World — December 19, 2011 12:57 am

A Year for Killing Dictators?


North Korean state television announced tonight that Kim Jong-Il has died mid-train ride – according to the announcer, of fatigue resulting from “physical and mental overwork“. Indeed, Kim Jong-Il was rather old, and strained under the burden of a stroke which he probably suffered in 2008.

Fatigue is about the most natural cause of death I can think of. Nonetheless, in the past few hours, Kim Jong-Il’s death has repeatedly been compared to the recent politicized deaths of other anti-American global leaders. For example, a Facebook status: “Kim Jong-Il added to the list of terrorists dead this year.” Another: “This has been a busy year for killing dictators.” And a tweet, shown below. (Hilarious.)

I can’t claim to understand the circumstances behind Kim’s death, or the political consequences that will follow. No matter what, it will undoubtedly spark some amount of political upset and instability in North Korea and the surrounding region. Either way, Kim Jong-Il’s death marks yet another change in a global political scene undergoing rapid transformation, generally for the better.

However, celebrating “death from fatigue” as a victory for America and our war on terrorism is nonsensical. Moreover, Kim Jong-Il is not the same as Muammar Qaddafi, not the same as Saddam Hussein, and certainly not the same as Osama bin Laden. Grouping these men together problematically conflates non-governmental terrorist groups with totalitarian regimes. It conflates America’s military actions with the actions of independent political movements. And worst of all, it glorifies the death of individuals as a politically significant and commendable task for a government to engage in.

As of now, there have been no nation-wide rallies in the streets to celebrate this latest death of an “American public enemy.” However, videos and photographs mocking North Korea’s former leader have quickly gone viral online, ranging from the North Korea Party Rock Anthem to a tumblr of photos of Kim Jong-Il looking at things. In the wake of his death, Kim has become a meme for the American teenagers to giggle at while procrastinating on their final papers. He was a brutal dictator who caused immense loss of life and livelihood for millions of people, many of whom apparently did and presumably still idolize him. I could be convinced otherwise, but the memeification of a recently-dead dictator doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Please, let’s denounce human rights abuses. Let’s call for an end to unnecessary poverty and economic exploitation, for the downfall of totalitarianism and dictatorship and militarization, for the dethroning of super-powerful and scary political leaders. But again, let’s not celebrate death, or mock it. And most of all, let’s not conflate Kim Jong-Il’s death with the armed assassinations carried out by the United States military or rebel groups.

Photo credit The Telegraph.

  • Sam Meyer

    I dislike that this glosses over the fact that most of the referenced memeification occurred long before Kim’s death. Perhaps her argument remains (although I would need to be convinced of the equation of lampooning the amusing aspects of the life of a leader and mocking or celebrating their death,) but it makes it harder to take the arguments seriously when their references rely on false factual claims.

  • Guest

    I feel there’s a difference between pointing out the somewhat ironic (and by no means unpleasant) coincidence of a large number of despots and authoritative figures, all of which have committed a host of crimes and human rights abuses, having all died or gotten killed in the same year and equating the health-related death of one with the murders of others. There’s a difference also between poking fun at the someone’s eccentricities via meme and actively “disrespecting the dead” (not to mention, that as was pointed out, most of the memes mentioned in this article were created before his death). And there’s a difference between not especially mourning the death of one of the modern era’s worse dictators and hoping/even expecting it to lead to better things for a country that has so long lived in the worst of possible conditions and actively celebrating the death of a human being. Moreover, I’m fairly confident that most people are aware of these difference and were they given something longer than a fb status to express what they thought about what the man’s death wouldn’t reduce it to “yet another terrorist dead this year.”
    In your hurry to release this article and with a hasty, somewhat self-righteous attitude, it seems you forgot to consider these things. Or even to take a moment and look at a youtube date.

  • Guest 2

    “Many that live deserve death. And some who die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – Mithrandir

  • Matt Moore

    Gandalf, aka Mirhrandir: [to Pippin] Fool of a Took. Throw yourself in next time, and rid us of your stupidity.

  • Peter

    The memeification of KJI helps in both coping with the grave threat posed by the North Korean state to world stability (if not necessarily the US, it certainly poses a threat to millions of Koreans, both North and South) and can help draw attention to his brutal tactics. The best fusion of the two was the Vice Guide to North Korea, where a guy from NYC went into North Korea and filmed it. It juxtaposes the bizarrely austere totalitarianism of the DPRK with the ridiculousness of the surroundings. Both funny and provocative, it sheds light on the deeper issue that this is one seriously fucked up state.

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  • OfficialPro

    …they’re letting stone cold newbs write for Harvard Political Review. Gawd help us.

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