Dennis Rodman understands that Kim Jong-Un cannot meet with him every time he goes to North Korea. After all, Rodman told the AP, “he has another greater job to do for his country.” What Rodman doesn’t say–and tacitly endorses–is that Kim’s current “job” has been executing and arresting hundreds of his family members.
Rodman flew out of North Korea Monday after a brief trip to train the glorious North Korean basketball forces for an upcoming exhibition game to celebrate the birth of history’s greatest leader, the noble and strong Kim Jong-Un. At least, this is how we must imagine the official state news release to read, because Rodman did not even merit a mention in the Korean Central News Agency’s briefings, when just last February Rodman’s “excitement that his impressive Pyongyang visit is quite satisfactory” merited an extensive report detailing his interactions with “the dear respected Marshal.” Such a lack of news adds insult to injury when coupled with Rodman’s inability to even meet with Kim Jong-Un, though Rodman has been forgiving in interviews.
“No, I’m not worried about it. I’ll see him again,” Rodman said Monday during a transfer in Beijing out of the country, calling the basketball players he is training “awesome” and noting that he will be back in North Korea very soon. He said earlier this week that his “job” as basketball ambassador to arguably the world’s most oppressive regime is to get Americans to “say nice things” about DPRK.
His other job, of course, is to make money. His trips are sponsored by Paddy Power, an online betting corporation that allows Rodman to experience the luxury Pyongyang reserves only for its most powerful. It keeps Rodman in the headlines, lets him travel to exotic lands, and makes him fodder for silly advertisements. It’s a good gig, if you can get it.
Rodman often obscures this financial and media angle to his trips by saying something to the effect that he thinks his “basketball diplomacy” can open cultures and unite people. He has ignored calls to speak out against North Korean oppression, even from those personally oppressed by the regime. What goes the most obscured by Rodman’s antics, however, is the business Kim Jong-Un conducts while he is there. While the international media has been dazzled by the bizarre friendship between the basketball player and the tyrant, the latter has been flooding his labor camps and firing squad walls with his own family.
After executing his uncle and #2 in command of the nation, Jang Song-Thaek, for “treason” and various infractions that made him, according to the no-longer-existent press release, “worse than a dog,” Kim appears to be finishing the job by targeting Jang’s family. According to a media outlet run by North Korean defectors, state security agents arrived in the neighborhood of Pyongyang inhabited by much of the Jang family the day after Jang Song-Thaek was executed and shipped hundreds away. It is still unclear how many are being sent to the country’s notorious labor camps and how many will simply be killed.
Not that Kim has stopped at simply terrorizing his political family (Jang was married to Kim’s aunt, who some speculate orchestrated the purge). Kim has also spent some time sending faxes to his neighbors to the south, threatening “merciless retaliation without warning” because some people in South Korea staged an anti-North Korean protest. South Korea responded in kind, promising “resolute punishment.”
The news that would have been exclusively taking headlines regarding North Korea were it not for Dennis Rodman shows that yes, Rodman is correct that Kim appears to be working hard at whatever he thinks his job is in Pyongyang. Rodman’s understanding that Kim was too busy with national security affairs to see him legitimizes this behavior and treats Kim’s rule as a type of state leadership that the world should accept. Granted, Rodman can only endorse North Korea to the extent that an endorsement from Dennis Rodman legitimizes anything, but it raises alarming questions about his character and the power the media gives him through their coverage that someone can appear so morally bankrupt standing next to Kim Jong-Un.