Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The 38th Parallel

The passing of Kim Jong Il, the ascension of Kim Jong Un (the young’un, we might say), has been accompanied by news stories, not surprisingly, about our own presence is South Korea and the fact that the only power likely to have any influence on North Korea is China. This got me thinking—about spheres of influence. That subject, in turn, always reminds me of Geroge F. Kennan, the diplomat and thinker, to whom I owe my basic understanding of international affairs. Kennan was a rational thinker and, for me, the best guide in assessing what the media invariably confuse and distort. (An earlier post on Kennan is here). We look to China because that difficult-to-grasp country, invariably labeled a “failed state,” is in China’s sphere of interest—whereas South Korea marks, as it were, a point beyond which we have real trouble reaching. And that line of thought then produced another. The 38th Parallel North is the only formal geographical boundary that also sharply marks two spheres of touching influence.

Not until today, attempting to find a map with that latitude marked, did I realize how close we’ve lived to it—here in the United States. We were just north of it in Kansas City, MO, our first home in the United States—which we reached just as the Korean War was winding down. When he was still in Evansville, IN my brother Baldy lived about as close to it as is possible in the United States. Other cities within shouting—and certainly within easy driving—distance are Sacramento, CA, Richfield, UT, Hutchinson, KS, St. Louis, MO, Louisville, KY, and Charleston, SC. We’ve driven right through that parallel and never even knew it…

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