I’ve been thinking a bit about mortality recently. I’m near the magical age that once was viewed as the normal moment to retire — and when I still must decide about signing up for Medicare. It just can’t be. Obviously, that only applies to, well, you know, old people. And that certainly can’t be me!
Worse, I had knee replacement surgery at the beginning of the month. Nothing life-threatening, of course, but enduring hospital check-ins, wearing medical gowns, suffering IVs, waking in recovery rooms, hobbling around with a walker, and chugging pills. That’s certainly not the way I wanted to spend the holidays.
Then came the weird blood pressure spike that led my in-home physical therapist to threaten to call 911. So did the nurse at his company who he spoke with. I called my GP, who said the issue was worth checking out. So I went to the ER. A few hours and thousands of dollars later I was sent home with more pills. My BP was down and the tests found nothing. My doc, who I saw a couple days later and is monitoring the issue, believes the rise probably reflected my surgery (medications, pain, anxiety, and more can hike BP) and will come down naturally. But now when I feel an errant pain in chest, head, or most anywhere else I imagine a killer blood clot on the move and wonder if I should reach for the phone.
Then I noticed the North Korean commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, the father of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The NORKs, as those of us in “the Korea trade” like to call the North Koreans, take their leader and even late leader worship seriously. So on December 17 an 11-day mourning period was declared.
This is no joke. A North Korean source apparently told Radio Free Asia: “During the mourning period, we must not drink alcohol, laugh or engage in leisure activities.” That’s not all. Birthdays cannot be celebrated and funerals cannot be held. Grocery shopping was banned on the 17th. The informant added: “In the past many people who were caught drinking or being intoxicated during the mourning period were arrested and treated as ideological criminals. They were taken away and never seen again.”
Another anonymous source indicated that the police were specifically tasked with ensuring that North Koreans looked bereaved. No doubt, this might not be easy for people alive during the 1990s when the North’s terrible famine, on Kim Jong-il’s watch, killed at least 500,000 and perhaps millions of people. However, the regime is sending around propaganda teams to use speeches, poetry, and music to promote understanding of Kim’s greatness, or at least his “hard work and dedication” — doing exactly what I’m still not sure — according to another North Korean. Moreover, the police were ready to lend a hand: “From the first day of December, they will have a special duty to crack down on those who harm the mood of collective mourning,” RFA was told.
That’s what I want when I die.
None of this nonsense about people at my think tank continuing to work because “that is what he would have wanted,” the standard refrain offered as to why life should go on after a death. No silliness about my neighbors going about their lives because “he would have wanted us to,” as everyone always says when someone passes away. No schools opening or wheels of commerce turning. No concerts performing, games continuing, championships contending, clubs meeting, and elections proceeding.
I want the world to stop.
At the very least, I want Americans to meet the North Korean standard. Forget the ten year commemoration of my passing. After my death, there will be no laughter, alcohol, or leisure, to start. At least for a month. No birthday celebrations or funerals. No birth announcements or weddings. Certainly no anniversary or graduation parties. Decorum always, with an appropriate look of bereavement. Enforced by a healthy number of gendarmes to ensure proper respect.
Perhaps most important are the propaganda teams.
Truth be told, it’s hard to argue that my writing has set the world on fire. Policy looks pretty much the same as it was before I made my way to Washington in 1980. Ronald Reagan was elected, but I was only a small cog in his election campaign.
Tax rates and regulations were cut but are back on the rise. It’s difficult to claim we are freer today after nearly two years of social controls and lockdowns. Drugs are being legalized, as I long urged, but I wrote most about the issue in the early years — the pre-electronic age for journalism, during which my work has largely disappeared and when progress was minimal. My more recent forays into the issue haven’t received much attention. At least communism is dead, but I lack sufficient shamelessness to claim credit for that grand event. Hundreds of millions of people were freed first because of Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as Reagan and a lot of other people. These days I mostly write about foreign policy, but the war machine rolls ever on, wasting American lives and wealth on stupid foreign misadventures.
At least my record is better than Kim’s. I haven’t left hundreds of thousands or millions of people to starve!
Anyway, the North Koreans do it right. Explained one of RFA’s sources: “The old soldiers’ lecture and propaganda team, made up of discharged military officers in their 50s and 60s, are visiting every factory, company and neighborhood watch unit to educate the people about Kim Jong-il’s hard work and dedication.” Even better, “Not long ago a female soldier who plays the accordion joined the team and she sings songs and reads poems praising Kim Jong-il.”
Appropriately lavish obits and appreciations from friends and colleagues would be essential, of course. But having teams of advocates touring the land, speaking and singing — with an accordion! — about my exalted life, would be a fantastic addition. And especially having a cohort of folks reading poetry. I was never much into that literary form, but a few epic poems, used by the Greeks to chronicle heroic voyages and human interactions with the gods, would add a classical touch while burnishing my reputation.
Indeed, it is critical to have someone else lie about one’s reputation. I’ve always thought that it would have been nice to have earned an Oxford University doctorate, won a Medal of Honor, climbed Mount Everest, helped free the Iranian hostages, and won the Pulitzer Prize. But it would be so tacky for me to add those to my résumé, since it seems not only crass but desperate to inflate one’s own accomplishments. That’s what PR agents are for. As well as roving bands of posthumous propagandists.
Hopefully, none of this will matter any time soon. Despite almost everyone I meet seeming to address me as “sir,” as if I was, well, old. But I figure I should make my views known early. It will take time for the world to prepare for when I go. My exit needs to be handled right. I don’t want anyone to claim that the world should just go on as if nothing happened. And remember: no laughter, no alcohol, and certainly no leisure!
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.