A botched gun salute must rank as one of the most miserable and embarrassing moments when it comes to military matters. I was reminded of this by North Korea's failed rocket launch on April 13.
Pyongyang claimed the rocket was intended to put an Earth satellite into orbit, but Western intelligence agencies said it was more likely to test a long-range ballistic missile.
Launched to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and the succession to the dynasty by his grandson, Kim Jong Un, the rocket was supposed to reach the Philippines.
But like a glass that shattered while it was being raised in a toast, it flew only a short distance before it exploded and the debris fell into waters off the Korean Peninsula.
Probably because foreign media representatives had been invited to attend the launch, Pyongyang acknowledged the "failure of the satellite to go into orbit."
At a ceremony later that day to unveil mammoth statues of his father and grandfather, Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party and first chairman of the National Defense Commission, waved to the crowd as if nothing had gone wrong.
While the people starve, the nation has squandered its paltry capital again. The failed missile project is believed to have cost North Korea the equivalent of 70 billion yen ($865.41 million), which represents a little more than the value of its annual exports and would be sufficient to mitigate chronic food shortages for three years. The project prompted the United States to withdraw promised food aid.
The young North Korean leader is being touted at home as a "military genius." Some observers speculate that Kim may next opt for a nuclear test to make up for the rocket blunder. I imagine the thinking in Pyongyang is that Kim may try other types of "fireworks" out of desperation over the failure to set off the rocket.
Strip North Korea of its nuclear capability, and it is nothing but a miserable little dictatorship. There is no diplomatic card it can use unless it proves its technological capability to launch a nuclear missile that can reach the U.S. mainland.
So long as the Kim dynasty remains out of control, whatever the rest of the world says will be in vain.
I wish the hungry North Korean people would have the courage to stand up and unite under some remarkable new leader.
Our government's reaction to Pyongyang's rocket launch was dubious at best. Tokyo announced the launch 45 minutes after the fact, which served no purpose where air defense was concerned. Had the launch been successful, the rocket would have flown way past Japanese air space by then.
Like insipid fireworks in winter, the whole performance was a dud for the North Korean leadership that organized it, as well as for spectators at home and abroad.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 15
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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