- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
Kudos to Secretary Clinton who, having returned to the spotlight with a vengeance (she is finally getting an hour on “Meet the Press” this Sunday all to herself), has also restored some life to the war of words between the United States and North Korea. After all, if one is going to have a war of words, by all means use sharp, colorful words and, if possible, demeaning imagery. Muss up the other guy’s hair (although admittedly when dealing with Kim Jong Il that’s almost impossible to do). Make him feel small (which, in contrast, is fairly easy to do with Kim). Make it interesting to read about in the press. Avoid the constant quest for convoluted blandness that makes U.N. broadsides at North Korea so much more effective than serotonin as a sleep aid.
America’s feisty secretary of state launched the current battle when she suggested that her experience as a mother had prepared her to deal with the likes of the North Koreans, recommending that they be ignored like “small children or unruly teenagers.” While you’ve got to wonder how Chelsea felt, being compared to the deranged nuke-wielding ruler of a nation of zombie-slaves, her comments obviously struck a nerve with the Dear Leader.
No doubt drawing on his extensive training in rhetoric and stand-up comedy at the University of Malta (training ground for all of Malta’s best comics), Kim fired back with the tell-tale wit that once had him referred to as “the anti-factionalist Oscar Wilde of Baekdu Mountain” until someone discovered who Oscar Wilde was and the guy who invented the nickname was dropped out of a Russian helicopter into the Amnok River. (Wilde, meanwhile, might have called North Korean official efforts at humor “the unspeakable in pursuit of the unattainable.”)
The North Korean riposte to Clinton’s barb was “We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.” This is certainly one of the best nasty communiqués in recent history and may, quite possibly be the apotheosis of North Korean literature. The “funny lady” insult shows boldness and a real understanding of what ultimately ruined Barbra Streisand’s career. (Funny Girl good, Funny Lady not so much.) But the “primary schoolgirl”–“pensioner going shopping” thing was so evocative. Yikes. “Primary schoolgirl” is practically a compliment (at least it probably is in the mind of yet another Clinton) but “pensioner going shopping?!” It’s so catty that Kim Jong Il should immediately be made the star of “The Real Housewives of Pyongyang” or at least be forced to add the full archive of past episodes of “The View” to his extensive video collection.
From what deep void within does such vitriol flow? Well, it is hinted at in the only major movie to effectively depict the real Kim Jong Il, a movie so accurate when it comes to his character that it would easily have won the Academy Award for Best Documentary were it not for the fact that all the major characters in the movie were, in fact, played by puppets. That movie, now shown as a training film at the East Asian Bureau in the State Department, is of course, Team America: World Police. In it, this is how Kim unburdens himself, describing the emptiness that ultimately had him lashing out at Hillary as though he were Maureen Dowd back in the days when the mere mention of a Clinton would have her howling at the moon.
I’m so Ronery / So ronery / So ronery and sadry arone / There’s no one / Just me onry / Sitting on my rittle throne / I work rearry hard and make up get prans / but, nobody listens, no one understands / Seems rike no one takes me serirousry / And so, I’m ronery / A rittle ronery / Poor rittle me / There’s no one I can rerate to / Feewr rike a biwd in a cage / It’s kinda siwry / but, not reawry / because, it’s fiwring my body with rage / I’m the smartest, most crever, most physicawry fit / but, nobody erse seems to rearrize it / When I can the worrd maybe they’rr notice me / And untiwr then, I’wr be ronery / Yeaaaaah, a rittle ronery / Poor rittle me…
And then, of course, at a different point in a movie full of high points, he reveals the source of his frustration, in words that speak to everyone, especially most of the bloggers I know…
Kim Jong Ill:
Why is everyone so fucking stupid? Why can’t more people be interrigent, like me?
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images