Haggard keeps sending me slightly breathless messages about how the Kim Jong-un regime has endorsed Donald Trump for President. Ai-yi-yi. No, a Ku Klux Klan newspaper endorsed Mr. Trump (which he quickly disavowed). What happened in North Korea is that a state media outlet (are there any other kind?) published a piece by an ethnic Korean Chinese scholar (if he actually exists) in which he endorsed Trump. You can sort of understand why: a Trump presidency holds forth the possibility of withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, withdrawal of the nuclear umbrella, the abrogation of the KORUS free trade agreement, and a hamburger summit sitdown. Overlooked in all of this was Trump going on television earlier this year and urging China to rub out Kim. Who was the big crime family in Queens when Donald was growing up? Be careful what you wish for.
Well, at least no Americans are involved in this next one. Morris Jones, our correspondent in Australia, where they send you to jail if you don’t vote (ok, it’s really only a fine, but when you think “Australia” you think “jail,” right?), sent along the story of two mates on a polo vacation in China who punked North Korean golf tournament organizers by posing as pros. Sort of. Seems that anyone who booked through a particular tour organizer could participate, pro or not. (It was called the Pyongyang Amateur Golf Open, after all.) For example, Haggard and I could have been the American team. (Except we might have ended up in jail. When you think “North Korea” you think “jail,” right?)
A political culture that embodies complete obeisance to a near-deified supreme leader, is a culture of such instrumentality that its national capital’s public zoo pits captive animals against one another while teaching others to chain-smoke for human amusement.
Anyway, the North Koreans apparently found watching the “pros” from Oz—final scores 120 and 126, besting only the 15-year old son of the Nepalese ambassador—send ball after ball into water hazards deeply amusing.
Until the “punked” story turned up in major news outlets around the world. Now they want the pair to return to North Korea to deliver an apology live on national TV. Not happening one of the pair told the Courier Mail of Brisbane: “We won’t be doing that any time soon, years of hard labour in a North Korean prison doesn’t exactly appeal.”
Well, maybe they aren’t as dumb as they look. In unison: “La Cheeserie!”
If you caught that last reference, you probably realized it was a transition to our final story, a tale of the Pyongyang zoo, brought to us via the Tony Kornheiser Show. During the 25 October “Got a Light?” podcast, at the 43:14 mark (we used to just splice and embed these files but the IPR police…). The news segment concerns Dallae, a 19-year old female chimpanzee, who has been taught to chain smoke. One of the guests, Washington Post, sportswriter Liz Clarke, objects, describing it as “a horrid story.” But that is just the beginning. Eventually Nigel aka Marc Sterne gets to the North Koreans putting lions and tigers into the same cage, staging, as Washington Post political columnist Chris Cilizza terms it, “Godzilla versus Mothra” style gladiatorial matches. Clarke decries this practice as “so appalling.” Even Tony jumps off the bandwagon at this point.
Personally, I have never been a big fan of zoos. I suppose that I understand their rationale in the modern world where urbanized humans have lost touch with nature. Still, they remind me too much of jails.
That, in turn, reminded me of a discussion I participated in at a conference on North Korean human rights at Catholic University two days earlier. During the final panel, some of the attendees started trying to draw a distinction between group and individual rights, and arguing that while the preservation of individual rights might not be so good in North Korea, group rights are important yadda yadda yadda. And it’s true, our conceptions of human rights are culturally specific. But at some point, the violation of rights is so profound—say incarcerating three generations because someone sat on a newspaper printed with a photograph of the Dear Young Marshall or whatever he is now called—that I think that we can all agree that it is a violation of basic human rights, or at least basic human decency, without even referencing the international covenants that North Korea has signed. Perhaps it is a stretch, but a political culture that embodies complete obeisance to a near-deified supreme leader, is a culture of such instrumentality that its national capital’s public zoo pits captive animals against one another while teaching others to chain-smoke for human amusement. Our choices today may not be what most of us would like. But at least we have some agency and some capacity to make our voices heard. Make those choices today wisely. Regardless of who the North Koreans have endorsed.