The open competition of crying is at full pitch in Pyongyang. The North Korean masses are wailing away at the passing of Dear Leader Kim Jong il. He leaves behind a legacy of platform shoes, puffy hair, Swedish hookers, a vast cognac collection, ostrich farms — and oh, maybe a million famine deaths.
In the mid 90s, after decades of mismanagement and the collapse of Soviet aid, starvation killed approximately 1 million North Koreans. Kim Jong il responded to the crisis quickly — executing the minister of agriculture. Peasants starved in the countryside while Kim Jong il was ordering his cabinet members to get jiggy on stage with naked disco dancers (Kim Jong’s personal dance troupe called the “Entourage of Delight”).
Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi had their idiosyncrasies, but Kim Jong il put both of them to shame. Following a horse riding accident, Kim Jong il was prescribed pain-killing injections. He lined up five staff members and had them injected every time he was. The reason? Kim simply wanted to ensure that if he became addicted to painkillers, he wouldn’t be the only one.
In addition to killing the agriculture minister, Kim reacted to the unmentionable famine by placing an emphasis on farming. With only a fifth of mountainous North Korea’s land suitable for cultivation, Kim looked past the usual suspects: corn, potatoes and rice. In a backward moment of forward-thinking, he chose ostrich farming as the food salvation of the masses. Purchased in Africa at $1,000 per bird, a huge flock of ostriches arrived in North Korea — and they’re still there, 10,000 strong. Today, ostrich sausage highlights the menus of some of Pyongyang’s finest restaurants — but as for all those hungry peasants, they’ve never tasted ostrich meat and never will.
With 2012 bearing down: Kim Jong il is enshrined in a glass coffin; sales of platform shoes have dipped; the ostrich colony is faring well; and according to the United Nations, about 6 million North Koreans are in dire need of food aid. 2011 was a cruel year for North Korea — floods and freezing temperatures were devastating to an already ill agriculture industry.
With North Korean leaders appealing for aid, the international community is watching and waiting. Despite peasants staring at empty rice bowls, military conscripts seem to be doing just fine — bowls filled. It costs a lot for the North Koreans to fling missiles over Japan, so the West is a bit skeptical. Brings to mind the twisted games Iraq used to play: It was only a few years back that Iraqi officials gave guided tours of packed-out hospitals full of malnourished children — all the while with Saddam building palaces, gold-plating pistols and smoking Cubans.
Safe money says that when the crying competition is over, Kim Jong il’s youngest son, Kim Jong un, will take over by default. In 2001, Kim Jong il’s oldest son, Kim Jong nam, was caught sneaking into Japan with a fake passport from the Dominican Republic. 30 years old at the time, he swore to Japanese authorities he’d come to visit Tokyo Disneyland. After that debacle, he was demoted by his enraged daddy — permanently. No doubt a humiliated Kim Jong il grabbed a tall bottle of cognac, kicked off his elevator shoes, and ordered his “Entourage of Delight” to start dancing.
The bizarre spectacle will probably play on regardless of which son is in charge. Hopefully Kim Jong un’s vision for North Korea will take the country beyond naked disco dancers and ostrich farms.