Perhaps it had to be this way. Only Nixon could go to China, and only Rodman could go to North Korea. The weirdest man for the weirdest country, right?
I am nothing if not a child of the ‘90s, so I vaguely remember Rodman’s time in the NBA, especially his stint in Chicago: the successive rebounding titles, the freakish 72-10 regular season record in ’95-6, the pink hair and piercings. I also remember that on the playground and in gym class whenever someone did something unsportsmanlike — threw a dodge ball at somebody’s back or kicked a soccer ball too hard in the direction of a girl — we would all say, “Don’t be queer like Rodman.” We had no idea what it meant to be queer, but we knew that it had something to do with a man posing in a bridal gown and that it was, distinctly, a Bad Thing.
I wonder whether others my age remember this once-popular insult. It definitely wasn’t indigenous to my elementary school, as I discovered when I heard one of my older cousins employ it (“Pokémon? That game’s queerer than Rodman”). Just a piece of lore for the benefit of oral historians.
Speaking of all things oral, I cannot understand why Bill Clinton’s secretary of state is not a member of Rodman’s star-studded Hermit Kingdom delegation. Madeleine Albright certainly knows the lay of the land and would, I think, make an excellent head coach. She might bring Roger Clinton with her to play bass at half time. In fact, it might prove a welcome reprieve for the whole Arkansas clan. Mrs. Clinton is probably still recovering from the verbal spanking administered to her nearly a year ago by the junior senator from Kentucky. A pick-up game plus a state execution or two under the nourishing Pyongyang sun might be worth taking in before Darrell Issa drags her in front of the Oversight Committee, something I expect to see before the midterm election.
Still, I am almost worried about the author of Bad as I Wanna Be. Imagine that Kim Jong-un challenges Rodman to a game of HORSE. Should he lose on purpose? A man who sent his girlfriend to the firing squad and, if reports are to be believed, had his uncle fed to a pack of vicious dogs is unlikely to be gracious in defeat. Even if the Supreme Leader doesn’t have him done in, he might simply ask him to stay, which, if he’s no longer a friend of the regime, would almost be a worse fate. Tuberculosis and malaria are at epidemic levels. Most of the 1.5 million cellphones in the country are used as torches when electrical service is disrupted, as it is every night for most of those lucky enough to have it in the first place. Except for subsistence farming, above-ground economic activity is virtually non-existent in most parts of the country. Most people eat nothing beyond corn and kimchi. More than one third of the country’s children are chronically malnourished. Cannibalism is rearing its head. 10,000 people die every year in North Korean prison camps. A hellish state of affairs presided over by the dictator Rodman calls his “f—ing friend.”
The Worm must be either sociopathically callous or pathetically stupid, and he is probably both. Lady Mosley found Hitler “fascinating,” but at least she was a world-class gardener and an excellent book reviewer. At the insistence of Clement Attlee, that fundamentally decent socialist, she and Sir Oswald spent most of the Second World War imprisoned in Holloway Jail, where they grew their own herbs for cooking and listened to Wagner on a wind-up gramophone. Should we lock up Rodman? We’re not at war with Kim the last time I checked, but in the age of Guantanamo and FISA courts I’m sure something could be worked out.
The situation in North Korea is very sad, and I for one do not think that things there will improve any time soon. War, even if we or our allies could afford it, is no good. The Democratic People’s Republic is the world’s most heavily militarized country by far, with over a third of its population in active or reserve service. And one gets the feeling that these poor souls, who believe that routine ophthalmological procedures performed by visiting Western physicians are miraculous gifts from the Eternal Secretary-General, would fight to the last man for their “Powerful and Prosperous Nation.” Even if it were to prove a quick victory against these underfed, poorly-trained, improperly-equipped men, we do not want hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of bodies on our hands. Nor are the South Koreans very keen on absorbing some 24 million hypothetically free North Koreans into their more or less stable economy.
What’s called for here is shrewd diplomacy, something that has been in short supply from successive post-Cold War White Houses. Which brings us back, of course, to Nixon and his extraordinary work in East Asia. I think that history will be kinder to our 37th president than the seditious potheads and louche journos who despised him.
How will it treat Dennis Rodman?