Yesterday was my birthday and also the day the American President, Donald Trump, met with a Korean dictator on Sentosa Island, in the city‐state of Singapore. Nobody really knows if all of that fuss and muss will eventually lead to anything positive, but if you’ve never been to Singapore I can recommend it. The food is good. There is no trash, anywhere, and the people I met were welcoming, pleasant, and engaging. I was there twice, mostly training with Singaporean Commandos at Hendon Camp, but alternatively playing soccer – a scratch collection of talentless jarheads against a much better local team — and in the evenings trying to throw back cans of Tiger Beer, which is some of the foulest formaldehyde brew imaginable.
I also had my palm read twice by a woman – on separate days – because I was checking her accuracy over time. She told me I would live a long and fruitful life both times, which was a relief as I sat in a bar listening to Australian Army nutcases shouting “Ozzy Ozzy Ozzy, Oi Oi Oi!” and acting as if they were preparing to go over the top at Gallipoli.
Singapore might be fun for the whole family, and markets itself that way, but it also features a notorious district near the quay where one can find the Orchard Towers – known more colloquially as the Four Floors of Whores — which is known to sailors, Marines, and many thousands of Australians as an excellent place to stretch your liberty dollar all the way to a happy ending.
The Orchard Towers have hosted many thousands of pivots toward Asia.
If, like me, you are also interested in the place historically, I recommend WW2 combat correspondent George Weller’s accounts of the Japanese invasion. Weller was one of the last folks out before the woefully underprepared British were battered about the head and neck and the survivors marched off into the jungle as slave labor. Weller was bombed and strafed at length and was quite fortunate to have survived at all.
Prior to that he had been with the crazy‐brave pilots of the Army Air Force in Malaysia, and a ragtag collection of insanely tough Dutch aviators, most of whom did not survive the meatball onslaught. Weller made it out of Singapore in time to get bombed again during the Japanese raids over Darwin, Australia, and was ultimately the first reporter on the ground in Nagasaki, after the bombing – a feat he accomplished by sneaking away from his US minders, posing as an Army Colonel, and demanding cooperation from a bewildered Japanese officer whose city had been largely vaporized while he was eating breakfast.
Weller’s eye‐witness accounts of WW2, from raiding into Ethiopia with the Army of the Belgian Congo, to the fights in Malaysia and Japan, are gripping reads and historically priceless.
At any rate, this nation’s strategic turn toward Asia is as interesting as it is potentially volatile. The Chinese aren’t much interested in American promises, or anything other than total domination of their “sphere of influence”, and perhaps the world. By militarizing the Spratley Islands, which they claimed they weren’t doing, they also have the potential to completely strangle international shipping lanes, which is a first world problem of enormous magnitude because we are now, each of us, wholly owned subsidiaries of Amazon, Home Depot, and Wal‐Mart .
Also, I’m not sure of the efficacy of meeting with a guy who purges aides – those little people who forget to bring their notebook to rocket launches, or who demonstrate insufficient enthusiasm for the Dear Leader’s jokes — by having them blown apart with anti‐aircraft guns or fed to packs of wild dogs — but I’m certain the effort to have Kim cough up his nukes is worth at least a meet and greet.
Trump has been castigated in various outlets for “elevating” Kim’s stature with the spectacle of a summit, but it seems ludicrous to suggest that ignoring a nuclear power with demonstrable stability issues makes the problem go away. I’ll give Trump credit where it is due, and meeting with Kim is at least bold and ballsy in a way we haven’t seen much from American presidents in a while. If he fails, he fails, but at least he tried, and it would be nice to hear the daily chorus of Bolsheviks in the American media say something pleasant about the American backbone for once.
It occurs to me that the North Koreans are crazy in much the same way that every barricaded subject is crazy, and if police work can be of any help in international relations, perhaps they should take a page from the SWAT manual.
The first thing cops do with a serious and potentially lethal barricade is to call in the negotiators. And while they are talking to him – nobody uses a bullhorn anymore, by the way, think throw phones and robots — the rest of the team is quietly shrinking the space the subject has to operate in – taking away his ability to physically maneuver in space – which I suppose is the general point of economic sanctions.
But the critical portion of crisis negotiation is to compel the subject to believe that he has a way out of his problem. Incentivize him, motivate him, encourage him to feel as though his surrender is actually a victory. Give him an escape route where he will feel all of the pressure suddenly relieved long enough to be placed in bracelets without a fight. Good negotiators can do that. It seems reasonable to suggest, partisan hammering on all things American and GOP aside, that we have people capable of doing that sort of thing in Singapore.
I’ve read speculative reports that Trumpy has suggested throwing up a few McDonalds restaurants in North Korea, and as funny and ridiculous as that sounds, maybe the Golden Arches could serve as a kind of ping‐pong diplomacy for the modern age. Because even the most ardent communist occasionally, deep down inside, craves a Big Mac and fries.
Let us hope so. Because the alternative, in some distant future, may not be as easy, or as delightful, as the well‐heeled leaders of their tribes, who share a penchant for bombast, sitting down for a catered lunch to talk about peace and disarmament in an air‐conditioned 5 Star Hotel. And George Weller’s interviews of American POWs held in Nagasaki, some of whom had originally been captured on Corregidor and weighed less than 100 pounds after years of continual beatings, slave labor, and starvation, and who witnessed the explosion of Fat Man high above the city on a bright, sunshiny day, are sufficiently terrifying as a reminder of the horrors of a nuclear war.
And besides, a fortune‐teller read my palm on the quay in Singapore, and earnestly suggested that I have a long and fruitful life ahead. Twice.