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Editorial: Scatalogical warfare

It has advised people to beware of things ‘falling out of the sky’, and refrain from touching objects suspected to be from North Korea, but report them to the military.

Editorial: Scatalogical warfare
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North Korea has flown hundreds of balloons carrying trash and manure toward South Korea in one of its most bizarre provocations against its rival in years. (X/AP)

In a classic case of governments resorting to schoolyard bullying tactics, North Korea recently launched the phrase ‘When s*** hits the fan’ into the stratosphere. Last week, the North repeated its exercise of deploying trash-filled, or rather, manure-laden balloons toward the South after a similar campaign late last month. Pyongyang said it was in retaliation to activists from Seoul flying anti-North Korean leaflets across the border. South Korea's Defence Ministry said the balloons carried various types of trash and manure but no dangerous substances like chemical, biological or radioactive materials.

It has advised people to beware of things ‘falling out of the sky’, and refrain from touching objects suspected to be from North Korea, but report them to the military. Pyongyang’s balloons added to a recent series of provocative measures, including a failed spy satellite launch and test-firings of about 10 suspected short-range missiles. The droppings have ceased, but South Korea has suspended a rapprochement deal with Pyongyang, owing to the olfactory annoyance. The episode inspired a throwback to the historical precedents of Pyongyang’s outburst.

The phenomenon of trashing one’s enemy, popularised by athletes in combat sports (via trash talks) owes its origins, at least in the industrialised era, to the World Wars. A legendary photograph depicting two black US soldiers celebrating Easter during World War II, shows them posing alongside artillery, covered in handwritten messages for the enemy, Germany. The picture shot in March 1945, during the battle of Remagen features bombs painted with messages such as ‘Happy Easter, Adolf!’, and a box of shells called ‘Easter Eggs for Hitler’.

Decades later, during the Vietnam War period, US bombs featured personalised messages on bombs targeting the Viet Cong (VC), the guerrilla force, which aided by the North Vietnamese Army, fought against South Vietnam, and the United States (1960s-1973). One such bomb featured the greeting, “From the Crowd at Andy’s — Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year VC). Some conscientious objectors managed to sneak in messages like, “Let this one be the last bomb you drop.”

India also hasn’t shied away from some off-battlefield taunts. During the Kargil War, our soldiers decided to rib the then-Pak PM Nawaz Sharif, who was a great fan of a Bollywood actress. So a large green bomb deployed towards Pak featured the message, ‘From Raveena Tandon to Nawaz Sharif’, alongside the image of an arrow piercing a heart. More recently, Ukrainian crowdfunding websites have raised thousands of dollars for the war effort. Portals like ‘Sign My Rocket’ offer people across the world a chance to pen a message on bombs and missiles before they are fired at advancing Russian forces.

Such displays also invoke indignation when targetted at civilians. Former US presidential hopeful Nikki Haley kicked a hornet’s nest when she penned the message ‘Finish Them!’ on Israeli artillery shells intended for Gaza. It’s doubtful Haley ever heard 99 Luftballons (99 Red Balloons), an anti-war pop song by the German band Nena. The lyrics talk about 99 balloons being released into the sky that get mistaken for UFOs by a nation’s military, which in turn puts up a big show of strength and firepower. The neighbours view this as a sign of aggression, and embark on a cataclysmic 99-year-long war, that leaves room for no victors on either side. The song ends with a lone survivor walking through the ruins and chancing upon a single balloon, and singing, “Think of you, and let it go.”

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