Happiness is a Warm War
Some might say that war on the Korean peninsula was inevitable. The formula was perfect; you had two superpowers who would do anything and everything short of unleashing a nuclear apocalypse in order to outdo each other, two politically opposed countries with only a little line of latitude between them, and a man who really wanted to make sure there was only one Korea.
The sturdy oak door was heavy as North Korea pushed himself into Russia’s office. He greeted her plainly, voice terse and more impersonal than usual, and bowed with respect. “Good evening, Russia.”
She looked up from her papers and smiled at him. “I was not expecting you to be here so soon. What is troubling you, little bee?”
The bee then demanded with a burst of enthusiasm, “Let me liberate the south!”
Russia stared at him a second before her fingers curled around the arms of her chair and she leaned back against the padding. “What do you mean by ‘save?’”
North Korea stood firm, his voice ringing with determination. “I can free my sister’s suffering population from the yoke of US imperialism.” Russia said nothing and he continued. “Reports from the South Korean communists ensure that all of South Korea will rise up against their pro-American president the moment they see my tanks rolling across the border!”
By the end of the pitch, Russia was smiling at him. “That’s adorable.” She looked back down at her memos and paperwork dismissively. “I’ll think about it, yes?”
But like every other time, that maybe would die a no.
Russia stood at her window with proud eyes fixed on the curved architecture of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. But she wasn’t thinking about divinity. She was thinking about how badly America would be shitting himself upon finding out that he wasn’t the only superpower who could destroy enemies with a blazing, atomic explosion.
“I am glad we are having this talk, North Korea. Now would be an excellent time to go to war.”
There they were in her office once again, where the air was cold and people could sometimes hear their voice echo off its black marble walls. North Korea loved her office because it was intimating, impersonal, and authoritative. In that moment, the good news made him love it even more. His dark eyes widened with childlike astonishment.
Russia nodded.”I don’t see why not. You have my full support.” Then she added quickly, “Aha—well, you see, I will not be formally joining any such war, but I will give you all the tanks and guns and medicine your young, ambitious heart desires!”
North Korea deflated. “Not formally joining?”
“Oh, you sweet, naive thing. I cannot risk going to war with the United States over something like this! But as I said, I will support you from the shadows, so to speak.”
“Oh, s-so no ground support? Alright, okay, but–” North Korea seemed to be tripping on his own words as his mind raced. “Are you afraid the United States will get involved? He won’t, will he?”
“Oh, it sure is a possibility.”
North Korea sneered. “He’ll see a war unleashing between two expendable ‘pawns’ and turn his head.”
“Your distrust and cynicism please me, but,” she smiled, “all the same, it would be best to prepare for the worst.”
“And how do we do that?”
“This is where our friend comes in.”
“Go ahead. Explain it to him, North Korea,” Russia urged gently.
North Korea was on the edge of his seat and practically bouncing from a nasty mixture of anxiety and fiery resolve.
“I’m going to liberate South Korea,” he told China, voice strong despite the pounding in his chest. “All I need is three days.”
“Three days!” chimed Russia.
“Within three days, South Koreans will denounce their imperialist master and rise up against the United States. The communists will oust that bandit traitor Syngman Rhee and join forces with Kim Il-sung to establish a new, socialist government that will drive the American wolf bastards from the Korean peninsula for good! Victory is inevitable!”
Then Russia handed North Korea the half-empty drink she’d been nursing since they sat down in China’s office. And he took it, gulping down the very hard vodka without even realizing what he’d done or why he’d done it. Regrets came quickly. China was silent through it all, and he watched North Korea’s choking fit with lifted eyebrows and mild concern.
Once that had calmed down a bit, he turned to Russia. “And you’re… okay with this?”
Russia bobbed her head, nodding enthusiastically. “Yes! This could be a victory for all of us.”
“Where do I come in?” China asked even though he knew already.
“I have to avoid direct military involvement for obvious reasons, so… he is going to need someone’s help.”
China motioned for Russia to hand him a glass from the bar and he poured himself a drink. “And what happens when the United States joins the fight?”
“Defeating him with my economic and military aid shouldn’t be a problem, should it?”
“Ah, but this does mean that if things go wrong, I will be the one who has to fix it.”
“No worries,” Russia told him. “This war will only last three days.”
“Three days,” North Korea said. Then he caught a very stern look from China and suddenly felt vulnerable again.
“I’m concerned,” China started, “with how eager you are to go to war. I’m not sure you’re fully aware of what you’re getting yourself into.”
North Korea felt something swell in his chest. Pride? Anger? Both. “You’re not the only one who fought in the War.”
“This is different. Your ambition and haste are driving you into a battle in which you risk everything.”
“And I’m willing to take that risk!” The Korean said, just loud enough and strong enough to surprise both Russia and China. “Yes,” he admitted, “I want control over Korea. I seek to become the one and only legitimate authority on the peninsula. But there’s more to it. When I look at the United States, I see Japan. I see history repeating itself. Korea was never meant to be divided. I’m going to bring us together again under an ideology and system that protects us from greedy and depraved empires. This war will not only be for the peace and security of Korea, but for the belief that freedom and happiness can only truly be achieved when we free ourselves of subservience to foreign powers who seek only to hurt us and manipulate us. I will fight for this future, even if it nearly kills me.”
They kept each other’s stare and North Korea saw something stir in China’s eyes. Maybe he was moved by the passionate words, or maybe he realized nothing would stop the young man from fighting this war. And so, China gave in.
“Alright. Three days.”
And so, the Korean War was set in motion.
In the end, the war lasted 3 years and 1 month longer than they’d expected. South Korea didn’t denounce the United States in a socialist craze either; in fact, quite the opposite.
That evening, the United States of America got an urgent call from South Korea.
“Oh, North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel, did they?” America rubbed his chin. “Well, that’s a little bit of a situation. Is it just them or are there Russian troops too—oh, it’s just the KPA out there? Well, I’ll tell you what… You let me know if things get serious—well, no, I’m not saying that North Korean tanks crossing into your country is not serious, it’s just that I just pulled my boys out, you see… Well, yes, I understand that this is a bad situation, but let’s face it, Russia and China haven’t gotten involved yet, so—no, I’m not implying that they will send their men, I’m just speaking in hypotheticals, here…. No, no, you’re right. There is a lot at stake here. Hell, one commie victory is the same as one-thousand democratic losses! Alright, I’ll do it! Uh, no, sorry, that wasn’t an explosion, that was me slapping the desk with enthusiasm. Anyway, I’ll do it! We’lldo it! Listen here, South Korea, we’re gonna show those bastards what for and we’re gonna drown out communism in Korea for good. It’s all going to be swell! Now let’s go out there and blow that son of a bitch away, alright? No mercy!”
That evening, the United States of America made an urgent call to his allies at the United Nations.
“Uh, so, you happen to remember the thing we talked about in June, right? Yes, yes, when I told everyone that we had to stop North Korea at all costs because the future of democracy in Asia was at stake. And you said—yes, everyone agreed that I was right and that we were going to squash the little worm when we had the chance. No, France, I was embellishing. The point is, it’s been four months and we’ve been doing all this planning but… don’t you think it’s about time the United Nations takes action to protect freedom? No, I’m not giving you a guilt trip—France? Could I talk to England, maybe? No, there’s nothing wrong with talking to you, I just—look, now you’ve got me all distracted! I just think that if we don’t act, China might do something to fudge all this up. You know what France? I’m glad we agree on this. Alright. Yeah. Yep. Sounds good. I look forward to fighting alongside you, too. That’s right, it’ll be just like 1778!”
And so, the United Nations got involved. Within two months they’d push the North Korean army all the way back to the Chinese border. Of course, China saw this as an opportunity to fudge things up.
This time, Beijing made a very stern call to Washington.
“Bring your troops any closer to my border and I will end this war myself.”
“You sure know how to titillate a man, China.”
China immediately hung up.
“What’s that, America?”
They sat alone together at the big oblong table in the off-gray Conflict Room. The big board in front of them was lit up with maps and numbers that told them the invasion business had somewhat evened out; North Korean forces retreated out of South Korea, but together with China they were able to keep UN forces at bay and close to the 38th parallel.
“You don’t suppose Russia’s behind this, do you?” America asked, staring blankly ahead.
England stared at the board too, though his mind was elsewhere. “She’s supplying them with weapons, isn’t she?”
“No, no, more than that. She’s involved in a deeper way somehow, somewhere. I can feel it.”
“You can also feel her watching you in your sleep too, can’t you? That’s what you tell everyone.”
“You don’t think it’s funny that the Chinese and Korean pilots seem so well-trained? Or why they seemingly don’t have a shortage of men even though the Chinese air force only has two fighter divisions?”
“I think you think too much.”
The end was bittersweet. Three days had turned into three years and a war with no real winner. North Korea didn’t get his swift, socialist victory, only plenty of scars. Begrudgingly he signed the Armistice Agreement and walked away from the table with the taste of defeat and copper on his tongue.
“I know why Russia kept her distance,” North Korea later told China when they were alone. “But… that doesn’t make this any easier. If she hadn’t been afraid to fight, the war might have ended differently.”
“That is how war works,” China told him. “It is an unequal game where some winners win more and some losers lose more.”
North Korea had no remark. Instead, he lifted a clenched fist toward his chest and stared at it with hardened eyes, as if something was trapped in his palm. “It’s incredible,” he said after some time. “Hatred is a force. You can feel it burning through your whole body.”
China smiled knowingly.
Edited 9/29/17: At the time I wrote this, I was not aware of certain things. Knowing a little bit more about Sino-North Korean relations during this period, it really doesn’t make sense for North Korea to be as comfortable as he is in this to the idea of Chinese involvement in the war. With that in mind, I’m keeping this story as-is for the sake of preserving the content in its original, form, no matter how flawed.
Most of the stuff North Korea says in this story is a very close paraphrasing of Kim Il-sung’s actual rhetoric. I’ve read that Kim really did tell Stalin and Mao the war would only take three days and that there would be a swift socialist victory.
The Soviet Union avoided direct involvement in the Korean War to avoid conflict with the United States. But Russia had a dirty secret: Soviet pilots disguised as Korean and Chinese pilots actively engaged in air-warfare. While America might have picked up on this in the story, the USSR was, in reality, able to keep this hidden until they admitted to it decades later.
Yes, the Conflict Room is a reference to Dr. Strangelove’s War Room. Couldn’t pass up a nod to my favorite film.
See a picture of Russia’s sweet office on the Visualize the Scenes page. Doesn’t it look intimidating and authoritarian?