North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seems like a fictional character out of a satirical doomsday movie -- maybe a sequel to "Dr. Strangelove." That fact that this immature brat and his gaggle of grim, aging generals actually rule a country and have the capacity to disturb the international order seems absurd in an era of global interdependence.
In the 21st century, humankind should have moved beyond this, but apparently we need a few more centuries of progress before all countries are led by comparatively rational, democratically elected leaders -- or at least by boring, one-party bureaucrats whose main goal is to preserve stability and promote economic growth.
Mr. Kim is a throwback to medieval times when young, cocky princes claimed a divine right to lord it over defenseless peasants. The only reason those princes could claim that power, in truth, was because they were surrounded by troops of big guys with swords, armor and horses with a license to kill any peasant who complained too loudly. It really had nothing to do with God's blessing and everything to do with which family was ruthless enough to take from the poor and make themselves rich.
The great royal houses of Europe and the dynasties of Asia were very much like the Mafia or the street gangs of Los Angeles. They got wealthy and powerful because they were prepared to kill anyone who stood in their way. Only later did they take on the trappings of respectability and cloak themselves in royal mythology. From a distant perspective, Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great can be appreciated as great conquerors and masters of men, but, to the thousands of people slaughtered by their marauding armies, they were genocidal thugs stealing lands and treasure for no better reason than that they could.
Little Kim's belligerent threats to start a thermonuclear war that would consume South Korea, Japan and various outposts of the United States is the tough talk of a tyrant in the ancient mold. But Mr. Kim is all bluff. He does not have the bombs or the missiles to carry out his threats. His country is a geopolitical pipsqueak and an economic charity case. If the real world powers, China and the United States, chose to make it happen, his regime could be snuffed out.
There are plenty of complicating geopolitical factors that would make that result difficult to achieve, but one still has to ask why? Mr. Kim is a hereditary ruler who oversees a brutal prison state. Why allow such a leader and such a system exist in the modern era? It would be a true advance of civilization if the world community were to come together and get rid of this throwback to humanity's darker times.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.