The Button


Photo by pulpolux (CC BY-NC 2.0)

North Korea woke up to find himself in a small gray room with no windows. There was only a pedestal in the center, and on that pedestal was a big, shiny, red button. Oh, and Mao Zedong was there.

North Korea had only a few seconds to soak it all in before realizing that it was, in fact, the Mao Zedong standing before him.

“Chairman,” he greeted, voice stricken with disbelief. “Aren’t you dead?”

“I was,” Mao said with forlorn, “but they keep pulling me back in.”


“Behold!” Mao extended his arm toward the big red button. “I present you with a moral dilemma.”

Right away, North Korea’s eyes lit up. “I’ll do it,” he said.”I’ll wipe the United States from this earth. I’ll turn Washington into a sea of flames!” Naturally, it was only logical to assume that a big red button had something to do with nukes and armageddon.

Mao sighed. “North Korea, I’m gonna have to ask you to calm down. You’re being a little extra and it’s way too early in the morning for that shit.”


“This has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction.” The Korean deflated. “Pressing this button,” Mao continued, “will grant you ten million dollars–”

“American dollars?” North Korea interrupted. “Chinese dollars?”

“Uh… American dollars, I guess.”

“Will I have to convert the money into the North Korean won or will it stay in American dollars?”

“Whatever you want, kid.”

The young socialist’s eyes widened. “Oh, shit.”

“But there’s a catch!” Mao said urgently. “When you press the button, someone you know will die instantly. You must seriously consider the consequences—”


Before the whole sentence could make it out of Mao’s mouth, North Korea pressed the button for the first time.

Bzzt bzzt bzzt.

Three more times. Big, beautiful bags of money appeared from thin air at North Korea’s feet.

Mao gaped. “Comrade, what are you doing? You could be killing someone important to you like your friends or family!”

North Korea spoke very precisely, very impassively. “There are at least 190 countries in the world, many of which I have either met, seen, or heard of. If being aware of someone’s existence constitutes as knowing them, there is a small chance I’ll end up killing the one or two people I might actually maybe care about.” As he explained this, his hand was press, press, pressing away. “To simplify things, let’s say I know only 100 of the 190 or so countries. That still means that in pressing this button 100 times, there’s only a 2% chance it will kill a friend.”

The minutes dragged on. Finally, after you couldn’t even see the floor through the bags of money, Mao gasped.

“You did it,” the zombie communist wheezed. “That last push… it killed China. Your best friend is gone.”

“Well, that is very unfortunate.” North Korea looked around the room, reveling in the sight of his new millions. “However, I think I’ll be fine without him.”


This was based on the 2009 movie The Box which was apparently based on a 1970s short story by Richard Matheson called “Button, Button.”

Even if this was all North Korea’s dream, he and China have been going through a rough patch for the past decade or two so it sort of makes sense that he’d be okay with killing China–even though the millions he just earned can’t really compare to the amount of aid China regularly pours into the DPRK. (Still, bad blood is bad blood).

I wanted there to be a respected communist figure guiding North Korea through the dilemma, but I knew Kim Il Sung would never work. North Korea would probably go nuts at the mere sight of an alive Kim. It would have overcomplicated the story. Mao, on the other hand, was much less important to him. Stalin would have been a little, uh, too uncomfortable a choice.

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