By Ed Staskus
Breaking with rigid societal control, secretive totalitarianism, and his own familial tradition, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has proclaimed his nation will cease to be a Stalinist throwback and alternately intends to adopt yoga as its ruling ideology.
“We will no longer be a Cold War relic,” he asserted while making his stunning announcement.
When asked if the unprecedented changeover would be immediate or phased in over time, he proclaimed August 15th, Liberation Day, as the day yoga would officially become the new law of the land.
Liberation Day commemorates the independence of the Korean Peninsula after the defeat of the Japanese by the Allies during World War Two. It is the only official holiday celebrated in both South and North Korea.
Several immediate changes were made public.
“We are dissolving the Worker’s Party of Korea, demobilizing 90% of the Korean People’s Army, and abandoning all atomic bomb and guided missile development,” said Kim Jong-un in his role as Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Under the decades-long Songun – “military first” – policy of the country there are almost 6 million paramilitary personnel on duty, nearly 25% of North Korea’s population. The regimen emphasizes the military over all other aspects of state and society. Decommissioning 90% of the military and reservists will return more than 5 million men and women to civilian life.
Junta power was quickly brought to an end. The arrest and detention of numerous vice-marshals, generals, and flag officers of the ground forces, navy, air force and rocket services was reported concomitant to Kim Jong–un’s statement.
A North Korean spokesman said the Supreme Leader would brook no dissent regarding his revolutionary about-face.
“A revolutionary party is, in its essence, the party of its leader that carries out his ideology and cause, and the main thing in its building is to ensure the unitary character and inheritance of his ideology and leadership,” said Kim Jong-un, asserting his authority.
Radio and television sets, pre-tuned to government stations that until the announcement delivered a steady stream of propaganda, began broadcasting yoga philosophy lectures and youtube videos of the practice.
When asked about his prospects of success in transforming North Korea from an armed military camp to a nationwide yoga studio, Kim Jong-un replied, “It is a proud tradition and fighting trait of out people to rise up like mountains and go through fire and water to unfailingly carry through the party’s orders and instruction.”
Stepping away from the podium, he deftly demonstrated Mountain Pose.
World leaders were flummoxed.
Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who has been quoted as saying North Korea needed to “change paths” and put the interests of its people first, was speechless, deferring comment.
“We will continue to work closely with the international community to ensure that pressure on North Korea continues and sanctions are strictly enforced until Kim Jong-un matches his words with concrete actions,” said an official spokesman for Mrs. May.
“Kim Jong-un is shrewd and mature,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He has stated his strategic task. He has outplayed his rivals. I think he has obviously won this round.”
President Putin recently admitted he admires those who achieve results in yoga. “Even though I prefer to look at yoga from the outside, I very much envy those who achieve some tangible results. This just shows the character of the people who achieve such results in this activity. Sometimes you look and just cannot believe your eyes.”
“Fake news, fake news,” said Donald Trump, who was recently derided as a “mentally deranged dotard” by Kim Jong-un.
John Bolton, Donald Trump’s national security advisor, who has described the North Korean state as a “hellish nightmare,” reserved response, saying the matter required further analysis.
“We all agree on one goal, a denuclearized North Korea,” said Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, applauding the implications of the announcement.
The hermit kingdom’s nuclear saber-rattling had been on the rise since its young leader came to power in 2011. During the Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry said, “What Kim-Jong-un has been choosing to do is provocative, it is dangerous, reckless, and the United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Since then North Korea has conducted at least three successful nuclear tests and developed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States mainland.
In late 2017 President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it refused to abandon its nuclear ambitions and “totally destroy” it if pushed to the brink.
Kim Jong-un’s unexpected pivot away from launching pad politics and nuclear blackmail has made the extreme scenario of atomic retaliation moot. ”There can be neither today without yesterday nor tomorrow without today,” he said.
“It is our party’s unshakeable stand to prevent a new war from breaking out on the Korean peninsula and accelerate economic construction in a peaceful environment, thus resolving at an early date the problems related with the people’s livelihood.”
“I’ll believe the Little Rocket Man when I see it,” tweeted President Trump.
“The North Korean leader was ‘very aware’ of his image and reacted to comments made about him in a ‘relaxed manner’ by joking about himself from time to time,” according to Reuters, the international news service.
Ironically, as the United States has demanded nuclear disarmament from North Korea, it has overhauled its existing arsenal and spent billions of dollars expanding the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. On the same day the White House announced Donald Trump was on again for the on-again off-again meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, the Pentagon revealed plans to both revitalize America’s weapons and create a next generation of them.
According to a report released In February the Pentagon highlighted North Korea’s “illicitly producing nuclear warheads” as grounds for the advanced undertakings at both Savannah River and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
In “The Yogi and the Commissar” – a collection of essays by Arthur Koestler published the same year that the only atomic bombs ever deployed as weapons of mass destruction were detonated – the commissar is the man who wants to change society by any means necessary, while the yogi is the man who wants to change the individual through an emphasis on yoga.
The 34-year-old Supreme Leader with the Fred Flintstone haircut appears to have shed his commissar cloak and donned basketball shorts and a muscle tee. Dennis Rodman, who has made multiple visits to North Korea, advised the country’s commander-in-chief on proper attire for the yoga mat.
“For some reason, he trusts me,” the former NBA star and flamboyant cross-dresser said, sporting a white PotCoin shirt with images of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on the front.
“My job is to be a human being, to try and connect us with him.”
He was unable, however, to explain the elusive leader’s taking up yoga and declaring it the national belief and value. “What makes him tick? He’s always smiling, man, with his people, his sister, his brother. Just like regular people. Maybe that’s it.”
When asked what led to the unexpected change of heart, Kim Jong-un said, ”The year 2016 was a year of revolutionary event, a year of great change, worthy of note in the history of our party and country.”
In the latter half of 2016 the Obama administration sanctioned Kim Jong-un and ten other regime officials for human rights abuses. Before year’s end South Korea announced it had elite troops on standby to assassinate the North Korean despot if the need arose.
It seems unlikely, however, that threats were the impetus for change. “I will surely and definitely tame the Trump with fire,” declared Kim Jong-un after the American election season. Nevertheless, since then he has unexpectedly met with President Xi Jinping of China, who is his closest ally, visited South Korea, the only member of North Korea’s ruling dynasty to do so since the Korean War, and parlayed with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
“Our cause is just, and the might of Korea that is united with truth is infinite,” he said.
A State Department spokesman, requesting anonymity, speculated the North Korean leader had taken up yoga as a solution for his health problems.
Four years ago the North Korean leader disappeared from sight for several months with what was described as “an uncomfortable physical condition.” At various times he has been reported to be suffering from gout, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Last year his weight appeared to balloon to almost 300 pounds. While visiting a cosmetics factory he had to be helped off his feet and onto a folding chair, his face bathed in sweat.
“Kim’s health is something out own intel community is trying to gain every possible insight on,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest.
Regardless, no matter still fluffy and pudgy-cheeked, he has this year, by all accounts, looked slimmer and more active and cheerful.
There are many physical benefits to the practice of yoga, from muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility, to cardiovascular effects, to weight loss. “Researchers have found that people who practice yoga have lower body mass indexes compared to those who do not practice yoga,” according to the Harvard Medical School.
Yoga develops awareness, including mindful eating, which may have helped Kim Jong-un develop a more self-assured relationship with food and eating, according to several experts. However, whether he achieves a svelte yoga body in the next few years is both an open question and beside the point.
Whether or not he moves beyond the mat is what matters.
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, “said Aadil Palkhivala. “It is about the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed. It is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been. It cares about the person you are becoming.”
Very few, if any, dictators have ever practiced yoga in its long history. The practice is antithetical to tyranny, or buffoonery.
In our own time the glamorous daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator has posted pictures of herself on a yoga mat. A broadcast on Radio Free Europe pointed out her “skimpy workout clothes and the prurient nature of some of the yoga poses overstepped the boundaries of propriety.”
The children of the powerful usually believe they know everything.
Kim Jong-un making the eight limbs of yoga government policy in North Korea is anybody’s guess. “Suddenly, the whole country is engulfed with happiness and the people endlessly inspired,” the Supreme Leader said. Observers have been hard-pressed to believe the newfound true believer yogi will be able to execute his ambitions, given the unwonted transformation.
“Kim can presume a benevolent dictatorship provided he is the dictator, and he is the ultimate dictator,” said a White House senior advisor. “However, his coterie, his family, the military, and the senior members of the government, all have to benefit, otherwise he risks being overthrown.”
Just slightly more than a year removed from the Oval Office, Barack Obama pointed out the difficulty of making wholesale changes.
“Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now we’re in a very different place than we were,” he said. “Some people may feel like a we need a 50 degree turn. They say, if I turn 50 degrees, the whole ship turns. But, you can’t turn 50 degrees.”
Nevertheless, even though Kim Jong-un has proposed turning his ship of state 180 degrees, there is a chance he can make it happen.
“There is a tremendous sense of optimism by the leadership and by the people I met with and hopes that they will be turning a new chapter in history, a new page,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. He visited North Korea the first week of May. He said he saw “a genuine desire to be more open.”
Former First Lady Michele Obama introduced yoga to the White House. In 2009 it became part of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. The Obama’s were the only presidential couple to have ever practiced yoga.
Kim Jong-un may have laid an egg with his proclamation.
On the other hand, when it comes to yoga, as K. Pattabhi Jois once said when asked what it was all about, “Just do.”
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.