Monday, March 11, 2013

Wisdom And Insanity From 'The Worm'

While today, many of our cohorts in the media will be discussing with feigned seriousness President Obama's humorous jab at GOP Sen. Marco Rubio this past weekend at the annual Gridiron Club Dinner, we thought we'd aim a bit higher this morning, at a topic just a tad more important.

For example, nuclear war.

If you've been a bit busy dealing with the final winter blast of the season, as many Americans in the plains and Northeast have, you may have missed the latest news coming from the Korean peninsula, halfway around the world.

We're not talking about the recent visit to North Korea by former NBA star Dennis Rodman, also known by his nickname 'The Worm'. For all his ridiculous stammering and half-baked assertions, after his return to the U.S., Rodman did make a serious point about North Korea. Backed up by comments from well-known, successful diplomat and former U.N. Ambassador, Bill Richardson, Rodman's point appeared to be that regardless of how frustrating North Korea's leaders may be, America can't just walk away and isolate the government there.

That said, the North Korean government's growing experimentation with nuclear weapons, combined with its belligerence towards both it's Southern rival and the U.S., has many international political watchers on the verge of ducking for cover. What's more, North Korea's suicidal bluster about using nuclear weapons appears to be generating new interest among South Koreans to develop their own nuclear weapons programs.

It's at times like this when it becomes incredibly handy to have someone skilled with languages on our staff.

In translating between Western English and Korean, one possible conversion of the word 'suicidal' translates to "self-determination" - a trait many in the West not only appreciate, but laud as the goal of all free people.

Regardless of how Westerners see them, North Koreans are a very proud people, who on their few occasions to communicate with the West often proudly assert their self-determination with no help from their state media minders. It's easy to see how what we rightly perceive as suicidal behavior may literally be seen by North Koreans as simply asserting their rights as a freedom-loving people.

North Koreans, however are not truly free.

As Korean studies experts Ellen Kim and Carolyn Marie Dumond noted on CNN.com last week, life for the average North Korean has never been great - and now conditions are getting even more brutal. The levels of famine and starvation in North Korea are virtually unimaginable to most other people on Earth. The levels of civil rights violations are also astoundingly appalling.

North Korea's human rights violations have become so heinous, both Japan and the European Union begin proceedings today, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, to call for an official international inquiry into possible crimes against humanity by the North Korean government. This is on top of the sanctions authorized last week by the U.N. Security Council, in a unanimous vote, imposed on North Korea for holding its third IAEA unapproved nuclear weapons test in February.

Even China - for many years one of North Korea's only official international connections - backed the U.N. sanctions, and is now taking a harder line with North Korea. China is not abandoning their relationship with North Korea, but sources say things have grown "icy" between the two nations diplomatically since February's nuclear test.

All of which may simply make it easier for a more isolated North Korea to look at firing nuclear weapons as a solution, and not as the disaster it most certainly would be.

Crazy as he may seem at times, Dennis Rodman's point about keeping communications lines open with North Korea may have been one of the wisest things he's ever said - though we can't say we'd recommend him for our next U.N. Ambassador.

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