I’ve met Donald Trump a few times. I don’t know if he reads this paper, though. Although I do know he likes the paper. Once he wrote a blurb praising one of my memoirs. It appears on the book jacket of In the Hamptons.
“A great read! Rattiner has done a terrific job with Dan’s Papers and his book, In the Hamptons is as colorful and engrossing as you would expect. He describes the coming of age of the Hamptons with insight and affection.”
I bring this up not because I’m a big fan of his, but because I think he took some advice I gave him in this newspaper two months ago about how to deal with North Korea. That country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was hurling vicious threats out against the United States about how he would blow us up with nuclear weapons.
At the time, Trump’s reaction to Kim’s nuclear threats and tests was to send out a fleet of aircraft carriers and battleships armed to the teeth into the South China Sea. We would attack, he told them, if they continued with these threats. It seemed Trump would be getting us into a war. What if someone made a mistake?
I didn’t have the slightest expectation that he would read what I wrote. He never pays any attention to what anybody writes. If anything, he verbally attacks anybody who writes anything he doesn’t like. But I wrote it anyway. It’s a free country.
“I fail to see why we should start World War III to get nuclear weapons out of North Korea,” I wrote. “I don’t see where North Korea having nuclear weapons is any worse than China or Russia having nuclear weapons. Those other two countries can easily blow up Los Angeles or any other American city.
“But Kim Jong-un is a crazy person, you say. Is that so? So far he actually hasn’t blown anything up with nuclear weapons or otherwise. He’s been capable of destroying both Tokyo and Seoul at the push of a button for 10 years. And he—or his father—hasn’t done it.
“A crazy person wouldn’t care if he got blown up in return. Kim Jong-un is ‘acting’ like a crazy person. And why? They say it’s for domestic consumption. But who cares? The result is scaring us to death.
“Why not say aloud ‘Kim, if you drop even one nuclear weapon out there, your palace and chief city is toast. Trust us. Not one more peep out of you.’
“We have a President who is an expert at this. He could do this at a blink of an eye. He scares us. We scare him.”
Many of us journalists—and other ordinary people—suggest things to the President of the United States. It’s a free country. In this case, well, within 30 days he had re-evaluated the approach and was now doing exactly what I suggested. He gives crazy and we get back crazy. But nobody gets hurt. It’s all words.
Trump: “Kim is Little Rocket Man on a suicide mission, recklessly going to war, and obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”
Kim Jong-un: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
My idea for this approach came to me, if you want to know, because of two life experiences I had. Back in the 1970s, when Dan’s Papers was just a bantling, it shut down in the winter. As a result, I’d take off for foreign lands for four months. And I’d carry along with me a Grundig short wave radio to keep up with the world. On this receiver, I could receive local news in English from London, Paris, Havana, Washington, Tokyo, Ecuador (of all places) as well as from the Armed Forces Network based in Washington.
At the time, the Cold War was raging. Moscow had no broadcast in English that I could find, but China did. China was an ally of Moscow’s. “Americans,” a commentator would say, “we will come soon to end your suffering. You will no longer have to be a puppet to the Yankee Capitalist Dogs bleeding you of your freedoms.” The insults would go on and on. Safely in a native town in the mountains of Guatemala, I was nevertheless taken aback. China had the bomb. What would happen? Nothing happened.
The second experience I had in this regard came 12 years ago when my wife and I were on safari in Botswana. A group of six of us had been driven out in a Land Rover to park alongside a small pond. We’d gotten out. We were having tea and crumpets on a little portable tray the guide had set up. In the center of the small pond were five hippopotamuses, quietly enjoying the afternoon. They sat three-quarters underwater to cool themselves from the hot sun. All you could see was their backs. And, occasionally, their heads when they came up to snort and get a breath. They didn’t seem to notice us on the shore just 50 yards away, at least at first.
I asked the guide if we were okay this close. Hippos can be ferocious animals if disturbed. He said it was no problem. He also said four of the hippos were females. The larger one was a male. This was his harem.
As we ate and chatted, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the big hippo had begun to rise up out of the water. He had seen us. And he wasn’t happy about it. He took a step in our direction, then stopped, then let out a long, angry bellow that lasted for an unbelievably long time—30 seconds or more. It shook the ground. Surely it could be heard for miles. He took another step, and then let out a second great long bellow.
The guide got up from his folding chair and walked to the edge of the pond and stared at the hippo for a moment. The hippo was no more than 20 yards from him. Then the guide too let out a long ferocious bellow.
With that, the hippo paused, thought further about it, and then took two steps backward and slowly sank back down into the pond near his girlfriends. And we never heard from him again.
Anyway, if Trump’s strategy doesn’t work out, you can blame me. That is, if any of us are left.