Since 1948 and the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under Kim Il-Sung, the North has been a problem. For China, for the South, for the United States. In my recollection, no nation has systematically attempted to keep the region and most of the world in some sort of destabilized condition. A recluse state with an absolute monarchy/dictator that puts himself (formerly called Juche or “self-reliant” but in reality only the Kims and the chosen ones are part of the upper crust) and his militarization (known as the policy of Songun), millions upon millions of people in North Korea have died of starvation, hard labor, or execution at the hands of the élite.
And now, they are nuclear-capable … we think.
On a regular basis, Americans and other world travelers who (for reasons beyond me) travel into the Hermit Kingdom and get arrested – usually for “attempting to overthrow the state”. In November, 2013, an older gentleman by the name of Merrill Newman was with a tour group in North Korea and was arrested as he was attempting to quit the nation to come back to the United States. He was held because he shared a name with an American who received a Purple Heart and apparently was an “enemy of the state”. However, this Mr. Newman wasn’t the Mr. Newman in question and after the usual forced confession, he was allowed to leave.
Earlier in 2013, a local man named Kenneth Bae was arrested, charged and convicted with “planning to overthrow the North Korean government, including setting up bases in China for the purpose of toppling the North Korean government” and was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. His health is said to be deteriorating and is now the longest held American prisoner in North Korean since the armistice. (For those who don’t know about the Korean conflict, the two sides never concluded a peace treaty and instead are technically still at war though there is a negotiated ceasefire).
Which brings me to Dennis Rodman. For years now, the Basketball Hall of Famer has travelled to North Korea to visit his self-described “friend” in the current leader of Kim Jong-un. He claims to be performing “basketball diplomacy” with the reclusive state though the US Government makes it clear that he does not represent the United States in any way or capacity. While I laud the thought behind what he’s doing – its reminiscent of the “ping-pong diplomacy” that helped crack China to us in the 1970s – he has more often than not sided with the North Koreans instead of being critical of them.
The most recent trip, in which Rodman has been recorded singing Happy Birthday to the dictator that reportedly just had his uncle executed by feeding him to ravenous dogs, was preceded by an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. In the interview, the anchor rightly brought up the situation of Mr. Bae and Rodman went ape shit – in a most unrealistic, unpatriotic, and unbelievable way:
Immediately, the family of Mr. Bae (and a decidedly large part of the thinking American public) expressed extreme outrage and his dismissiveness and protectionist response. In no uncertain terms:
Dennis Rodman could do a lot of good by advocating for Kenneth to Kim Jong-un, but instead he has decided to hurl outrageous accusations at my brother, insinuating that Kenneth has done something sinister,” Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said in a statement Wednesday.
“He is clearly uninformed about Kenneth’s case, and he is certainly not in any position to pass judgment on Kenneth Bae, who has never any hostile intentions against the DPRK,” she added.
Two days later, Rodman finally issued an apology which on the surface appeared to be taking responsibility for his bizarre actions. However, he couched it in terms of his having been drinking which is supposed to allow us to excuse him. I don’t think anybody, no matter how stupid or fanatical about Mr. Rodman, would accept that as an apology.
Back in the NBA, Rodman had the nickname of The Worm. I think the name is more accurate than anybody originally thought. All I want to say is that, quite oddly, an American has unusually close access to the leader of a dictatorship and should be going out of his way to use that relation to better the lives of Americans and North Koreans alike. All I see is a worm worming his way through compost with a bigger worm and it disgusts me.