As usual, wars make us better geographers

When I first began teaching, one of my colleagues was a young man who taught French. He liked the kids nd enjoyed the job but, though he wasn’t much older than I was, thought he was in a rut: he needed a change in his life. At the time I was newly married, newly employed, and newly the father of two young children. I probably knew what a rut was, but I wasn’t in one. I could commiserate, but I had no empathy or advice. For me a change in life would be a new piece of stereo equipment or one of those electronic calculators everyone was buying. It even did square roots!

In June of that year he said he had decided on the change: he’d taken a teaching job in Guam.

Apparently that new TI calculator or Marantz receiver wasn’t going to work for him. I remembered asking him if he spoke Guamese, and I hope he laughed, but basically I felt bad: he was a good guy and I couldn’t envision him on an island somewhere in the Pacific. That was fifty years ago. I hope he did all right digging himself out of that rut, but since then I haven’t given much thought to Guam.

Thank you, Mr. Trump, for refreshing my memory.

Guam, you see, has been selected by Kim Jong-Un, a better student of history and a better student of…well…life than the halfwit we sent to the White House, as his first pseudo target in his war with the U.S. I say pseudo target because Mr. Kim has not actually threatened to attack Guam, but simply set up a ring of impressive missile strikes in the waters that surround it. In military circles this is called a provocation; I call it a big waste of fuel and metal—and a resultant fish-kill of massive proportions.

And although I don’t want to make the next world war about me, sometimes in the summer I paddle a kayak into ocean waters like the ones in the Pacific. Kayaks are pretty sturdy little craft, but more than likely no match for a ballistic missile, even one armed with conventional weapons. I would guess the kayaks in Guam might be similarly outgunned. My kayaking brethren deserve better. So do the fish.

I doubt if Donald Trump was thinking of sea creatures, or of Guam’s kayakers, or of that French teacher when he went all red wedding on Kim Jong-Un. Of course if only Trump or Kim watches Game of Thrones, my money’s on Kim; and if there’s a chance that one of them has actually read George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice, it wasn’t Trump who, famously, doesn’t read. Ignorance is bliss, but only for the ignorant. Trump remains blissful.

The president’s military advisors may not be overmatched, but Trump himself—bumbler of tweets, shooter-off of mouths, and embarrasser of all America—lacks all knowledge of history, strategy and diplomacy. Mr. Kim, not even half Trump’s age, is the superior intellect. If we dismiss him as unbalanced or lunatic, we do so at our own peril.

And speaking of peril, South Korea and Japan may see a downturn in tourism. And then there’s China. already outstripping us in renewable energy and infrastructure.The Chinese will no doubt be interested observers, but there is no compelling motivation for them to prevent us from losing our position in the world, not while we’re building a pedestal for coal and they’re building solar panels.

And another thing: the Chinese have always felt that negotiating with the United States was feasible and useful because all U.S. presidents were what the Chinese called, kaopu—reliable. But Trump they call bu kaopu, and nobody needs a translation app to figure out that phrase.




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