Why Michael Jordan would make an excellent U.S. Goodwill Ambassador to North Korea.
During the Great Covid-19 Shut-downs of the 21st Century, many of us have wiled away the idle hours reliving the historic charge of the Chicago Bulls to playoff and championship greatness in the late 1990's.
In the newly released docu-series “The Last Dance”, basketball fans deprived of their usual sports pursuits and sports-bar haunts have been treated instead to a behind-the-scenes look into the boom-time Chicago Bulls circa 1990’s: Players, coaches, famous games, fights and feuds.
Of course, any examination of the glory days of the Chicago Bulls must include a certain amount of Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan: The one and only, the legendary basketball player, Hall of Fame athlete, Olympic Gold Medalist, member of the Dream Team.
The popularity of “The Last Dance” proves Michael Jordan still has fans around the world.
Indeed, someone else may be riveted by “The Last Dance.”; someone in perhaps the last place you’d expect.
In recent weeks, new information about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s early life has been revealed. Kim, as it turns out, was finishing his education in Switzerland during the late 1990’s. Described as an unassuming, junk-food addicted youth, Kim Jong Un was reportedly obsessed with basketball in 1996.
If he was, there is only one man on earth who might be able to get close enough to Kim Jong Un to actually make a difference to the people forced to live under Kim’s brutal regime in the years since.
Michael Jordan. Who, through the miracle of television and the quintessential sports biopic, we now know once turned down $100 million dollars for two-hours of his time.
So, sure: He doesn’t have to do it. But maybe he wants to.
We already know from the utterly unexpected diplomatic success of former Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman that Kim Jong Un has a peculiar weakness for basketball diplomacy.
Rodman may have been a character. He may have led the league in rebounds in a record that is still almost unrivaled in the game of basketball- his autobiographical book “Bad As I Wanna Be” wasn’t bad either- but when it comes to sheer, heart-pounding basketball star power for a Chicago Bulls fan in 1996, no one can touch Michael “Air” Jordan.
Now, there are certainly those who would argue against extending the hand of diplomacy to Kim Jong Un and his regime.
Critics of Donald Trump’s overtures towards Kim Jong Un in particular point to the death of American Otto Warmbier. Warmbier was imprisoned and tortured under Kim’s regime, and though the Trump administration secured his release in 2017, Warmbier later succumbed to his injuries.
The parents of Otto Warmbier have the world’s deepest sympathies. Nothing could ever bring back their son.
He is not the first person to be kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the Kim Jong Un regime. But unless someone does something, Otto Warmbier certainly won’t be the last.
Only most of the people Kim kills are his own people.
In addition, South Korea and every free citizen in it is under constant threat from Kim. North Korean secret intelligence services try at all times to infiltrate and influence every last aspect of South Korean society from schools to the government in an attempt to bring South Korea and its people under North Korean control.
South Korea also lives under the constant threat of armed attack, military invasion, and the aspirations of a fully nuclear North Korea.
Refusing to work with a murderous dictator because his regime killed Otto Warmbier misses the central point entirely; unfortunately, a murderous dictator is all North Korea has to work with. The only way to eventually stop him, is through him.
Unless, that is, we would prefer an armed invasion. The ensuing loss of life would not bring back Otto Warmbier.
If the situation on the Korean peninsula is to be improved, and it must be- Kim is, unfortunately, the only person capable of improving it at this time.
Because while Kim Jong Un was being educated in Switzerland under an assumed name; eating snack-cakes and cheeseburgers; watching the Bulls win the Championship and dreaming of shooting hoops with Michael Jordan; two- million of his fellow countrymen were back in North Korea starving to death.
Are those two-million deaths less important that Otto Warmbier because they happened to be North Koreans instead of Americans? Of course not.
Millions of people, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, adults and children are starving to death in North Korea right now. Hundreds of thousands are interred in forced-labor camps, slowly dying of other things.
We don’t really know the extent of the crisis of course because North Korea is closed to the outside world.
75-years ago this week, during the final days of World War II, Russian soldiers were the first to find the concentration camps as they advanced into Germany. The first concentration camps the Russian soldiers came across had been abandoned by the retreating German army, but not before the remaining prisoners were massacred as the millions before them had been.
Russian soldiers were the first to find the mass graves, the piles of discarded personal effects; the mountains of empty shoes and boxes of human hair.
Russians were also the first to find anyone left alive in these places, and to liberate the lucky few who managed to survive the concentration camps.
What humanity learned in those first days- at the close of World War II, when it became all too clear that even the worst rumors about Hitler’s regime didn’t begin to describe the horrors experienced in these camps- must never be forgotten.
The stories the survivors told the liberating armies described hellish scenes; man’s inhumanity to man. What the Russian soldiers, and later other Allied soldiers, found at these camps confirmed the stories.
What will the world find when the borders of North Korea are finally opened?
The prison camps currently being run by Kim Jong Un can be viewed from space at this very moment thanks to technology like Google Earth. We have a fairly good idea about what goes on inside these modern-day concentration camps, too; crimes against humanity.
The people of North Korea are suffering. The people of the Korean Peninsula and suffering. With them, the world suffers.
Advocating that Michael Jordan be made the U.S. goodwill ambassador to North Korea may seem like a silly idea. But it is not as silly as the idea that the death of Otto Warmbier should prevent world powers- yes, including the U.S. and Donald Trump- from reaching out the hand of diplomacy to North Korea.
This mass suffering must not be allowed to continue.
It is only through dealing with Kim Jong Un that international authorities, including humanitarian aid foundations, can help the people of North Korea.
Kim Jong Un won’t live forever, if indeed he is still alive. When he does die, the regime change may or may not improve the lives of ordinary people living on Korean Peninsula.
So, in the interest of World Peace; Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen should form a new dream team- one to reform the dictatorship in North Korea and make the world a safer place for everyone.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)