Bellicose Language: Never A Good Idea in Diplomacy Or Cancer Care

By

Leonard Zwelling

The current President of the United States has now threatened a third-world nation, North Korea, with “fire and fury.” Such words should never be uttered by the Leader of the Free World. There is no need. That the United States has the capability of destroying the entire Korean Peninsula is not in doubt. The wisdom of doing so is obviously zero and so the words threatening to do so are hollow.

There are many choices about how to deal with the dictatorship in North Korea. Presidents have been trying to do so for decades without success. Threats are not the way to succeed where past leaders have failed. Filling in the missing members of the diplomatic corps and the rest of the State Department staff might be a better start. So would quiet diplomacy with China. Just when the US has had a huge victory in the UN by getting the Security Council to agree on sanctions of North Korea, Trump throws a sabot (Dutch wooden shoe that gave us the word sabotage) into the machinery undermining the good work of Ambassador Nicki Haley.

Similarly, when Richard Nixon declared War on Cancer and others followed proclaiming new crusades against the disease and D-Days of victory over cancer’s horrible toll, they too were threatening on promises on which they could not make good. Those rattling sabers at North Korea and predicting the end of cancer are all fools. They are not fools for trying. They are fools for talking tough when mindfulness is called for.

Very complicated problems have very simple solutions and they are usually wrong. That is the case with both North Korea and with cancer.

In the case of the former, constant pressure in the form of economic sanctions while trying to open a channel of communications to see if there is any common ground to be established between the North Koreans and the West (e.g., more food) is the only viable option. If the US really must flex its military muscles, it could attempt to shoot down the next North Korean missile being tested, but this is likely to be viewed as an act of war and bring down North Korean “fire and fury” on Seoul. This would be unwise.

The battle against cancer may be even more complex despite the amazingly greater insights we have into the nature of the disease since Mr. Nixon declared war in 1971. We are still far away as Dr. DePinho learned when he cured nothing in his six years at the helm of the greatest cancer fighting juggernaut on the planet, MD Anderson. Getting to the moon was one thing. Curing cancer is quite another.

In the face of a vexing international challenge like North Korea or a vast black box of an intellectual challenge like the nature of malignancy, the only proper posture for mere humans is humility, patience and playing the long game.

Neither Mr. Trump nor Dr. DePinho are good at the long game. Let’s hope the cooler heads around Mr. Trump can prevail and that the next leader of MD Anderson chooses a less bellicose posture and more civil vocabulary with which to lead.

When it comes to North Korea and cancer, put me down as anti-war and pro-work. There’s a lot left to be done in both spheres and none of what needs to be done requires bellicosity.

Leonard Zwelling