I have great respect for Mac Deford’s columns on politics and international affairs; Maine and The Free Press are fortunate to have him as a resource.

I’d like to respond to his column on the challenge of North Korea published in the April 20 issue, because the column seems to represent a wide swath of “establishment” thinking.

The title of his column is “Donald Trump & Kim Jong-un: The Odd, and Dangerous, Couple.” The use of the world “couple” suggests a mirroring of opposites which may have more in common than we want to admit. At the height of the Cold War, C.G. Jung wrote about the dynamic between the capitalist and communist worlds in words that have become all the more relevant today:

“Our world is, so to speak, dissociated like a neurotic, with the Iron Curtain marking the symbolic line of division. Western man, becoming aware of the aggressive power to the East, sees himself forced to take extraordinary measures of defense, at the same time that he prides himself on his virtues and good intentions.

“What he fails to see is that it is his own vices, which he has covered up by good international manners, that are thrown back in his face by the communist world, shamelessly and methodically. What the West has tolerated, but secretly and with a slight sense of shame (the diplomatic lie, systematic deception, veiled threats), comes back into the open and in full measure from the East and ties us up in neurotic knots. It is the face of his own evil shadow that grins at Western man from the other side of the Iron Curtain …”

It is tempting to dismiss Jung’s profound understanding of our “shadow” as facile relativism and false equivalency. North Korea is not a fun place. If ever a nation had earned the right to be labeled collectively psychotic, it would be the Democratic Republic of North Korea under Kim Jong-un, who apparently just outsourced the bizarre assassination of his own brother. The country possesses neither a viable judiciary nor any kind of religious freedom. Famine has been a cyclical presence. Electrical power is intermittent. In 2015, North Korea ranked 115th in the world in the size of its GDP according to U.N. statistics.

But as odd and alienated as North Korea may be, their leaders know perfectly well that even if the United States had not a single nuclear warhead at its disposal, if provoked we could bomb them until there was nothing left but bouncing rubble. 

They are pursuing a policy — the policy of deterrence — which is a mirror image of our own. In the nuclear age it is crucial to keep our heads clear about the phenomena of projection, how paranoid tensions between nuclear powers heighten each other.

The most dangerous effect upon our thinking is to drift along in the unexamined assumption that our nuclear weapons are righteous and theirs are not. The illusion is fostered that we have more of a “right,” as a democracy, to possess nuclear weapons than other nations — ignoring the implications of what President Reagan correctly asserted: “A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

Mr. Deford lays out three alternative policies for us to pursue: “continue the status quo; attack North Korea; or work with China to negotiate a deal.”

This leaves out a fourth possibility: an admission by the international community that, while deterrence has prevented WW3 for 60-odd years, it cannot be expected to work perfectly forever, with all nine nuclear powers never making a single error of interpretation, never having a single equipment failure, never succumbing to a single computer hack. This is a technological fantasy.

Therefore, the United States should lead in establishing an international conference that would stay in session until agreements were built leading to the total abolition of nuclear weapons. Clearly this would be the most difficult international diplomatic task ever assumed (though the spirit of trust and cooperation required would be virtually identical to climate change negotiations), and it might take a generation of hard work. Success would be built upon the shared realization among all parties that nothing but more Cuban Missile Crises, or infinitely worse, lie ahead if we do not change direction together.

Winslow Myers, Bristol