You would have to be 90 now to have been 18 years old when the last nuclear weapon was used in anger. Nothing would more surprise the pessimists among the 1945 generation than the knowledge that no country has resorted to the ultimate lethal force since the Americans levelled Nagasaki.
Because there has been no third nuclear attack, no third world war and no general European war on a continent that had previously treated violence as its favourite sport, the threat of a nuclear confrontation on the Korean peninsula sounds fantastical.
It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s warning that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury” as sound and fury. The North Korean reply that “only absolute force” will work with Trump can seem like the empty posturing of an impoverished tyranny. Washington gives no appearance of preparing for war. Trump is certainly not ready for it. Like so many businessmen in politics, Trump began by claiming his tough, deal-making skills could cut through the crap and turned out to be just another ”loser”, to use his favourite insult. With his administration and legislative programme in chaos, it is reasonable to see the Korean war story as just another silly-season scare the summer breeze will blow away.
Let us hope it does. But there are reasons to believe the world has never before seen such irresponsible men playing with nuclear weapons. The west is obsessed with Trump because he threatens to destroy its unity and moral legitimacy. However bad he is, I do not want to suggest there is moral equivalence between a democracy and a dictatorship, not even a democracy led by Donald Trump.
It takes two to fight. If Hillary Clinton had won the presidential election, there would still be a Korean crisis. North Korea has consistently been threatening not only the US but South Korea and Japan. It is defying a UN resolution to stop testing ballistic missiles. As far as outsiders can gather, there are no checks and balances in the Workers’ party of Korea. Kim Jong-un is an authentic Stalinist and not just because his official ideology is communist.