went "bang" in North Korea the other day.
that's not too unusual. A few months ago, hundreds,
perhaps thousands were killed in an explosion
when two trains loaded with things that go bang
collided in a place called Ryongchon. North Korea
is a paranoid and secretive place with lots of
weapons and a penchant for running with scissors.
most people know, North Korea secretly worked
on a nuclear weapons program over the past twenty
years, lying vociferously to the world that they
were doing nothing of the sort. Given the general
state of their economy, and their disdain for
the educational systems of all other countries,
nearly all of which are superior to NK's, this
might not have mattered, were it not for the fact
that Pakistan started making and selling "Build-ur-own-nukes"
kits to any and all interested buyers.
Korea was an interested buyer, and by dint of
starving a few extra hundred thousand of their
citizens, were able to buy their very own nuclear
the past few weeks, America and others had fretted
openly that North Korea might implement its threat
to carry out a test of a nuclear bomb, presumably
in conjunction with the anniversary of their "independence,"
which happened to be September 9th.
it didn't come as any particular surprise to read
an AP article dated September 12th that began:
South Korea (AP) -- A large explosion occurred
in the northern part of North Korea, sending a
huge mushroom cloud into the air on an important
anniversary of the communist regime, a South Korean
news agency reported Sunday.
South Korean government said it was trying to
confirm the report.
Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified diplomatic
source in Seoul, said the explosion happened at
11 a.m. local time Thursday in Yanggang province
near the border with China. The blast in Kim Hyong
Jik county left a crater big enough to be noticed
by a satellite, the source said."
sure sounds like a nuke to me. I'm not an expert
on nukes - to my pleased surprise, I've made it
well into middle age without seeing a nuclear
explosion going off over my head. But I've got
some idea of the properties of a nuclear explosion,
as compared to a 2,000 pound blockbuster, which
is the biggest conventional bomb in the US armory.
You can be standing 500 yards from the blockbuster
and hope to survive. A nuclear bomb - even a tiny,
amateur nuclear bomb - will reduce you to constituent
atoms in fairly short order.
next morning, Colin Powell said that he doubted
it was a nuke. Mutters were made about it being
a forest fire.
a good sized forest fire - or even a good sized
brush fire - can create something that looks like
a mushroom cloud. Having lived in Southern California,
I've seen my share of those. And a lot of Korea's
terrain is similar to the coastal hills of California.
It was lucky coincidence that Paramount Ranch
outside of Agoura, where the TV series "M*A*S*H"
was filmed, happened to resemble Korea.
I've never heard of a forest fire that could create
a crater visible from orbit. Nor do the mushroom
clouds of smoke appear within minutes.
is, of course, the possibility that the first
breathless reports were in error. The media is
prone to that, especially when wild things are
already going on. Remember the plane crash in
the Washington ellipse on 9/11? Yeah. Got reported
on several networks. Never happened.
from other sources in Australia and South Korea,
it's obvious that there was a mighty big bang
in the northernmost reaches of North Korea, and
in fact there might have been two of them.
weird is that the US, along with everyone else,
is saying that they aren't sure if it was a nuclear
explosion, a conventional explosion, a forest
fire, or a giant panda farting.
in the late 50s, the Soviets would light one off,
convinced that out in the most remote reaches
of Siberia, nobody would notice a nuke. A few
hours later, to Kruschev's chagrin, they would
get an annoyed call from the Eisenhower administration,
just letting them know that they SAW that. It
wasn't magic; nuclear explosions just have a distinctive
seismic signature, as anything capable of wiping
out entire cities would. The bomb goes pop in
Siberia, the needles go jiggle in Berkeley, and
in short order, the politicians go "aha!" in Washington.
Of course, it's pretty easy to detect the fallout,
which eliminates any possibility that what the
seismometers noticed was a volcano, or giant pandas
it's a little hard to believe, three days later,
that Washington isn't sure if that was a nuke
or not. They say it "probably" wasn't. Just a
forest fire. A really, really bodacious forest
fire. That made a big crater. Maybe there was
a stand of manzanita in there or something.
now, China and Japan should have noticed the fallout.
The Japanese, for some reason, are particularly
sensitive about the topic of fallout landing on
their islands, and tend to pitch a bitch when
it happens, which is rare these days.
this left me wondering why the hell the US government
would be covering for the North Koreans; that
doesn't make much sense.
it WAS a nuclear explosion. If so, it was in a
most unfortunate location, only a few miles from
the Chinese border. The Chinese, presumably, would
be unamused. Contrary to what the local wingnuts
imagine, Beijing and Pyongyang aren't real fond
of each other, and it's possible that China had
previously told North Korea, in effect, "look,
if you set off any of your firecrackers in a place
where we have to take notice, we are going to
turn Pyongyang into a boiling sea of black glass."
the North Koreans heeded this advice, but the
explosion in the northernmost part of the country
occured by accident, rather than design. It happened
fairly close to the facility where they make their
ballistic missiles, which seems counterproductive,
at best. Remember, these guys have a bad habit
of running with scissors.
further that both the Chinese and the Americans
both know it was a nuclear explosion, and strongly
suspect it was an accident, rather than a deliberate
provocation against China.
a nuke go off by accident on your border would
be hard for any country to give a "do over" on,
and for the face-conscious Chinese, it would be
impossible. China might know it was an accident;
but China also threatened to respond in such a
way - black seas of boiling glass, something they
could do if sufficiently pissed - if this occurred,
and now they are looking at initiating the world's
first nuclear exchange. They can't exactly say,
"OK, we didn't really MEAN it about the boiling
glass stuff. Just try to be a little more careful
next time, Œk?"
the Republicans in Washington would note that
not having a nuclear war - even a one-sided one
seven thousand miles away - is better than having
a nuclear war. It could even affect the election.
they, and the Chinese, are pretending that they
didn't notice North Korea's little nuclear faux-pas,
and are heaving a sigh of relief that only a few
hundred agrarian peasants, and maybe a giant panda
or two, got crisped.
could be true. It sounds outlandish, I admit,
which in international politics is a point in
suppose it is true.
Korea, could you please consider stopping with
the running with scissors? The Giant Pandas are
going to complain if you don't knock it off.
Posted: September 15, 2004