East, Europe, and America from its sadistic energies. And of course, the refugee crisis that is destroying the last vestiges of Western Enlightenment civilization in Europe might never have happened. One can credibly argue that Obama’s cowardly refusal to face down the Mullahs means that he has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands.
With that, I’d like to wish all of you a Chag Sameach (Happy Passover). Whether Jewish or not, I hope that the Pesach celebration serves as an occasion for all of us to remember that, though the price may sometimes be high, both for slave and master, our goal as just and moral human beings must be freedom. So please join with me in saying, as all Jews do at this time of year, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
(A couple more things. Dennis Prager’s latest book, The Rational Bible: Exodus, is coming out on Monday. I’ve already read the first chapter and was so impressed I pre-ordered the book for my Kindle. While ordering it, I noticed that you can also spend a mere 60 cents to buy the Kindle version of The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code, the companion to his videos on the Ten Commandments. It’s a quick read and a refreshing one as well commemorate the events that brought us the Ten Commandments.)
*The fact that Pharaoh survived the last of the ten plagues tells us that he was not the first born son of the previous pharaoh. Either an older sibling died or Pharaoh was the younger child in a family unrelated to the Egyptian ruling family and, through a coup, seized the throne.
**And yes, I am aware of the argument that Chamberlain might not have been Hitler’s dupe. Thanks to England’s anti-War fervor after WWI, which led to disarmament and the drawing down of her military, Chamberlain might have believed by 1938 that England could do nothing to stop Hitler. That belief would have led him to choose appeasement as the only option. I don’t agree, because bullies will back down quickly if their intended victim fights even minimally, but I’ll give Chamberlain the benefit of the doubt because he was a decent and patriotic man.