Responding Tuesday to a reporter’s question about reports that North Korea now has a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit on a missile, President Donald Trump said that if the threats against the U.S. from Kim Jong-un’s regime don’t stop, they will be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
If this sounds a lot like, well, North Korean propaganda, there’s a reason for that. Just two days ago, North Korea’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned, “The day the US dares tease our nation with a nuclear rod and sanctions, the mainland US will be catapulted into an unimaginable sea of fire.” In fact, as Slate’s Josh Voorhees wrote in 2013, threatening to douse their enemies in a “sea of fire,” sometimes translated as “sea of flames,” is a North Korean propaganda cliché.
The threat posed by North Korea’s rapidly improving nuclear program is real and very alarming, but this is also a regime that makes bombastic threats all the time. Given the stakes, it’s not a good idea to respond to every provocation that comes out of Pyongyang. And given that the one thing we know for sure about North Korea’s rulers is that they are very paranoid about being attacked, it’s definitely not a good idea to parrot those threats.