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.