Kim Jong Il Dies and the World Looses a Cartoon-like Villain

Kim Jong Il, crazy tyrant of North Korea, has finally kicked the can and as REM might say, “I feel fine.”

The real reason for his death is still unclear. Most reports seem to point to “exhaustion”. Obviously he was very busy looking at stuff on his latest orientation tour. Note to world leaders – don’t look at too much stuff or you may die of exhaustion.

While it may seem mean to mock the dead, it’s hard not to think this guy got what he deserved. After all, here’s a guy that continued in the footsteps of his father, ramming a once industrious and powerful country into the ground with famine, obsessively paranoid politics, poor planning and ongoing poverty.

After sparking numerous conflict, his legacy is leaving North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and in an incredibly isolated position. His nation is such a gong-show that the country’s own big brother on the block (China) seems frequently embarrassed and frustrated by its neighbor’s outright aggressiveness.

Enter his son Kim Jong-un (cause appointing your son leader of the country is a totally people-oriented “democratic” thing to do ), who is now not only North Korea’s “Respected General” but also its “Great Successor”. The guys in his 20s with barely an undergrad under his belt. I don’t know about you, but I was definitely ready to run a nuclear armed nation in my mid-twenties. I mean how different is running a country and running the local Subway? Not much, right? He’ll be fine!

Not only is the guy super young, but he’s also got no political, military, economic or leadership experience to speak of. On top of that, his people barely know him. It’s like a blind date, but instead of a casual Friday night, you’re stuck with this guy for the rest of his natural life. Score one for the North Korean workers.

The good news is that he’ll have to make a lot of pretty awful and frequent mistakes to screw up the country as badly as his dad did. The bad news is that he’s already gotten off to a running start. Word on the Pyongyang street is he’s the little architect behind the unprovoked and deadly attack against a small South Korean island earlier this year. The attack, which killed several South Koreans and injured over a dozen others. It was ordered undoubtedly for a number of nebulous and evil reasons. However, some Korea watchers have speculated one such motivation was to give the young “General” some work experience.

The result of all of this makes me sad. Sad for the poor North Koreans who are going to have deal with another few decades of horrible misrule and sad for Korea’s Asian neighbours who’re going to have to continue to “manage” (like sober bar patrons trying to talk down a loud, mean and aggressive drunk) their crazy nuclear weapon-armed neighbour. While I can’t say I’m not a little smug our own cartoon villain has (finally) bit the dust, I won’t be too optimistic.

It’s likely the Korean peninsula will continue to be under a dark cloud long into the future, at least if Kim Jong-un has anything to say about it.

North Korea: The Antithesis of Community

He even looks crazy...

Here at the Gumboot, we tend to spend a lot of time talking about which communities are getting it right. Be it the organic chocolate makers of the world, the groovy child-run/children’s hospital supporters, the West End… I could go on and on. We try to keep it positive, hip and upbeat. For the most part, I think we’re successful.

A few days ago, co-editor John Horn emailed me asking if I’d be able to post something for today. No problem, I replied. Will it be anything “controversial” he wondered? Only if something really “grinds my gears”, I responded. Well, something really did grind my gears this week, so much so that I ended up talking about it with just about anyone who would listen to me. No its not the BP spill. That’s sickening, sad, horrible and in a tragic way – comprehensible.

What’s really got me frustrated these days is North Korea. In case you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest international affairs, on March 26 a South Korean Cheonan warship was sunk by a North Korean submarine who got trigger happy (or more likely was ordered to get trigger happy) in international waters. The unprovoked attack killed 46 South Korean sailors. The South Koreans, being rational people, decided to investigate. An international delegation of experts were called in, scoped out the torpedo and wreckage of the ship and came to the undeniable conclusion that the torpedo fired was North Korean. In response, the North Korean beat their chest like gorillas in the mist, denied everything and threatened “all out war” if any sanctions or repercussions were to come their way. This isn’t the first time the North Koreans done crazy and horrible things. In the past they’ve shot down airline jets, kidnapped Japanese people and blustered more than any weak, poverty stricken country ever should.

According to a recent New York Times editorial, the internal political dynamics of North Korea are some of the driving forces behind these blustery and antagonistic actions. According to the Times’ sources, North Korea’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-il is in a power struggle to ensure that his youngest son succeeds him. Apparently US intelligence believes Kim may have ordered the attack to prove his willingness to take on South Korea and its Western allies. Meanwhile the Chinese, North Korea’s principle (dare I say only?) ally stands mutely by, counselling restraint. According to Times, the Chinese principle aim is to avoid any crisis that might unleash huge refugee flows across their borders.

It all seems a bit ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I get the international politics of it all. But when you drill down you get a scenario that seems remarkably like a playground bully. A bully pushing another kid out of the blue. And when the victim threatens to push back, the bully pulls a knife and says “try it and I’ll cut you a new necktie”. The bully’s parent shows up (parent not parents, because back in the late 50s early 60s, the bully’s folks got into a messy divorce and haven’t been talking ever since) along with the school principal. The school principal says there needs to be some repercussions for unprovoked bullying. The parent says, let’s all calm down and not jump to any conclusions. The main thing is to be calm and let’s smooth all this over and forget it ever happened.

That sort of thing shouldn’t fly on the playground, and it certainly shouldn’t happen at a global level among supposedly rational policy makers and leaders. South Korea continues to be a team player and as things seem to continue to heat up, North Korea seems to increasingly display just how erratic its regime is. It makes wish there was something that could be done – some repercussion that the Gods know the North Korea regime and “Dear Leader” have coming. After all responsibility and playing nice with your neighbors (even those who you might think are “douchbags”) is an implicit part of community.

The South Koreans get it. They’ve been real team players in the international arena, taking a kick in teeth and doing as Jesus would (sort of). But the North seems to be incapable of understanding that you get what’s coming. If you’re a paranoid, deceptive, violent little regime, odds are the more rational democratically minded countries in your neighborhood will probably NOT be that friendly towards you. Wonders never cease. Obviously cause and effect seems a concept Kim continues to struggle with. Sadly, China doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to help him and his cronies figure it out either. And that can be very dangerous for all of us in the long run.