Killer Clowns

It’s all too easy to dismiss North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as a clown. The fact that he looks and acts the part makes it all the easier.

But a clown costume can cover a killer.

H.G. Wells brilliantly portrayed a war of worlds of earthlings banding together to battle Martian invaders. Wells was less astute on terrestrial issues. The man who said, “A careful study of anti-Semitism, prejudice and accusations might be of great value to many Jews, who do not adequately realize the irritation they inflict” was, predictably, not overly concerned with Adolf Hitler’s plans for Jews.

Relaxing in a hotel in Melbourne, Australia, in 1939, Wells spoke with a reporter for the Brisbane Courier. He dismissed Hitler as “a certified lunatic” and Mussolini as “a fantastic renegade from social democracy.” He described both as “freaks” who “enforce a state of affairs such as there was in the days of the Criminal Assizes [county courts of England].”

Wells did concede that Hitler was bloodthirsty, but he failed to make clear just whose blood: “Unfortunately, for his own people Hitler has acquired the capacity for making dastardly murder look like today’s good deed.”

Leaving aside age-old legal and ethical questions of the culpability of the insane, many who dismissed Hitler as “sick” were eventually destroyed by the side effects of his “disease.”

Saddam, Gadhafi and Ahmadinejad were also laughed at. Madmen, all. And preposterous buffoons. But deadly buffoons.

In 2009, while she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton spoke about the North Korean government in an interview. “Maybe it’s the mother in me or the experience that I’ve had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention — don’t give it to them, they don’t deserve it, they are acting out.”

Mrs. Clinton went on to say that the rascals “don’t pose a threat to us. … We know that our allies, Japan and South Korea, are very concerned, but we share information.”

There is some truth to what Mrs. Clinton said. Toddlers, adolescents and dippy despots like to test the limits of what they can get away with.

But policies and practices like “leading from behind” can often give too much leeway and lead to disaster.

Korea’s announcement of testing a hydrogen bomb at first met with skepticism from the United States. The seismic data just didn’t size up to a hydrogen test. Later, though, the U.S. called for a “tough, comprehensive and credible package of new sanctions” against North Korea.

Ambassador Samantha Power issued a statement shortly after the U.N. Security Council met in an emergency session on Pyongyang’s announcement. Power says the international community must respond to the news with “steadily increasing pressure” and rigorous enforcement of existing sanctions.

Hopefully, these sanctions will have more power in them than the sanctions on Iran after their flagrant violations.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 97a) says about the generation of Moshiach, “The face of the generation is the face of a dog.”

Why a dog?

When people take their dogs off the leash on a walk, the dogs will often run out in front of the master. But the dogs keep turning around, constantly looking behind to see in which direction the master is going. The dog may be in front, but we know who’s following whom.

Politicians call themselves “leaders.” But, to extend the metaphor, the electorate is often the tail wagging the dog. The “leaders” look at the polls and then decide their policy. They follow, not lead.

Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem to give Klal Yisrael a leader after his passing who would “go out before the people.” To lead them, not to follow them.

Much discussion in various capitals and media focused on the precise nature of the bomb test in North Korea. Was it really a hydrogen bomb or was it “only” an atomic bomb?

This was not an exercise in ballistics or semantics. Both are weapons of mass destruction. And either would be a violation of international treaties.

But a hydrogen bomb is far more destructive than an atomic bomb. The atomic bomb works by nuclear fission, or splitting the atom. When the nucleus is split, it sends little nuclei all over the place with massive force.

A hydrogen bomb works by nuclear fusion. It fuses together separate particles into a larger, heavier atom. The result is the kind of energy that powers the sun.

The hydrogen bomb “Tsar Bomba” tested by the Soviet Union in 1961 had a yield of 50 megatons. It was 3,800 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

This explains both the claim and the skepticism of North Korea’s having tested a Hydrogen bomb.

What can we learn from this?

Fusion is far more powerful than fission. We are far more powerful — and can do far more — when we bond together … than when we separate.

This is a useful lesson at all times, especially when we are in the need of extra zechuyos.

So what can we do about North Korea?

The only viable option is to pour out our hearts in tefillah to the only One Who can shield us from all harm. Im Hashem lo yishmor ir shav shakad shomer. Only the Al-mighty can offer us true protection from all types of dangers — from relatively minor threats to the frightening concept of a hydrogen bomb in the hands of a madman.