‘Very bloody, very fast’: What military action against North Korea would look like

A majority of Americans support "military action", but most have no idea what that means.

South Korea and the United States carry out annual military drills that North Korea calls a precursor to war. CREDIT: Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo
South Korea and the United States carry out annual military drills that North Korea calls a precursor to war. CREDIT: Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo

Amid escalating tensions with North Korea over its ballistic missile and nuclear program, results of a Gallup poll released on Friday show that the majority of Americans favor military action against Pyongyang.

The poll, conducted last week, indicates that 58 percent of those surveyed support war in the event that sanctions and diplomatic efforts fail to reign in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

The results were starkly divided between political parties: 82 percent of Republicans polled favor military action, with only 37 percent of Democrats saying the same. Fifty-six percent of Independents polled also support military action.

Additionally, “50%, believe nonmilitary pressure can work, while nearly as many, 45%, are skeptical.”

Americans, who have not seen war on their own soil since the Aleutian Islands Campaign of WWII, might not have an idea of what “military action” might look like. The Military Times tried to paint a clear picture of what it would mean to attack North Korea, constructing a blow-by-blow scenario. It’s horrific:

“Anybody that assumes this could be knocked out in 30 days would be dead wrong,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. “There would be literally thousands, tens of thousands, some say more than 100,000 civilian casualties.”

The American public appear to be reflecting President Donald Trump’s hawkish rhetoric, and it’s worth noting that Trump, himself, has never served in the military.

“I think many of those respondents likely don’t understand the what the gravity of that type of an operation would mean — we are talking very, very serious consequences,” said Terence Roehrig, professor and director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Group at the US Naval War College. “It is a very risky option.”

He told ThinkProgress that a war against North Korea “would be a disaster.”

“First and foremost, you have the fact that Seoul [South Korea] is very close to the border and so North Korea has long-range artillery, it has rocket systems that can reach the Seoul metropolitan area, which is 15 to 20 million people — That’s like New York and Washington, D.C. together in one city.” said Roehrig.

“If there were a war and North Korea truly felt that the survival of the regime is threatened, they would not hesitate to use whatever asset they have to defend themselves. And it would likely get very bloody, very fast,” he added.

Even if the United States limits its strike to launching missiles targeted at North Korea’s nuclear facilities — something that might cause 100 or less casualties — it’s Pyongyang’s response that could start “a cycle of escalation”, Roehrig explained.

“The general rule of thumb is that North Korea has a major conventional capability and could cause tremendous damage in the first 30 to 90 days of a conflict,” he said.

Roehrig added that, while North Korea would “likely lose” in the long run, and even after the conventional North Korean army is defeated, “it’s not clear what sort of guerrilla operations will continue after that” and “North Korean special forces might be able to continue operations at some lower level.”

“We really are very uncertain as to how serious this could get — and that’s why this is so risky,” he said. “You are really rolling the dice.”

For now, U.S. officials seem to be backing off of Trump’s “fire and fury” style of engagement and leaning more heavily on diplomatic mechanisms.

Speaking at a press briefing on Friday, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., emphasized “pushing through diplomatic options,” while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the international community is “out of time” when it comes to reigning in North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

“There is a military option,” he added. “It’s not our preferred option.”

North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile over Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, on Friday — the second one in roughly two weeks. According to Reuters:

The missile reached an altitude of about 770 km (480 miles) and flew for about 19 minutes over about 3,700 km (2,300 miles), according to South Korea’s military – far enough to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, which the North has threatened before.

The U.N. Security Council is set to meet on Friday to discuss the implications of the missile launch, the latest provocation from North Korea, which reportedly tested a hydrogen bomb on September 3.