By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Although I absolutely love my job, I occasionally update my resume to track milestones and achievements. How should I categorize this? I have been included on former North Korean leader “Kim Jong-il’s Official Enemies List.”
There are 30 of us on the list, including former U.S. President George W. Bush and former Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Nikita Khrushchev. Just two enemies list names above my own: Former South Korean President Kim Young-sam, on page 417 of the hilarious new book, “Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong-il.” According to the book cover, everything, as dictated to celebrity ghostwriter Michael Malice, who never met Kim Jong-il, is 100 percent “TRUE”!
I wish I had thought to write such a book. Several years ago, I joked about editing a collection of laugh-out-loud dispatches of the North Korean propaganda machine 1) flattering the Kim dictators and 2) flattening South Korean puppets and American imperialists. But I realized that I might end up on an enemies list ― of South Korea’s National Security Act.
Writers using irony about a nation’s enemy are running through minefields. The commentary that filled my in-box with the angriest responses was my Korea Times column “I Believe.” I mentioned various North Korean terrorist acts, then made tongue-in-cheek excuses for North Korea. Progressive friends soft on North Korea were elated, hoping that I had finally seen the errors of my previous ways.
North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov says analysts trying to understand North Korea should evaluate it from the perspective of North Korea. “Dear Reader” does a reductio ad absurdum, dead-panning the Dear Leader’s words to hilariously present them as undisputed history. Malice uses original sources ― Kim Jong-il books he collected during a trip to North Korea ― to take on the dead dictator’s persona, humbly basking in the sunshine of his own lifelong brilliance.
Malice starts “Dear Reader” with Kim Jong-il recalling his own birth, writing, “I remember the day that I was born perfectly.” As a youngster, the future dictator admired his own academic excellence, but he was most proud of “how skilled I grew at fixing my fellow children.” He continued “fixing” everyone ― school teachers, professors, party leaders, artists, musicians, writers, movie directors ― with his endless insights.
He was vigilante about eliminating wrong-thinking, wrong ideas, and opposing ideas through public executions or hard labor (after all, opposing ideas=wrong ideas). He claimed to master “time-shrinking” ― although he was more skilled at shrinking the economy and North Koreans (who reportedly are 1 to 3 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts).
Even Muhammad Ali, during his heyday as the loquacious heavyweight boxing champion, didn’t pour syrup on himself to the level Kim Jong-il sweetened up himself. The dead dictator didn’t claim to float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, but he did write, “I remembered everything I saw and perceived 10 things when I heard one. I was so profound that all my utterances were original, novel and inventive.” Oh, except that every profound utterance was due to his father, the Great Leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung.
Malice peers into the brain of Kim Jong-il, but also gives a glimpse of what it must be like to grow up under rulers who are never wrong, never in doubt, always outmaneuver the well-fed puppets and rich imperialists ― and won’t change the subject about their benevolence and genius. I had a new appreciation for those brave souls who ignore the round-the-clock propaganda and escape past armed guards. I also wanted to hug those poorly funded NGOs in South Korea who send information via shortwave radio, USB drives, CDs into North Korea. North Koreans need to hear opposing ― wrong ― views.
“Dear Reader” is a good reminder that my North Korean refugee friends now in South Korea were constantly taught that Americans started the “Fatherland Liberation War,” are blood-thirsty and immoral.
Oh, and that Americans smell. When North Korea seized the USS Pueblo in 1968, Kim Jong-il was informed that the captured Americans “smell,” even after taking showers. Worse, they “want to have sex with each other.” That was that, Kim was ready to send them back. “The American depravity knows no limits.”
“Dear Reader” reminded me that I have already been on enemies’ lists ― of the North Korean refugees, before they escaped. Now, I help some improve their English as co-director of the English Matching Project, I have numerous refugee friends, and I am a proud member of the “Kim Jong-il official enemies list.”
When I told a refugee friend about being on the list, she gushed: “Awesome!” In addition to updating my resume, I wish I could capture the importance of that endorsement in a reference.
P.S., to my own dear readers: Malice’s “enemies list” is really his “acknowledgements” page.
The writer is the director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Original Korea Times link