Apparently (though the story remains unconfirmed), a couple of weeks ago Kim Jong-un executed his defense minister (well, former defense minister), Hyon Yong Chol, by having him shot with a giant anti-aircraft gun, maybe for incompetence, maybe for falling asleep on the job, or who knows, really, this is Kim Jong-un we’re talking about. “Analysts” are “stunned” at these reports for some reason. For example, Michael O’Hanlon, who likes to spend his idle time thinking about ways the US military could invade as many other countries as possible, says that the execution by AA battery “is clearly a form of intimidation bordering on pure cruelty.” Columbia University’s Charles Armstrong says, in what has to qualify as a serious understatement, that the manner of Hyon’s execution “seems to suggest that they wanted to really obliterate him — not just to kill him, but to get rid of all traces of him,” and that it “shows…a kind of cruelty” about Kim, which, well, yeah.
Admittedly, I’m not up on the various ins and outs of executing somebody, but it seems to me that a guy shot by an AA battery winds up just as dead as, say, the mentally ill prisoner who was just executed by firing squad in Indonesia recently, or the guy with the traumatic brain injury who was executed in Missouri in March, or the intellectually disabled man who was executed by Texas in January. Dead is dead, isn’t it? It seems particularly silly for Americans to gape at North Korean executions when the US generally winds up on all the same “countries with the most executions” lists as North Korea does. Sure, gunning somebody down with a massive piece of artillery seems like overkill, but at least it probably insures that the victim will have a quick and relatively painless death, which isn’t something we here in America seem to be able to promise anymore.
By the by, my favorite part of that last piece is when Sam Alito and Antonin Scalia complain that death penalty opponents have prevented states from getting better death penalty drugs, and, I mean, what are we supposed to do, stop killing people? Get real, for Christ’s sake!
But hey, them North Ko-reans sure are peculiar, ain’t they? They should just inject their prisoners with poisons that make them feel like they’re being burned alive! You know, like civilized countries do.
Putting my soapbox away for a second, CFR’s Scott Snyder almost redeems that silly McClatchy piece about how stunned everybody is (is it necessary to shoehorn the controversy over “The Interview” into every story about North Korea now?) by noting that there’s a real problem with focusing on the bizarre aspects of Kim Jong-un’s North Korea while ignoring the really dangerous ones:
“What I worry about is that the bizarreness of it all overshadows the deadly seriousness,” Snyder told McClatchy. “This is an aspiring nuclear state and probably the world’s worst violator of human rights. The danger is that the comedic aspect of stories coming out of North Korea overshadows the magnitude of the problems and the intractably of the problems.
“Kim Jong Un is now a figure in American pop culture as the prototype of a crazy dictator,” he said. “But in addition to being a movie character, he’s real, and it’s important for Americans to recognize that there is a gruesome reality about North Korea.”
Kim seems to be executing high-level officials at an astonishing rate. That may be par for the course when you’re a doughy man-child trying to play “powerful dictator” when you’d be more at home watching soft-core porn and eating Cheez Whiz straight out of the jar, but it also may be a sign that something is rotten in Pyongyang. Given the amount of damage North Korea could potentially inflict on its neighbors in fairly short order, this isn’t a situation that should be taken lightly.