Revelation 13:15 Young's Literal Translation
"and there was given to it to give a spirit to the image of the beast, that also the image of the beast may speak, and that it may cause as many as shall not bow before the image of the beast, that they may be killed".
After weeks of fiery threats of war from North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, the Kim family's third-generation dictator, concerns are high that the Pyongyang regime is taking the first steps toward a new world order in which rogue dictatorships possess the most devastating weapon known to mankind, a bomb used twice since its invention and not in nearly 70 years.
There have been no wider troop mobilizations in the North that would suggest invasion plans, yet the mercurial Kim Jung Un — who took over after father Kim Jong Il died in 2011 — has fired up a crisis that strikes some analysts as being different from earlier episodes, and potentially more dangerous. The world has taken note, and Secretary of State John Kerry's weekend visit to Tokyo reaffirms that the United States is treating the crisis as more than just everyday North Korean posturing.
A HOLIDAY TRIGGER?
Monday's planned celebration of the 101st birthday of the "Eternal President" Kim Il Sung has the already-rattled region on high alert. Since the Korean War in 1950-53, the North has used major holidays to launch attacks against the South. For decades, Seoul has shrugged off the numerous attacks and threats of a failed state. Even when the North sank a South Korean warship in March 2010, the response was tepid out of fear that the North would launch the thousands of rockets it has pointed at the South Korean capital's 10.5 million people 20 miles away.
South Korea's new president, Park Geun Hye, has vowed to respond militarily if attacked, and her country's defense pact with the United States means the U.S. military could be forced to respond against a country whose main ally is China, setting the table for what could become a war with unpredictable consequences that could cascade across the globe. U.S. allies South Korea and Japan fear the North may soon conduct another nuclear test in violation of a United Nations ban or fire a ballistic missile capable of reaching U.S. targets in Asia, including a Marine base in Guam.
Even so, most Seoul residents talked to Sunday downplayed the tensions.
At the Presbyterian Saemoonahn church, Pastor Lee Sou Young made the 1,000 worshipers laugh Sunday morning by joking that some Koreans who failed to escape to America were rushing to Busan, Korea's southernmost city.
"I'm not so worried, as they are not serious; the threat is not real," Lee, 66, said after the service. "North Korea expects something, politically and diplomatically, from South Korea and the USA. It's an absolutely abnormal society. The Kim family is their religion. They are fanatics," he said. "We must pray, more and more, in this crisis."
Military allies South Korea and the United States are taking more concrete measures and remain on high alert. Japan has set up Patriot anti-missile systems around Tokyo and deployed warships to shoot down missiles. The United States, which flew B-2 stealth bombers over Korea last month, sent Kerry to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo in recent days. Striking a firm but pragmatic tone Sunday, he said the United States "will do what is necessary to defend our allies against these provocations, but our choice is to negotiate."
Los Angeles native Stella Cho is responsible for 250 U.S. citizens teaching at rural schools across South Korea in the TaLK study program (Teach and Learn in Korea). "Many parents have phoned me, and some of the teachers have asked 'should we go?', but everybody has stayed," said Cho, 26. "In my four years here, I've never felt scared. The careless rhetoric of the North Korean leader is normal for South Korea."
What's unusual about today's crisis is that new leaders have emerged, over a short space of time, in both North and South Korea, plus China and a re-elected leader in the USA, said Paik Hak Soon, a North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute, a private think-tank near Seoul. The United States, South Korea and North Korea "are engaged in a game of chicken, where no one wants to swerve, so they can't be called a coward," he said.
Though Kim Jong Il regularly exasperated other world leaders, "he had some patience by relying on 'salami tactics,' slicing the issues one by one to maximize his own benefits," said Kim Sung Han, an international relations expert at Korea University and recent former vice minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. His son Kim Jung Un "tries to rely on a 'jackpot strategy,' with higher rewards and risks.
Educated at a Swiss boarding school, where he emerged with a love of the NBA that helped him bond with Dennis Rodman in February, Kim has continued the family's quest for nuclear arms and made almost daily threats to annihilate South Korea. Kim has also threatened to bomb the United States for enhancing economic sanctions against his regime in response to its nuclear test Feb. 12.
Pyongyang "is presenting us with an old show we've seen many tiimes before, but this time it's played out at a very high volume," said Andrei Lankov, a longtime North Korea watcher and former Pyongyang resident, at Seoul's Kookmin University.
"Such high-pitched rhetoric and tension dramatically increases the risk of accidental confrontation," he said, such as North Korean soldiers hunting rabbits but sparking a shooting match with the South.
Lankov says North Korea may appear mad, "but they are a rational, smart people, masters of survival. They know what they're doing, how to play their game and where to stop."
Others say the latest standoff illustrates that the world can no longer shrug off North Korea as a bellicose backwater country blackmailing the West for food shipments by making threats it will not carry out. North Korea is suspected by the United States of smuggling nuclear technology to U.S. adversaries Iran and Syria, and its confrontational stance emboldens other rogue nations that see that they, too, can develop nuclear weapons without fear of military action.
In the face of the North's threats, President Obama scaled back of military exercises with South Korea and ordered Kerry to keep making offers to negotiate the crisis, says Bruce Klingner, a former director of the CIA's Korea Desk who's at the Heritage Foundation.
"With North Korea taking several steps forward and you take a step back, it only confirms in their mind that the United States will back down," Klingner said.
John Bolton, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, says the White House is sending the wrong signals in Kerry's Asia trip. Like Bush and President Bill Clinton, Obama has said a nuclear North Korea was "unacceptable," yet all failed to do what is needed to make it so, he said.
"The lesson for Pyongyang and Tehran is that this rhetoric means nothing," Bolton said Sunday on Fox News.
Bolton says the only way to prevent North Korea from getting nuclear weapons is for the United States to work with China to bring about the collapse of the North Korean regime and reunification of the two Koreas, something that is even more vital than in years past.