In 1949 Mao Zedong and the communists took over China. They instituted communist policies . In response the US cut off all relations with the People’s Republic of China for many years. Mao was a dictator. Harsh. Ruthless. The US would have nothing to do with him. He was an enemy.
Then, in 1972 , Richard Nixon did what was necessary. Mao did what his subordinates did not want him to do. Nixon visited China, met with Mao and started the opening up of trade and cultural relationships. The rightwing in China and the US were outraged by this betrayal of ideals. They wanted conflict, not reproachment.
The world did not end. The US was not defeated. In fact, over time, China has become a major world player and dominant economic force. A major trading partner with the US.
In 1986 the Russian leader, Gorbachev, met with the US leader, Ronald Reagan. Gorbachev had opened up Russia and the Russian people to the possibilities of democracy. Perestroika and glasnost . Reagan, a fervent anti-communists, saw an opportunity to cooperate on arms control. Both men signed the arms reduction deal which helped defuse the 40 years of hostility and tension between the two superpowers. Both men were criticized as “weak” by hardliners at home.
While Russia has fallen back into a dictatorship, the arms deals have held. Billions that could have been wasted by both nations on military spending has been saved. Not to say that both countries still spend way too much on the military. More than either needs for its defense. It was a bold, unpopular move for Reagan and Gorbachev to make.
But Reagan took a step toward an enemy and helped change the world.
Vietnam was a communist nation. The US fought a long war before ultimately admitting defeat. The hatred of many toward the North Vietnamese (and to some extent the South Vietnamese) was overwhelming. They were ruthless. They were despicable. The hatred of Americans by the millions of Vietnamese who had family killed by the “invaders” was also overwhelming.
In 1994, almost 20 years after the US left Vietnam, Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo. Once again US companies could do business in Vietnam. Vietnam could be brought fully into the world trading system. Trade between the two nations now has reached billions of dollars a year. Former enemies have become trading partners.
Which brings us to Kim Jung -Un. The dictator of North Korea. Yesterday Mr Kim called for talks with his neighbor, South Korea. And South Korea responded positively. Both sides see no reason for increased hostility and increased fear. The president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, has asked the US to postpone joint military operations as a gesture of good will. He wants to open up talks with his enemy to the north.
Would it not be nice if North and South Korea opened up more and more trade relations? Would it not be nice if these two nations could tone down the rhetoric and begin more cultural and economic interactions? Hasn’t history taught us that even the most hated enemies can, over time, become trading partners? And once nations forge strong trade partnerships they both have a stake in keeping the peace and developing economically.
Nixon taught us that. Reagan taught us that. Clinton taught us that. Have we learned?
Let us hope that the US encourages this new interaction between the 2 Koreas. Or at least does not do anything to undermine the possibility of peace. Then, 20 years from now the people of North and South Korea may be able to freely visit each other and take advantage of increased trade and wealth.
If the US just lets it happen. Sometmes just doing nothing is enough.