North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch North Korean and U.S. players in an exhibition basketball game at an arena in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly HBO series. (AP Photo/VICE Media, Jason Mojica) ORG XMIT: XDG802
Updated: May 3, 2013 6:12AM
Last year I fled south to Austin, Texas, to escape Chicago’s miserable winters. Little did I know that my move would place me in the crosshairs of possible nuclear annihilation. Or not.
Maybe all I’ve done is replace Chicago’s bone-numbing wind chill with the mind-numbing bluster of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who’s been threatening to aim a nuclear missile at Austin.
Belligerent, saber-rattling rhetoric erupts daily from Pyongyang. Among recent rantings from Kim are a declaration that the Korean peninsula is in “a state of war,” orders to shut down a border factory operated with South Korea in what had been a symbol of rapprochement and easing of tension, and threats to rain nuclear missiles on American cities “as well as all enemy targets in South Korea.”
Unfortunately, such tirades can’t be ignored. Kim, age 29 or 30, has been in power only a little more than a year since being anointed “Great Successor” after his father “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il died. He may be just trying to consolidate his authority or lure the United States into resuming negotiations or granting economic aid.
But history shows North Korea can strike rashly and violently. In 2010, a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean naval ship, killing 46 sailors. Later that year, North Korean artillery fired volley after volley of shells at a South Korean island, killing four people and injuring 44. Analysts saw both as a tactic by Kim Jong Il to reinforce with the country’s military elites his decision to make his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, heir apparent. Other outrages over the 60 years since the Korean War fighting stopped with a truce have demonstrated the regime’s propensity for unprovoked attacks.
The Obama administration wisely isn’t sloughing off the threat. The Pentagon sent bombers and fighter jets flying over the region in military exercises to remind Kim of the awesome reach of American power.
While Kim could make trouble for South Korea or Japan, his nuclear weapons and missile technology likely aren’t advanced enough to pose a threat to U.S. soil. What got a good bit of attention, though, was that his list of potential targets seemed (the details were a little hazy) to include — in addition to such obvious ones as Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles — the Texas capital of Austin, the fastest growing large metropolitan area in America and, thanks to its low unemployment rate, high-tech jobs and famous music culture, a magnet for college graduates.
Why? Serious speculation observed Austin is home to a major facility of South Korean electronics giant Samsung. Other conjecture noted the city is within an easy drive of former President George W. Bush’s ranch.
Texans and their media had a field day with more whimsical explanations. Kim was out to short circuit a 2016 presidential bid by Gov. Rick Perry. Kim couldn’t get in to see Grumpy Cat at the South by Southwest music festival. Austin American-Statesman columnist John Kelso quipped that Kim showed up at one of the city’s prominent parties to be told, “Hey, that’s a great costume. You look just like that idiot in North Korea.”
The bumper sticker commandment in these parts is: “Keep Austin Weird!” With his attempt to replicate his father’s bizarre appearance, his Mao suit, a TV performance with Disney characters and The Onion naming him the “sexiest man alive for 2012,” Kim fits the description of weird. Maybe that’s the most serious damage he can inflict on Austin — give being weird a bad name.