Yet again, the United States, and, indeed the world, finds itself having to confront a dictatorial regime led by a maniacal leader who continuously threatens both our country and that of our allies. Although Iran typically leads international headlines in this arena, the North Korean regime has taken center stage with both provocative acts and thinly-veiled threats.
Thus far, the U.S. and its allies have taken a “wait-and-see approach,” which, it seems, has only hardened the North’s resolve to establish itself as a dominant player in world affairs and a nuclear-armed nation. As the world stood by and watched, North Korea launched a satellite into space in December of last year and conducted another nuclear test this past February. Although it has vocalized its plans to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, the conventional wisdom is that the North’s technological advances have yet to create a nuclear warhead capable of fitting on a missile which can reach the U.S.
And, as if the world needs more pseudo-pundits addressing the situation, Iran’s foreign ministry has ironically asked both sides to use restraint and not promote “provocative behavior.” As foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, “We think that the event that is intensifying between North Korea, South Korea and the United states should be controlled as soon as possible. Both parties should not move toward a corner in which there is a threatening climate.”
Although the U.S. can hardly afford to open a new front internationally and remains mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact remains that Kim Jong Un continues to be caricatured by the press and not taken seriously enough. On April 7th, Saturday Night Live (“SNL”) opened with a fake press conference where Kim Jong Un brags about his sexual prowess and fist pumps Dennis Rodman towards the end of his address. While this is typical SNL fare, it is emblematic of the world’s failure to truly fathom the grave threat represented by maniacal figures like Un.
As if to make matters worse and again reinforce this image of two clowns hanging out, Dennis Rodman traveled to North Korea in February where he called Un “a friend for life” and announced plans to “have some fun” with Un in August, saying he “just wants to be loved.” Episodes like this may end up creating an air of oblivion about what is truly going on behind the scenes and lulling the world into focusing on the amusement of the affair as opposed to Un’s nefarious intentions.
History has a habit of repeating itself and we know from our experiences in the past that leaders who were not taken seriously while issuing existential threats often desire to carry them through. History is replete with examples of various countries placating or satirizing Adolph Hitler, who simply pursued his vision with uncanny fervor and focus. In 1940, Charlie Chaplin created the film, “The Great Dictator”, where he expressed his views through what has been called a “satirical attack on fascism.” Although creating a comedy about Hitler was very controversial, Chaplin stated “I was determined to go ahead,” “for Hitler must be laughed at.” In the film, Chaplin casts “A Jewish Barber,” who also plays the dictator “Adenoid Hynkel” and parodies Hitler.
As history would tell, society could ill afford to stop and laugh at a jingoistic megalomaniac like Hitler. The world waited, appeased, and ran away in fright until we no longer could, and by that time, Hitler’s Generalplan Ost, or Grand Plan to dominate Central and Eastern Europe and ethnically cleanse Jews and others in its wake had already had a devastating impact. The Holocaust was Hitler’s answer, and for the rest of the world, it was too late.
In this same time period, caricatures of Mussolini and Stalin were also readily available during their regimes, helping mask the true dangers these tyrants posed not only to their citizens, but to the world at large. Stalin, of course, was one of the most murderous dictators in history who cause the death and suffering of tens of millions through his forced labor camps and purging “enemies of the people.” Mussolini was also known to severely torture or imprison his opposition, in addition to framing and murdering them at a later time. His secret police exerted influence over most aspects of daily life and were in charge of ending any anti-Fascist activity.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Arash Farin