Opinion: Here's why I'm ok with the president saluting that North Korean

Eric Dehm
June 14, 2018 - 3:06 pm

U.S. Air Force photo by Yasuo Osakabe


There's been some outrage today (imagine that!) after video surfaced of President Trump saluting a North Korean General during the summit in Singapore. A quick google search will reveal breathless headlines, and of course tweets, about our commander-in-chief returning a salute rendered by an enemy we are technically still at war with. It is, apparently, the worst thing that has ever happened...at least until whatever takes that title tomorrow.

Yup. He sure did salute that general. And y'know what? I don't think it's the worst thing that ever happened. In fact, I'm totally fine with it. 

Now for those feeling the outrage, let me assure you, you are 100 percent correct about what the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is. They are currently an enemy of the United States. One that recently threatened to nuke Guam, a place I have a personal connection to both because I was stationed there during my time in uniform and because I still have friends living there. As such, I wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of the DPRK attacking it in any fashion. 

To be clear, the three generations of the Kim family that have ruled the hermit kingdom have committed atrocities regularly and I look forward to the day when that regime comes to an end.

But this summit and everything taking place now is about what we hope they will be going forward, whether that's simply not threat or even an ally down the road.

When I was in Afghanistan I was part of an interesting unit as far as command structure. Most of my bosses were officers in the German army, including the regional commander, Major General Fritz. We saluted General Fritz and the officers serving under him. Of course, an American sailor saluting a German every day would have sounded like the wildest science fiction to a soldier dug in and freezing in Bastogne, yet there I was.

Eric Dehm

What was perhaps the greatest, most despised enemy we've ever faced on the battlefield is now one of our closest allies. How did that happen? 

Well first off, we won the war. That was the biggest factor, but not the only one. After all, we won the previous world war yet still wound up fighting against the same enemies (and a few allies) from the first go-around within 25 years. Another factor is the many differences with how we treated our enemies at the ends of those conflicts, one thing we showed after WWII was respect.

Respect for someone who was trying to kill you for years may seem insane or absurd, but it's important. Take a look at this scene from Band of Brothers, the award-winning HBO mini-series based on the true story of a company of soldiers in the 101st Airborne in WWII.

Two men who were working to kill each other days prior, now rendering salutes as one surrenders.

It's not exactly the same situation today with the DPRK, but there are similarities. Regardless, we're trying to avoid what would be a devastating conflict even if it didn't escalate to the thermo-nuclear level and as hard as it might be to imagine, there is a path to them being our friend sometime down the road. Don't believe me? I'm not surprised.

Plenty of people wouldn't have believed we'd one day be best buds with the Brits after we ran them out of town in the Revolution.

Many didn't believe the Northern and Southern states would ever be able to peacefully co-exist after years of .

Few who witnessed either world war would have predicted I'd one day serve under a German general.

For me it comes down to this: If the leader of our military is working towards peace, (maybe even starting on the road to the longer-term goal of friendship) and in the course of doing so decides to return a salute rendered by a general from the other side, I just don't see how that could generate anything negative, other than those tweets and headlines. And I'll take peace over a headline any day. 

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