North Korea Still Firing Missiles, But Toning Down the Crazy Talk

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Photo: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea's crazy season — that is, the time of year during which it often shows off its military might and makes bombastic threats as South Korea and the U.S. carry out military exercises — is well underway, and the North has been steadily launching missiles into the Sea of Japan in a show of force. On Wednesday, it tested a new rocket launcher with enough range to hit American and South Korean military bases south of Seoul. The South called it an "intentional provocation to raise tensions," but the North is claiming self-defense, and its language is disappointingly lower-key than in years past.

The country that promised to turn Seoul into a "sea of flame" over a musical psy-ops campaign, advised its soldiers to "break the waists of the crazy enemies," and recently sent a fax threatening to "strike South Korea mercilessly," is taking a surprisingly mature tone even as it inches closer to war. "It is justifiable self-defense behavior for us to conduct these military exercises in order to preserve peace in the region and to protect the safety of our people and our country," the Korean People's Army said in a statement, per CNN. But it did promise to launch a more powerful missile if the U.S.-South Korean exercises continue.

Meanwhile, the North eased tensions with the West on Monday by freeing an Australian missionary it had taken prisoner last month. John Short "committed a criminal act by secretly spreading his Bible tracts around a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang," the state-run Central Korean news agency reported, but "the relevant organ decided to expel him from the territory of the DPRK, thanks to the tolerance of the law of the DPRK and in full consideration of his age."

Overly generous, sure, but at least they let him go. Not without first eliciting a "confession" from the 75-year-old missionary. "I now realize the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people on February 16th because I made the Korean people angry and for this I truly apologize," Short wrote. Weeks of daily interrogation sessions in a North Korean detention center will make you do some unexpected things.