Bond ... James Bond and the Korea crisis

January 10, 2003|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON - Everybody's trying to figure out what's going on in North Korean President Kim Jong Il's goofy head these days. Maybe the answer is in the movies.

President Bush's policy has made the same embarrassing error that the producers of the latest James Bond movie, Die Another Day, did: It has managed to unite the two Koreas in opposition to it.

Movies mean a lot to Mr. Kim. It is said that he spends at least two hours a day surfing the Web, and watching TV, including lots of Hollywood movies and South Korean soap operas.

Mr. Kim's official media mouthpieces panned the movie, in which James Bond fights bad guys in North Korea's military, as a "dirty and cursed burlesque aimed to slander [North Korea] and insult the Korean nation."

Well, any movie that offends a tyrant who builds a million-man army while much of his country starves can't be all bad. But this flick is offending South Koreans, too, so much that some theaters have canceled it in response to protests.

The protesters didn't like the way American agents bossed South Korea's military around. They didn't like the way their very technologically advanced country was portrayed as a nation of water buffalo farmers. They didn't like the staging of an obligatory Bond sex scene in a Buddhist temple.

Sure, there is nothing new about Hollywood movies offending people. In fact, anyone who has not been offended should be offended for being overlooked. But in this case, Hollywood's unintended offense reflects how much Americans, apparently including the Bush White House, have lost touch with the growing mood of reconciliation between these two countries that officially have been at war since 1950.

The film, for example, had the misfortune of opening at a time of large protests throughout South Korea over the acquittal of two U.S. soldiers whose armored vehicle killed two teen-age girls in June.

And, while it is not clear what Mr. Kim is trying to achieve with his recklessly aggressive strategy toward the United States, his behavior brings to mind Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction who was driven to homicide because she would not be "ignored."

Mr. Kim won't be ignored, either. Like a bratty child who has failed to get his parents' attention through positive behavior, he turns to negative behavior - and dares the United States to do something about it.

The Bush administration initially tried to distance itself from the Clinton administration's policies, which gained the 1994 nuclear accord that Mr. Kim now flagrantly violates. North Korea sought to continue missile negotiations with the new Bush administration, but talks broke down.

President Bush's new hard line culminated in a speech last year in which he linked North Korea to Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil" in their support for international terrorism. That phrase now comes back to bite Mr. Bush's policy. Why, many ask understandably, does he wave the war threat in Saddam Hussein's face while seeking diplomatic means to deal with North Korea?

Well, North Korea may already have some nuclear bombs, while Mr. Hussein has oil. Is oil worth going to war for? Maybe, but the administration has not been very candid about that.

As for the two Koreas, the current face-off shows the need for all three countries to reintroduce themselves to one another. Today's generation of South Koreans has little memory of the war in which 36,500 American soldiers died. But they do have high hopes for the reunification of the two countries.

The Bush administration has refused to "reward" Mr. Kim's behavior through direct negotiations, but real movement appears likely to develop quietly through neutral countries and other back channels.

In other words, after initially trying to distance itself from the Clinton policy of negotiating with North Korea, the Bush administration appears to be moving closer to it. That path of mutual sanity holds the best hope of avoiding a nuclear climax and reaching a happy ending worthy even of Hollywood.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Fridays in The Sun. He can be reached via e-mail at

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