Speed Reads


John Oliver tries to game out the best-case scenario for North Korea, finds some hope in Weird Al's accordion

Last week, President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un pushed us closer to war, John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, and he didn't really sugarcoat the situation. "When Twitter was invented, I bet even they didn't imagine that it would one day lead us to the brink of nuclear armageddon," he said. To help make sense of it, Oliver said, "tonight we thought we would ask: What exactly is North Korea thinking, how did we get into this mess, and what can we possibly do about it?"

There are a lot of amusing things about North Koreans, like their love for accordions and bizarre '80s cinema, but there isn't much reliable news out of North Korea, Oliver said, and "the underlying truth about North Korea is that it is a dark place, not just figuratively but literally," and "the Kim family is known for their bone-chilling cruelty and mismanagement." But as cruel as Kim is, many analysts say he is driven by rational self-preservation, and he saw leaders like Iraq's Saddam Hussein scale back their nuclear programs only to be overthrown and killed in a gruesome fashion.

America is Kim's "most dominant and useful villain," Trump is a terrible negotiator, and with Seoul's 25 million people in range of Pyongyang's artillery, "even a non-nuclear war could have horrific results," Oliver said. "Let's just engage in some truly magical thinking: What if you could somehow just take out Kim Jong Un? Well, you've probably got an immediate humanitarian crisis on your hands, as well as a leaderless country with a power vacuum and nuclear weapons. And as we've learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, when regimes fall and there is no plan in place, that vacuum can be filled with terrible things. We do not want to find out what North Korea's ISIS would be."

"So, here is where we are," Oliver said: "We have two nuclear-armed leaders who are accustomed to issuing empty threats to impress their own people, and they are now currently goading each other toward armageddon." He didn't have any solutions, but he did try to reach out to the North Korean people, with help from Weird Al Yankovich and his accordion. There is some NSFW language, images, and misleading reports on how babies are made, but you can also just skip to the Weird Al song at the 24-minute mark. Peter Weber