North Korea’s threatening unpredictability

North Korea is a Riddle Kingdom that is simultaneously threatening, bizarre and brutal. The regime’s unpredictability is one of the factors that allow a small, impoverished state, unable to feed its own people, to stand toe to toe with much more powerful rivals.

It is those random, capricious, frequently dangerous behaviors that allow fragile, brittle, bankrupt North Korea to force its dazzlingly successful neighbor, South Korea, to maintain a constant state of alert, to wonder if its capital city can survive an attack across a border that lies just 35 miles away.

With its conventional and nuclear arsenals, North Korea manages to keep the international community, including the United States, scrambling for an approach that might neutralize the danger and send a lifeline to the victims of the cruel regime.

The many quirky, mystifying, baffling developments in Pyongyang make its young ruler, Kim Jung Un, an irresistible target for comedians. It was hard to suppress a laugh, for example, when North Korea severely declared that an upcoming satirical Hollywood movie constituted “an act of war” and filed an official complaint with the United Nations.

Those are two sides of North Korea — deliberately frightening and inadvertently comical. Then there’s a third side — the part that makes us gasp in horror. A yearlong investigation conducted by the United Nations found that North Korea is a country whose depth of brutality “does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

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