Upon hearing of the death of Kim Jong-il – the Guiding Sun Ray, the Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander, the Count of Monte Fist-o – I had some conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he was a despicable, egomaniacal dictator responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent Koreans. On the other hand…wait, there’s another hand? How can there possibly be another hand?
I’d have to say that, of all the psychotic, marauding dictators of the world, Kim Jong-il was the one I could best identify with. If the Make-A-Wish Foundation could plumb the deepest, darkest depths of my id and ask it to live out its own fantasy for a day, I’m sure my id would jump at the chance to spend a day as Kim Jong-il. In his regime I can see some of my own most wretched fantasies and insecurities taken to their horrifying conclusion. That certainly doesn’t excuse his atrocities, but it does speak to the danger of a nation controlled by one man’s id run amok.
Each dictator rules his people through some mix of fear and adulation. Though they couldn’t long survive without a little of both, every despot seems to veer toward one particular side of the fear-love spectrum. On the fear side, you have the swarthy military strongman – a badass, made-for-Chuck-Norris super-villain, decked out in fatigues and aviators, sporting an AK-47 inone hand and his dick in the other. These are the James Dean dictators: the ones who couldn’t possibly care less what the world thinks of them; the ones who scream “come at me, bro” in their respective languages; the kind of guys who could get the girl even without threatening and torturing her parents, but who torture her parents anyway just for shits and giggles.
As for me, I just can’t identify personally with these jocks of the despot world. My man Kim, on the other hand, definitely tilted toward the other end of the spectrum: the Cult of Personality type – or C.O.P. for short. Sure, Kim Jong-il never missed a chance to burn accused conspirators alive in his soccer stadium, but his government seemed to revel in leading the world in propaganda and hero worship. The man clearly had a desperate, neurotic need to be loved – like a despotic Woody Allen.
So what will be the final legacy of Kim Jong-il? Will it be his acquisition of nuclear weapons? I sincerely doubt it: we in the West seem to be suffering from a bit of “Nuke Fatigue.” After all, we knew he was developing them for years, and we only kinda, sorta gave a shit. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and we give even less of a shit about that – despite the fact that they suffer a military coup about every five years, a good portion of their territory is virtually ungovernable, Osama bin Laden hid out there undisturbed for a decade, and there’s a decent chance they start a full-on war with India by the time I finish typing this sentence.
Will he be remembered for the devastating famine of the 1990’s which killed an estimated 400,000 – 800,000 people? Doubtful. I don’t even remember that happening at all. I guess that, between O.J. and Monica Lewinsky, the media just didn’t have a lot of time to report on it. Also, the history of the 20th century has taught me that totalitarian government-driven famines are pretty easy to sweep under the rug. Hell, I hear they’re even rehabilitating Stalin in Russian history books. You thinkNorth Korea can’t pull that trick? Their government propaganda makes Russian government propaganda look like PBS.
Sadly, he won’t even be remembered best for his “mini-Elvis” style: jumpsuit and pompadour and what-have-you. That style already belonged to Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis. What he will be remembered for is his awesome and extensive list of titles:
Let’s break down down…and damn, are there a lot of them:
Center of the Party, Superior Person, Dear Leader, Respected Leader, Wise Leader, Brilliant Leader, Unique Leader, Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have, Commander-in-Chief, Great Leader, Father of the People, Sun of the Communist Future, Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Guiding Ray of Sun, Leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Guarantee of the Fatherland’s Unification, Symbol of the Fatherland’s Unification, Fate of the Nation, Beloved Father, Leader of the Party, of the country, and of the Army, Leader, General, Great Leader of our Party and of our Nation, Great General, Beloved and Respected General, Great Leader, Beloved and Respected Leader, Invincible and Iron-Willed Commander, Sun of Socialism, Sun of the Nation, The Great Sun of Life, Great Sun of The Nation, Father of the Nation, World’s Leader of The 21st Century, Peerless Leader, Bright Sun of the 21st Century, Great Sun of the 21st Century, Leader of the 21st Century, Amazing politician, Great Man Who Descended From Heaven, Glorious General Who Descended From Heaven, Supreme Leader of the Nation, Bright Sun of Juche, Leader of the Party and the People, Great Marshal, Invincible and All-triumphant General, Beloved and Respected Father, Guiding Star of the 21st Century, Great Man, Who Is a Man of Deeds, Great Defender, Savior, Mastermind of the Revolution, Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love, His Excellency
By official count, Kim Jong-il had more nicknames than all nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan combined. And, as the world’s foremost expert on North Koreaand the Wu-Tang, I can tell you that is no small feat! But what do all these names say about the man and his government?
Sure, obsessive nicknaming worked for the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but it isn’t necessarily a healthy habit for the leader of a modern nation-state. It seems to me one of the fundamental flaws in the communist ideology is that the development of any communist state will inexorably lead to authoritarian rule by some douche who spends an inordinate amount of time manufacturing new titles for himself. Over-titling is a serious character flaw for any leader: a leader whose claim to authority is weak will stack title upon title in a desperate reach for legitimacy. We’ve all played that stacking game before – it’s called “Jenga”, and it doesn’t end well.
This over-titling affects nations as well as leaders. What, after all, is in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Would a republic by any other name smell any less like bullshit? Many of us have become wary of nations who pile needless adjectives in front of the word “Republic” in their title. It is much the same sensation which leads you to clutch your wallet a little tighter when walking into “Honest Larry’s Discount Stereo.” Some adjectives are better left implied.
Do you really need to call your republic a People’s republic? I doubt the rest of the world will see your republic as decidedly more people-y. And let’s not forgot the country formerly known asZaire: their decision to change their name to the Democratic Republic of Congo heralded a new era of democracy and republicanism – if, by “democracy” you mean “genocide”, and by “republicanism” you mean “mass rape.”
Call me crazy, but the “Republic”-preceding adjective I find least annoying is “Islamic” – as in The Islamic Republic of Iran.” Say what you want aboutIran, but they don’t bullshit you with their name. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into: Islam, and lots of it!
As for my man Kim Jong-il, his nation managed the Double Whammy: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). You mean to tell me that there’s a republican government out there that is some kind of people democracy? Sign me up!
Some titles are clearly the byproduct of running a communist state (ex: Center of the Party), while others seem inappropriately passed down from his father, Kim Il-sung (Mastermind of the Revolution). It’s helpful to remember that he inherited this cult from his father. He went to school with other North Korean children, and indoctrinated with the idea that Kim Il-sung – his father – was essentially a deity. Going through school as short, pudgy boy, like Kim Jong-il, can be no picnic; I know from experience. Now imagine for a moment that the short, pudgy boy was placed in a school where his classmates were taught every day that he was the son of God. That’s every short, pudgy boy’s dream! Forget my old fantasy of becoming captain of the football team; I’m the son of God…and nobody gets laid more than the son of God! It is believed that a young Kim Jong-il first garnered favor with his father by directing a movie…about his father. Clearly, this kid new how to play the game: first you make the propaganda, then you get the power, then you get the women.
As for some of the others, they are clearly the work of an insecure little boy with time on his hands and access to a platoon of title-scribes. I get the fact that these communist chairman will call themselves “Dear Leader”, but to keep on riffing with “Respected Leader”, “Wise Leader”, “Brilliant Leader”, “Unique Leader”? And then we come to the piece de resistance: “Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have.” Dude…overkill much? “Perfect incarnations” don’t have to wear platform shoes.
I must admit a certain jealous over all his military titles. I’ve always wanted to be a general…so long as I never had to start at any rank lower than general. I could never possibly do any of the things required in actually achieving the rank of general. On the other hand, being called a general without ever having done anything remotely military is my idea of heaven. And my man Kim did my fantasy one step better – he had the people call him “Invincible and All-triumphant General,” all the while sitting in one of his 17 mansions, drinking the world largest private collection of Hennessey. Take that, every rapper who ever lived!
The more extreme of his titles cross what Whalen Smithers once described as “that line between regular villainy and cartoonish super-villainy.” His gaggle of astrological titles – Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Great Sun of Life – reassure the world that, 2000 years since the last of the pharaohs, a leader can still think of himself as a sun god. And that’s a comforting thought…isn’t it? We live in a world of increasing religious fanaticism, with more and more countries bypassing the old-school dictatorship style in favor of full-on theocracy. I see this as a major problem going forward for two reasons:
- Fighting an army indoctrinated by a cult of personality is much easier than fighting a group of religious fanatics. Not that the C.O.P.’s would be less fanatical – since the Japanese soldiers of WWII seemed more than happy to blow themselves up for the emperor – but that the faith of a religious army has no earthly focus to attack and control. Take, for example, our nation-building efforts in Japanafter WWII. To ensure total Japanese capitulation and cooperation, all we had to do was convince one man, Emperor Hirohito. The Japanese cult of personality, which had compelled Japanese soldiers to fly planes into our ships, eventually turned to our benefit. The Japanese situation was uniquely suited to our army’s occupation: even if the people hated the idea of a foreign army in their country – what country actually would appreciate a foreign occupation – their unflinching loyalty to the emperor paved the way for our successful rebuilding effort. Contrast this with, say, any of the Muslim countries we have occupied, are currently occupying, or soon hope to occupy. Our stated military strategy has been to invade with overwhelming force, remove the unfavorable government, and then…make them like us? How do we do that? With bribes. But who can we bribe? For every one mullah we bring over to our side, ten more mullahs will make their bones by denouncing us. There is no one focal point for their fanaticism, which leaves you with only three choices when it comes to an occupation: 1. don’t even try it. 2. kill absolutely everyone. 3. find a way to bribe God.
- Compared to a cult of personality, a theocracy is flat-out boring. Let’s say for a minute that you have the choice to rule as a theocrat or rule as a C.O.P dictator. First, you can obviously throw the needs of the people right out the window: they’ll suffer in either type of government. Instead, try to focus on which type of government would be more fun. In a theocracy, you’re nothing but a priest or a mullah. Sure, the Ayatollah might have absolute power, and he and his family might have billions stashed in some Swiss bank accounts, but he still must appear to be a humble servant of God. And what fun is it for someone with that my power to appear to be a humble servant of anyone? Why not simply declare yourself the sun god instead?
So goodbye, Kim Jong-il – Your Excellency, Peerless Leader, Last King of Scotland, Iron Lion of Zion. And may your awesome titles live much longer than your actual political influence on that poor country you so repeatedly violated.
 Try to guess which of those titles are real and which were taken from Apollo Creed.
 Don’t confuse this C.O.P. with the C.O.P. program from Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.
 …thereby creating the greatest home-field advantage in world soccer. Ever wonder howNorth Korea qualified for the last World Cup? Well, their home record was pretty damn good, playing in Rungrado Stadium – which holds up to 150,000 North Korean fans whose lives may-or-may-not depend on the game’s outcome, and people are burned alive in mass public executions.
 One more thing Kim Jong-il and Woody Allen had in common: a love of young Korean girls. Burn, Woody Allen!
 Illogical titles such as this are the reason I wouldn’t have lasted two days as a North Korean. I don’t think I could’ve held back my incredulity: “How the hell was he the Mastermind of the Revolution? His father masterminded the revolution before he was even born! Was he masterminding the revolution as a sperm, plotting from within his father’s gonads?” I have the same feeling whenever I hear that nepotistic, no-talent ass clown Joe Buck pilfer his legendary father’s famous catchphrases on air. Yes, I’m equating Joe Buck with Kim Jong-il…and I’m surprised I didn’t do it sooner.
 Unique Leader certainly doesn’t translate well into English: sounds too much like “Special Leader.” Once the world finds out you’re a Special Leader, they’ll only let you participate in the Special UN.