Saturday, June 11, 2016

Brief List of Old, Obscure and Obsolete U.S. Navy Jobs

Due to an editing error, the terms “rate” and “rating” were confused in the introduction of an earlier version of this post. To be clear, a sailor’s rating is their occupational specialty in the service while rate indicates a sailor’s pay grade. USNI News regrets the error.

U.S. Navy enlisted personnel—unlike those in the other services—wear their jobs on their sleeves. A Marine machine-gunner wears similar collar rank as the rest of his fire team; unless you ask him, or see his military occupation in his file, one could never know his job specifics just by looking at his uniform.

Not so in the Navy.

rating badge, worn by a newly minted Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class in 2006. Enlisted sailors are classified by their unique rates with their jobs worn on their sleeves. US Navy photo

A rating badge, worn by a newly minted Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class in 2006. Enlisted sailors are classified by their unique jobs unlike the rank structure in other U.S. military services. US Navy photo

The Navy’s complicated enlisted system is based on a sailor’s occupation, or rating. Those range from the enduring—quartermaster, yeoman, boatswain’s mate or hospital corpsman—to the more obscure—religious programs specialist, interior communications electrician or legalman.

Each job has its own unique title—such as Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Jones—and an insignia denoting the rating included on his or her uniform.

What makes the system so confusing is the constant creation of new jobs, the merging of jobs or eliminating them entirely as the service requires.

For example, in the last several years the Navy has created ratings for unmanned vehicle operators and cyber-warfare technicians while losing or merging jobs such as patternmaker and boiler technician.

The following is a collection of former Navy ratings (and one defunct officer rank) made mostly obsolete by advances in technology and occasionally by more modern stances on race, gender, and—at least in one case—child-labor norms.

Powder Monkey

Powder Monkey on board USS New Hampshire off Charleston, S.C., circa 1864.

Powder Monkey on board USS New Hampshire off Charleston, S.C., circa 1864.

The primary duty of a ship’s powder monkeys was to carry gunpowder from the storage magazine to the crews manning cannons. Regulations in the 19th century did not allow boys younger than 13 to join the Navy (though that was rarely enforced) and children as young as 6 were documented as having served as powder monkeys during the Civil War.

The name most likely comes from the boys’ ability to quickly scamper over and under obstacles on the cramped decks of a ship—like monkeys swinging through trees. They were usually given the rating of Boy, which actually referred to a sailor’s lack of experience at sea rather than his age (many newly recruited adults of slight stature also served as powder monkeys).

The Boy rate was disestablished in 1893 and the Navy became more strict about keeping underage sailors from joining crews. By World War I, shipboard elevators were commonly used to deliver shells to guns.

Chemical Warfareman

Chemical Warfareman in protective gear, 1942

Chemical Warfareman in protective gear, 1942

Chemical warfaremen were responsible for damage control in the event of a chemical, biological or radiological attack—not charging into battle with toxic chemicals.

They were trained to repair equipment, initiate decontamination procedures, and administer first aid to gas casualties. The first version of this rating was established in 1942 because of fears that the Japanese and Germans held large stockpiles of weaponized chemical agents. The rating was further refined after the war and existed until 1954, when the duties were consolidated and assigned to the rating of damage controlman.

Loblolly Boy

A loblolly making the rounds to feed the sick and wounded. From the Seaport Museum of Philadelphia

A loblolly making the rounds to feed the sick and wounded. From the Seaport Museum of Philadelphia

In the late 18th century, U.S. Navy ship crews usually included loblolly boys, young men who had the grim task of assisting surgeons by collecting amputated limbs, hauling the buckets of tar used to cauterize stumps, and spreading sand to absorb blood.

In a practice adopted from Britain’s Royal Navy, they were also responsible for feeding sick and wounded sailors a thick meat and vegetable porridge known as “loblolly,” which is how they earned their name. (Loblolly was also called by the utterly unappetizing name of “spoon meat.”) Loblolly boys remained until 1861, when the rating went through several name changes before evolving into hospital corpsman.


USS Hartford Schoolmaster James Connell at middle right with violin in 1877

USS Hartford Schoolmaster James Connell at middle right with violin in 1877

Sailors in the 1800s rarely had a formal education, so many ships carried a schoolmaster who was responsible for instructing the crew in reading, writing and arithmetic. The schoolmaster also taught navigation and the other advanced skills needed to make the men better sailors. A schoolmaster might even try to culturally enrich the crew by exposing it to music and art. However, many captains came to view schoolmasters as ineffective and a waste of ship resources. It was frequently reported that many schoolmasters were lazy and ubiquitously drunk. The Navy decided chaplains had the educational background needed to help enlighten a ship’s crew and the schoolmaster rate was eliminated in 1900.

Admiral of the Navy

Admiral of the Navy George Dewey in 1899.

Admiral of the Navy George Dewey in 1899.

The only exception to enlisted rates in the list is the defunct supreme officer rank of admiral of the Navy. Only one person has been promoted to the six-star equivalent rank: Adm. George Dewey. Dewey returned from his 1898 victory at the Battle of Manila Bay to a hero’s welcome and was so popular that products ranging from dishware to clocks bearing his image could be found in homes throughout the country. In addition to being promoted to the unprecedented rank of Admiral of the Navy, he was also encouraged to make a run for the White House (but lost support when he began to warn that the United States would one day be at war with Germany). When the five-star rank of fleet admiral was established in 1944, it was determined that Dewey’s rank of admiral of the Navy was equivalent to six stars.

Incidentally, two men have been made general of the armies—General John “Black Jack” Pershing (following WWI) and General George Washington (though he had been dead for 177 years when he received the promotion).

Pigeon Trainer

Carrier pigeon trainer WAVES Specialist 2nd Class Marcelle Whiteman holding a carrier pigeon, Naval Air Station, Santa Ana, California, United States, June 1945. National Archives Photo

Carrier pigeon trainer WAVES Specialist 2nd Class Marcelle Whiteman holding a carrier pigeon, Naval Air Station, Santa Ana, California, United States, June 1945. National Archives Photo

The Navy began to use “pigeoneers” at the dawn of the 20th century, tasking them with the feeding and caring of the flocks of birds used to deliver messages. In addition to their natural homing abilities, pigeons were valued because they could quickly carry messages over long distances at high altitude. The development of radio soon brought more efficient forms of communication, but the Navy continued to include pigeon trainers in the ranks until 1961 to ensure there was an emergency line of communication in periods of radio silence or in the event of some type of technical failure.

Airship Rigger

Airship riggers aboard USS Macon in 1933.

Airship riggers aboard USS Macon in 1933.

In the 1920s the Navy began to view airships as platforms that could be used for long-range reconnaissance and antisubmarine warfare. Initial enthusiasm was so high that some analysts believed that airships were the true future of the Navy and that the aircraft carriers being concurrently developed were nothing but an expensive fad.

The airship crews included riggers who were responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of the dirigible and repaired any tears in the gas cells or skin. Used to escort convoys in the Atlantic during World War II, the airships proved to be an effective deterrent to submarine attacks but were superseded by advances in heavier-than-air planes as well as radar and sonar.

The airship rigger rating was disestablished in 1948 and the entire airship program was abandoned in 1961. However, airships were resurrected in 2011 when the Navy again began to experiment with them as surveillance platforms.

International Business Machine (IBM) Operator

CALCULATING MACHINEWith a need to better calculate gun trajectories, ensure accurate accounting, and handle mass logistics, the Navy turned to IBM tabulating equipment during WWII. The move gave birth to the rating of International Business Machine operator. The rating only existed for about a year before it was it changed to the generic but even more unwieldy name of punched-card accounting machine operator, but IBM continued to develop new products for the Navy. In 1944, IBM introduced the nation’s first large-scale electromechanical calculator (the automated sequence controlled calculator or the “Harvard Mark I”) that was used by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships. The operator rating went through several transformations until becoming the current information systems technician.

Jack of the Dust

The “Jack-o’-the Dust” of USS Scranton in 1919

The “Jack-o’-the Dust” of USS Scranton in 1919

In another holdover from the Royal Navy, the sailor who assisted the cook by breaking out provisions was known as Dusty, or Jack of the Dust, because he was often covered in flour from working in a bread room. The rating was established in the U.S. Navy in 1876 and referred to the storeroom keeper. Jack of the dust ceased being an official rating in 1893, but the name lives on in the modern Navy as an informal title given to the culinary specialist in charge of canned goods or the sailors assigned to food-service duty.

Aviation Carpenter’s Mate

USS Langley launching a mostly wooden DT-2 in San Diego, Calif., circa 1925

USS Langley launching a mostly wooden DT-2 in San Diego, Calif., circa 1925

Early U.S. Navy planes were fairly delicate machines built of wood and canvas. With shipboard aviation operations still in their infancy, the planes were often placed in less than optimum flying and storage conditionsl, which resulted in damage to the wooden frames, struts and props. Recognizing that they needed sailors skilled with a lathe to repair the damaged planes, the Navy established the aviation carpenter’s mate rating in 1921. Advances in aviation and the development of all-metal planes in the mid-1930s began to diminish the call for aviation carpenters. The rating was disestablished in 1941 and the duties were absorbed by the aviation metalsmith—the forerunner of the current aviation structural mechanic.

Coal Heaver

Sailors on board USS Isla de Luzon shovel coal in the early 1900s. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

Sailors on board USS Isla de Luzon shovel coal in the early 1900s. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

As the age of sail gave way to the age of steam, ships began to require coal.

Tons upon tons of coal.

Coal heavers came into service in 1842 and hauled coal from a ship’s bunker to the boiler furnaces. A coal heaver could make up to 50 trips a day with a full bucket weighing about 140 pounds. Since it was hot, dirty and dangerous work, the members of the “black gang” received substantially higher pay than other sailors. In 1893, the rating was changed to the less strenuous sounding (but probably equally backbreaking and dirty) coal passer. The duties were incorporated into the rating of fire 3c in 1917.

Steward (Filipino)

Filipino Stewards and their mascot on USS Seattle during WWII. Dogs were popular mascots in all the U.S. sea services.

Filipino Stewards and their mascot on USS Seattle during WWII. Dogs were popular mascots in all the U.S. sea services.

With the defeat of Spanish forces 1898, the U.S. took possession of the Philippines and soon began to recruit Filipinos to serve in the Navy. For the next 70 years, Filipinos were permitted to join the Navy without U.S. citizenship but were largely restricted to the steward rating and assigned to work in galleys and wardrooms.

At the peak of the program, there were more Philippine nationals in the U.S. Navy than the Philippine navy. It was not until 1971 that the policy was changed to allow Filipinos to enlist in the Navy and enter any rating for which they were considered qualified through education or experience. When the U.S.-Philippine Military Bases Agreement expired in 1992, the program allowing Philippine nationals to serve in the U.S. Navy was also terminated.

Ship Cooper

A sailor displays the old “Grog Tub” on USS Constitution in the 1930s

A sailor displays the old “Grog Tub” on USS Constitution in the 1930s

The ship cooper made and repaired barrels, casks, and buckets, which were essential at sea. Well-constructed wooden containers were used not only to transport and protect food, water, and gunpowder, they held the crew’s morale-boosting rum rations (at least until the Navy banned alcohol on ships). Coopers remained until 1884 when more durable material such as steel began to replace wood, but their legacy survives in the term “scuttlebutt.” Coopers would take a wooden butt (a type of cask) and scuttle it by punching a hole to provide the crew with drinking water. The crew would swap gossip while gathered at the cask on breaks (just like modern water-cooler conversations)—which is why many old salts still refer to news and rumors as “scuttlebutt.”

Florida Launch Schedule | Rocket Launches in Cape Canaveral | News 13

Date: Saturday, June 11
Vehicle: Delta IV Heavy
Mission: NROL-37 (reconnaissance spy satellite)
Launch Site: SLC-37B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Launch Window: Opens at 1:51 p.m.

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Enlisted justice: You know, no one talks about it, but this is the real military. And the important thing is, it always will be. BY THOMAS E. RICKS

Enlisted justice: You know, no one talks about it, but this is the real military. And the important thing is, it always will be.

By Peter Lucier
Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted

I lost rank while I was in the Marine Corps. I stood tall in front of the man. Captain’s Mast. Office Hours. NJP. Ninja punched (slang for non-judicial punishment, an administrative measure for dealing with minor offenses to avoid court-martial proceedings), in the stomach, in my pride, on my collar, in my wallet.

I was standing the fence-line mission at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, a historic mission still conducted by Marines, although rather perfunctorily. Cameras, ground sensors, and technology far beyond the understanding of a dumb, boot, security force Marine, kept a watchful eye on the shore-side perimeter and direct water front approaches to GTMO. Physical security also existed at echelons above our small company. There were rumors that fighters and bombers were on standby to blow the whole place up if it was ever taken, within ninety minutes. Who knows if that’s true, Marines love to gossip. But we stood the watch, reporting small vehicle traffic, handling the occasional Cuban fence jumper or deserter, or repatriating Cubans the Coasties picked up off the Florida coast, at our regular meeting with the Cuban Frontier Brigade, our opposite force.

I was on the overnight watch. Long hours, in a tower, by myself. I’d have the occasional visit from the corporal of the guard, riding around in a HMMWV, or the sergeant of the guard or watch commander in a Dodge pickup. My usual play was to sneak a can of dip or a pack of smokes somewhere inconspicuous on the HMMWV that would take us out to the line. Often the team would go in on some Monsters or Red Bulls as well. As we weren’t allowed to visit the PX during our week on post, we’d pay the supernumeraries, also known as “super-nuts” or “whiskey-nuts” to make a run for us. Whiskey came from our call signs, which were whiskeys one through eight. Whiskey stood for “w”, which stood for “windward” — the side of the base we guarded. When we didn’t go in on energy drink runs, I’d slip some caffeine pills into my socks above my boot bands.

PX runs weren’t the only thing off limits during post week. No caffeine, save for coffee, that would be brought out nice and cold, two or three hours after you asked for it. Unauthorized, personal chow was also verboten. Meals would be brought out by the corporal of the guard, who would relieve you while you ate, then take the trash and any remaining food with him when he left. Writing paper was not allowed. Marines might doodle. The only paper authorized was the green post notebook. And finally, no nicotine while on post. No cigarettes, no dip, for eight hours.

To ensure compliance, we conducted a vigorous guard mount an hour and a half before post. During guard mount, SAPI plates were removed from our flak jackets, contents of our individual first aid kits emptied and displayed, our assault packs unpacked, and even the individual rounds of our magazines stripped and placed into a bullet board. Our gear was not the only thing inspected. We would get patted down for any contraband as well. That’s why the caffeine pills in the sock.

My playing fast and loose with the rules could of course only last so long, and I got busted. It was a can of white sugar-free Rockstar, and a pouch of Levi Garret that got me, tucked into some of the extra canvas that covered the back of the HMMWV. I didn’t even get busted for the good stuff, but some off-brand garbage. It was hard to come by good tobacco in GTMO. The dip was like sawdust, and still sold out in the first week of a shipment, leaving only dregs, like Red Seal Fine Cut Natural. The cigarettes were no better. The Marlboro Lights were dry and as tasteless as dirty dishwater.

For these, my crimes, I was reduced in rank, from Lance Corporal to Private First Class. I received two months half pay, 45 days of restriction, and 45 days of extra punitive duty. We got NJP’ed in bunches on GTMO. I got received mine the same day as my post team’s driver, who had driven a HMMWV into concertina wire, and another Marine who had been caught sleeping on post.

I got what I deserved. Broke UCMJ Article 92 — failure to obey an order or regulation. I got maxed out because the company commander was a major, a field grade officer, and empowered to strip me of my rank. If he had been a captain, I’d have only gotten 14/14, kept my rank, and a half month’s pay.

If you get a DUI in the Marine Corps, your fate can be equally fickle. I was later in a unit that had a no double jeopardy policy for DUI’s a Marine got while out in town. A DUI in Oceanside would cost you ten grand in attorney’s fees, but your military career could continue untarnished. A DUI inside the gate would see you in front of the Battalion Commander, and you’d get the same punishment I got, 45/45, reduction in rank, etc.

Talk back to an NCO, you might be up cleaning your room until 0300, or stuck with a book report, or whatever under the table punishment the NCO felt like dreaming up. If he’s newly promoted, and shaky though, you might just find yourself getting a public NJP in a theater your company requested specifically for the occasion. This happened while I was in Bahrain. You might also just get the snot beat out of you, although in my own experience, this isn’t nearly as common anymore.

Discipline in the military is a game. It’s cat and mouse. You never know when you’ll get caught doing something you shouldn’t, you are never quite sure if what you are doing is the right thing at all, and should you be caught, you can’t ever be sure what the consequences will be. And thank god. It keeps you sharp. Keeps you on your toes. A sergeant of mine told me Marines are dog-eat-dog, we’ll throw each other under the bus for the most minor of uniform infractions. That attention to detail becomes a desirable skill when your butthole is puckered up something awful scanning and searching for a bomb buried in the road. But the playfulness of it all helps too. The whole thing, the uniforms, the pomp and circumstance, even the firefights, it’s all one big joke. What can you do but laugh? The absurdity and capriciousness of enlisted life prepares you in every way for the chance and seeming senselessness of combat. Our brand of justice is the mirror of the only justice you’ll find in combat. Fickle fate, not officers nor politicians, is the only one who judges us dumb apes out there on the tip of the spear.

Sailors aren’t allowed to drink in Japan anymore, after a series of high profile incidents, including several tragic and despicable acts by American military personnel. And as much as I condemn the acts of a few, I can’t help but laugh at the rest of those poor bastards, who now can’t even slam their allotted six pack to try and drown out the voice of a SNCO or chief petty officer, which echoes in your head long after close of business. What a bunch of suckers. It rains on the just and unjust alike. Today is their day, just like any day on patrol might be your day. That’s enlisted justice.

Peter Lucier, who went up and down in the U.S. Marine Corps, is now a Marine veteran and a good student at Montana State University. He is the co-holder of the Marine chair in the Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted. His views are his own.

Photo credit: Kurt Kaestner Collection/U.S. Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections/Flickr

WWII vet returned from England, eulogized

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Cracked Asphalt Tanker Saved Off India By Mike Schuler


A Panamanian-flagged tanker averted potential disaster overnight after the vessel developed a crack in its hull in the Arabian Gulf off India. The Indian Navy says it was called Wednesday night to provide assistance to the MT Infinity 1 which was taking on water and had developed a dangerous list approximately 20 miles from Goa. The […]

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Second French Vessel to Join Search for Egypt Air Black Boxes By Reuters

The French Navy's survey vessel Laplace (A 793) picked up pings from EgyptAIr File photo: French Navy

PARIS, June 9 (Reuters) – A second ship equipped with specialist search devices will join the hunt for the “black box” flight recorders and the wreckage of an EgyptAir jet on Friday, the head of France’s air-accident investigation agency said on Thursday. A French naval supply vessel picked up a signal from one of the […]

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A look at Y-12’s uranium storehouse

The Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility is a massive structure on the west side of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and it may very well house the world’s largest inventory of bomb-grade uranium at a single location.

That’s not clear because the actual amount of uranium in storage is classified. Plus, it’s constantly changing as nuclear weapons are retired from the arsenal and the enriched uranium is recycled for use in other weapons or reserved as fuel for the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Construction of the 110,000-square-foot, fortress-like storage facility was essentially completed in 2008, but it took another couple of years to undergo all the reviews and tests to make sure it was ready to house the high-security nuclear assets. Stocks of uranium were then transferred from other storage facilities at Y-12 to the vaults of HEUMF, and loading was completed in 2011.

The cost of the project was just under $550 million, which seemed like a lot when hundreds of workers were engaged in the construction. But that price tag is now dwarfed by the projected cost of the Uranium Processing Facility — $6.5 billion — which gives you some idea of how complicated that’s going to be.

Anyway, given its size and the scope of work and the security that surrounds it, the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility has maintained a fairly low profile over the years.

The big exception, of course, was July 28, 2012. That’s when, in the early hours of the morning, three protesters — including an 82-year-old nun — made a mockery of Y-12’s security by cutting through multiple fences to reach the uranium storehouse in the plant’s forbidden zone. They spray-painted messages and splashed blood on the HEUMF’s exterior walls. Although those walls were quickly cleaned and repainted, the images have not gone away.

There have been other, occasional news stories about the uranium storehouse, including a report that cracks had developed in the exterior of the mammoth concrete structure.

More recently, during a weekend in late April, there was a problem with an alarm system that warns of nuclear accident conditions. That, too, received a modest amount of attention.

And Y-12 periodically receives shipments from sites around the world where enriched uranium has been recovered from potentially vulnerable sites and sent to Oak Ridge for safekeeping.

Although federal officials aren’t usually specific about the whereabouts, it can be assumed that the material has been placed in storage at HEUMF. That probably includes a shipment from Japan that arrived earlier this week.

A feature on Atomic City Underground allows readers to sign up for email updates and receive a notice each time new information is posted. Just put your email address in the box on the lower right of the blog’s front page and follow instructions. Thanks to all loyal readers.


North Koreans try to trump China—and the United States By Bruce Cumings

In recent weeks, North Korea has been engaged in a flurry of diplomacy and a flurry of missile tests. What does it all mean, and what is the significance of the timing? And how would such activity likely be dealt with by a President Trump—and how would people on the Korean peninsula react to the idea of his sitting in the Oval Office? No one can predict the future, of course, but we can make some guesses.

First, some background.

The missile in question is a Musudan intermediate rocket, with a range that theoretically encompasses all of Japan proper, Okinawa, and Guam. The launches failed four times. North Korea has never carried out so many tests of a single missile system so frequently, as noted by 38 North. The unusual haste has been attributed to the impending 7th Congress of the Korean Worker’s Party, the first such congress since 1980, which was held in early May. Presumably the three tests in April, had they been successful, would have enhanced the prestige of young leader Kim Jong-un. But testing continued after the congress, too, so this may also have been related to high-level exchanges between Pyongyang and Beijing. If this seems odd—Beijing has been urging Pyongyang to stop missile and A-bomb tests—it fits a pattern: The North is going out of its way to test-test-test, trying to force the world to accept it as a nuclear weapons state.

As I wrote in these pages in January 2016 (“The North Korea That Can Say No”), China sent two different high-level envoys to Pyongyang, the first in November to urge that the North Koreans not test a long-range rocket (which they proceeded to do anyway), the second in February to head off another atomic bomb test (you guessed it, the visit made no difference). In the current case, newly-appointed Politburo member Ri Su-yong traveled to Beijing late in May, his visit punctuated by the fourth of the recent Musudan tests, and the release of a video of what purported to be a submarined-launched missile. Ri is quite close to Kim Jong-un, having been the ambassador who looked after Kim’s every need when Kim was attending secondary school in Switzerland; later Ri was Foreign Minister. Ri was ostensibly tasked with reporting the results of the recent Party Congress to Beijing, but he also made it clear that North Korea would go on testing bombs and missiles. His reward? A completely unexpected audience with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

News reports said their talks were cordial, quoting the Chinese president as saying that China “attached great importance to developing a friendly relationship with North Korea,” and pleading for “calm” in what is sometimes known as “the land of the morning calm”—Korea. No Chinese president has ever before spoken of developing a friendly relationship with the North: It was always rhetoric about a “blood-sealed alliance” or the two countries being “as close as lips to teeth.” President Xi’s statement is an index of just how bad things have gotten between the two presumed allies. Meanwhile, he was silent about denuclearization, in spite of the recent tests and his frequent calls (for example in April) to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Why such gifts to Kim Jong-un? Perhaps President Xi is trying out a soft touch, rather than sending hand-picked envoys on fruitless missions to Pyongyang. More likely, Ri’s surprise visit—well, a surprise to the West anyway—was an opening gambit just before the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the United States and China, which opened on June 6. For more than a decade, Washington has wanted Beijing to cooperate in reining in North Korea, and China now faces the task of enforcing tough new United Nations sanctions on the North’s banks and foreign economic activities, most of which depend on Chinese financial institutions. By making nice to Kim, the Chinese president can gain leverage in negotiations with the United States, while pointing to his previous track record of denouncing the North’s missile and bomb tests, almost in unison with Washington. By showing Washington that he has other options, and given the deteriorating status of Sino-American relations, Chinese President Xi strengthens his own hand. (As of this writing, the only news out of the annual talks had to do with South China Sea disputes and American demands that China stop dumping steel and other items in the US market.)

Both capitals may also be trying to gauge the likely results of the American presidential election (like every other capital in what is unquestionably the weirdest campaign in decades, if not centuries). As an American professor of history with a life-long interest in the Koreas—I first became interested in the region while serving in the Peace Corps in South Korea in the late 1960s, and later wrote three books and participated in a documentary series about the Korean War—I have had many requests from friends and colleagues in Seoul, asking me to explain Donald Trump’s foreign policy platform: Would he really remove US troops from Korea? Does he really want us to have nuclear weapons? I try to explain that it is inherently difficult to know what a loose cannon is doing at any given time, or where an unguided missile might land.

But the North Koreans appear to have no problem with Trump, ever since he said he would be willing to talk to Kim Jong-un. Trump doubled down on this policy on June 3, in a speech in Redding, California, saying, “I may not go to North Korea, but I will negotiate with it ... They (the critical experts) say, ‘We would never, ever, talk (with the North).’ How foolish they are!”

And earlier this year Kim apparently endorsed Trump for the presidency of the United States: “The Supreme Leader closely weighed and measured the talents all of the US candidates and gave them all careful consideration,” says the purported official statement from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). “[He] has named Donald Trump the official candidate of the DPRK.” Some may joke that Kim probably also wants Dennis Rodman for Secretary of State, but it is an index of how isolated the North Koreans are, and what they really want when all is said and done, that they almost instantly welcomed Trump’s idea.

American leaders seem to think that it’s a big gift if they deign to talk to enemy heads of state. But diplomacy emerged in history as a way of getting enemies to talk to, rather than fight with, each other. The one US president to talk to Kim Il-sung over his long life was Jimmy Carter—and he brought back a freeze on the North’s plutonium facilities that lasted for eight years, until George W. Bush quite stupidly bulldozed his way through that agreement.

What exactly has Washington gotten from its policy of isolating North Korea for 70 years and pretending that it doesn't exist? Nothing but conflict, pain and suffering. Give North Korea a couple more years, and it will have been around longer than the entire Soviet Union. Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened relations with the Soviet Union in 1933, 16 years after the Bolshevik revolution, and managed to develop a working relationship that allowed Moscow and Washington to be allies against the Nazis and Japan in World War II. If Hillary Clinton becomes president, she will undoubtedly continue the policy of isolation and denuclearization of North Korea. Any number of things would make a Trump presidency interesting, to say the least, but one of them is to see what he would really do in regard to Korea policy.

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