MORRISSEY: Kim Jong-un using attention-seeking Rodman for regime legitimacy
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist January 6, 2014 11:33PM
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Updated: January 7, 2014 12:23AM
A good amount of dumb people populate the planet. That might sound harsh, but it’s an evolutionary truth: Not everyone can be smart, in the same way that not everyone can be athletic or musical.
Still, there is something very unsettling about the critical mass of dumb that has been reached by a group of former NBA players scheduled to play a basketball game in North Korea for dictator Kim Jong-un on Wednesday.
We expect this kind of thing from ringleader Dennis Rodman, who will do anything to stay in the spotlight, even if it means hanging out with the leader of a brutal regime. But seven other former NBA players thought this was a good idea? The mind reels at the ignorance of Kenny Anderson, Vin Baker, Cliff Robinson, Charles Smith, Craig Hodges, Doug Christie and Sleepy Floyd, who reportedly will compete.
The latest reports about Kim are all over the map — that he executed his uncle last month by “traditional means,’’ according to the New York Times, or by feeding him to 120 starving dogs with 300 officials watching, according to a China-associated Hong Kong newspaper. I’ll put my trust in the Times, which also reported that some of the uncle’s associates were executed by antiaircraft guns. Talk about bringing a pistol to a peashooter fight.
Rodman’s relationship with the dictator has been well-documented. Kim became a huge Bulls fan growing up in his shunned nation, and years later, Rodman found a way to fill the Michael Jordan-sized hole in the dictator’s heart.
In the same way the world isolates North Korea as paranoid and dangerous, so most of us have tended to isolate Rodman as nothing more than an attention-seeking missile.
But this isn’t funny anymore.
Neither are the seven players who traveled with him to North Korea. It’s almost impossible to make an argument that the trip is a good idea. Not even the notion that sports can bring people together works here. It runs right into a wall of repression, political prison camps and murder inside North Korea. It leaves a bloody streak down that wall.
Jang Song-thaek, Kim’s uncle, reportedly was executed for trying to overthrow the government. The state media referred to Jang as a “despicable political careerist and trickster” guilty of “thrice-cursed acts of treachery.” You can laugh at the buffoonish pomposity of the words, but the reality of the situation will stop you in mid-guffaw.
A former guard at one of the massive political prison camps recently told Amnesty International that prisoners there are forced to dig their own graves.
Our NBA “diplomats” are tacitly approving of that brutality by stepping foot in North Korea and playing a game for Kim’s enjoyment. How any one of them could not see what this really is — Kim using Rodman’s pathetic need for attention to help give the regime legitimacy — takes greed, coldness or complete ignorance. I’ll be kind and go with Door No. 3.
On the farthest edge of reason, we’re being asked to put faith in the idea that Rodman & Co. can make U.S.-North Korea relations better. Some people are taking the approach that the idea is so crazy it just might work, but I’d prefer to let trained diplomats handle diplomacy and Rodman handle a Kardashian or two. I’m old-fashioned that way.
“Dear Leader,’’ meanwhile, continues to rattle his saber.
“The U.S. and South Korean war maniacs have deployed legions of equipment for a nuclear war in and around the Korean Peninsula and are going frantic in their military exercises for a nuclear war against the North,” he said in a speech last week. “This precipitates a critical situation where any accidental military skirmish may lead to an all-out war.”
He added, “Should another war break out on this land, it will result in a deadly nuclear catastrophe and the United States will never be safe.”
Sure, this kind of situation calls for Sleepy Floyd’s unique ability to tamp down international tensions.
There is nobody to blame here other than the people involved. The NBA can’t do anything about it. The U.S. State Department can’t, either. They can only shake their heads at the embarrassment of it all.
But, apparently, we are completely misreading North Korea and its leader.
“The marshal is actually trying to change this country in a great way,” Rodman said of Kim. “I think people thought that this was a joke, and Dennis Rodman is just doing this because of fame and fortune.”
Oh, no, who ever would have thought that?