Since when did assassination of foreign leaders get taken off the table?

After years of killing off third-world leaders that threatened American interests, international norms have shifted, Today, the idea of exploding cigars is considered quaint, if not outright passe. But with Pyongyang’s announcement late Monday night of a nuclear arms test, perhaps it’s time to reconsider.

The notion that someone ought to just put a bullet through Kim Jong Il’s head tends to elicit disapproving frowns. Apparently, it’s too crass a tactic, a faux pas on the international stage. But if he himself is so rude as to threaten the lives of millions with the touch of a button, the etiquette of the game has changed.

History would tell us that the idea of forgoing self-preservation in order to “play nice” is a relatively modern one: Julius Caesar was one in a long line of men murdered for reasons far less grave than, say, destruction of the planet. While modern sensibilities have, fortunately, bred in us a healthy respect for free and fair elections and the rights of men to determine their destinies, Kim Jong Il disregards these principles at will.

North Korea isn’t Iraq, where the evidence of WMDs was imprecise at the time and just plain wrong in retrospect, and it isn’t Iran, where foreigners engineered a coup in Iran in 1953 in a blatant attempt to protect oil interests. Does the phrase “a nuke went off while you were sleeping” not ring any alarm bells, even in the padded hallways of the United Nations? Forget the failures and mistakes of the past, from exploding cigars to shock and awe, and recognize that we are trying to stare down a mentally deranged murderer. Anything we do in reprisal is liable to set Kim Jong Il — and his nukes — off.

At this point, even the conciliatory South Koreans are on edge: After a decade of sunshine, the weather may be changing to cloudy with a chance of nuclear fallout. Under the leadership of Kim and his father, Kim Sung, North Korea has wallowed in abject failure. When contrasted with the economic advancement of its neighbor, and all of Asia, the decimation of the North Korean economy is especially painful; North Korea essentially subsists on foreign donations and the outsourcing of nuclear weaponry to other dangerous regimes (Iran). This is a regime that has decided that mass starvation is an acceptable cost of obtaining nuclear weaponry, a regime whose lack of concern for its people is so extreme that for a time it actually terminated the U.N. World Food Program. Would anyone suffer more if Kim Jong Il were to kick the bucket?

That the current regime is bizarre and unpredictable is impossible to deny: We’re talking about an administration that, in a move right from Roald Dahl’s children’s tale “The Twits,” whittled down the legs of the Americans’ chairs each night after talks because the American height advantage shook their self-esteem. No, we don’t know who will replace Kim, and perhaps his successor would be just as hellbent on joining the nuclear club. However, Kim’s lunacy and possession of WMDs have made him more dangerous than other belligerent despots. Iran has at least nominally agreed to take a seat at the bargaining table, and Saddam Hussein, as we have since discovered, did not have the capabilities we attributed to him.

Although the veracity of North Korea’s claims is in doubt, Pyongyang’s departure from the typical nuclear pathway of hedging and denial to one of overt zeal for firing weapons is horrifying. The foreign ministry declared yesterday that “if the U.S. keeps pestering us and increases the pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures” — and this only in response to the threat of sanctions. If such a minor punishment could lead to nuclear war, are we supposed to do nothing at all?

I am not suggesting that we shoot Kim tomorrow; rather, that the idea of assassination ought not to be summarily dismissed. Perhaps even Miss Manners could be convinced that when your crazy neighbor actively threatens your life, it is not the time to bring brownies to his door or start a petition to give him the cold shoulder. It’s time to run him out of town.

Austen Kassinger is a freshman in Davenport College.