US Vice President Mike Pence weighs in on the Korean conflict.
The ongoing rivalry between Donald Trump’s White House and Kim Jong Un’s nuclear North Korea has taken an interesting turn as the two Koreas are showing signs of wishing to define the future of their peninsula on their own terms.
After the cheap (i.e. expensive) theatrics the White House cooked up to have the vice president dramatically walk out of an NFL game where players kneeled for the national anthem, Trump sent his lead actor, Mike Pence, on yet another mission at a sporting event with the intent of demonizing his enemies. And this time it is a real enemy, a hostile Asian nation, North Korea. Here is how MSN summarizes it: “Pence spent the days leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics warning that the North was trying to ‘hijack the message and imagery’ of the event with its ‘propaganda.’ But South Korea welcomed the North with open arms in what South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the ‘Olympic games of peace.’”
This wasn’t the scenario that Trump had written, requiring some improvisation on Pence’s part. On his flight back from South Korea, Pence declared: “I take great pride in seeing the extraordinary prosperity of freedom in South Korea and to know that the people of South Korea know that the American soldier won that for them — that’s why there is no daylight and there will be no daylight — because the core of the bond between South Korea and the U.S. was forged in war.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Risk that a submissive person or party may begin thinking or acting differently than what the master expects
In most contexts and most cultures, daylight has a positive connotation, not only because of the positive association with light, but also because it evokes a feeling of warmth and freedom, the escape from darkness. In contrast, Pence’s expression “there will be no daylight” conveys an idea of control, conformity and an implicit threat of punishment. The semantic gap reveals unintentional but potentially tragic irony in the contrast between the idea of opening dialogue between the two Koreas and Pence’s belief in the necessity of closing all discussion and relying on a hermetically sealed bond between the US and South Korea. The darkness of monologue replaces the daylight of dialogue.
Pence is clearly off balance here. His reasoning begins to falter when he resorts to affirming the pleasure it gives him “to know that the people of South Korea know.” Declaring that you know what a second person knows, and that what that person knows is identical to what you believe you know about their history, expresses either an exceptionally high level of confidence and expertise or an appalling level of insecurity.
But there is something far more sinister in Pence’s words. What he “knows” is oddly similar to what Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness claimed to know before expiring: “the horror” of politically and economically motivated violence. In Kurtz’s case, it was undoubtedly the inhumanity of European imperialism and exploitation. For Pence, it’s the even more violent Korean War, which he “knows” (i.e. imagines) to be a moment of shared American and Korean glory that ushered in “the prosperity of freedom.”
When Trump announced that he would “make America great again,” most commentators saw in it a nostalgia for the America of the 1950s, the decade that began with the Korean War and ended with rumors of what would only a few years later become the Vietnam War. War, for Pence, is the truest form of nourishing daylight. With great pride, he tells us that “the core of the bond [between the US and South Korea] was forged in war.”
The image of a “forged bond,” if anything, evokes iron shackles, in ironic contrast to “the prosperity of freedom.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Pence subconsciously sees South Korea as a bonded servant of the US, locked into servitude as the price of America’s noble “sacrifice” engaged to ensure half of Korea’s future prosperity and freedom. Pence invokes “the American soldier” in the singular, turning the myriad US troops who took part in a war officially declared by the United Nations into an individual, GI Joe — a solitary, timeless, mythical hero, a legendary presence ready to solve the problems of the world.
This is the world according to Pence. To be free one must be bonded. To be enlightened one must remove all daylight. And, to keep to the script, the stirrings of glorious war must, at all costs, trump the shameful overture of a dialogue for peace.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.