The Day I Said No To Kim Jong Un
Apr 7, 2020
Kim Jong Un had almost brushed past me as he walked through the conference room, surrounded by his security men. I’m not sure why, but he stopped and stared at me for a moment before he spoke.
His security men didn’t give me a chance to reply, as one of them took my arm and led me out of the room behind the Supreme Leader. I glanced back at the people in the hall, wondering if I would see them again.
I had been in Korea many times, but this was my first time in North Korea. I had come as part of a delegation of three men from the United States, to an international conference that was classified and unreported. All I can say about it is that the majority of attendees didn’t like Kim and he didn’t like us. Privately, we exchanged barbs about him, calling him “His Chubbiness” and “Cannon Meister.” When we met him, of course, we were all smiles. I spoke Korean, which put me at some advantage, since I didn’t have to rely on translators who often lied. My team’s mission was simple, but not something one wanted to attempt unless one was certifiable. We needed to convince the Fat One that we hated the United States and wanted to help him in his megalomaniacal schemes. After that, we would be a fount of false information. Utterly deniable by anyone in the State Department. Of course. We believed in our mission—at least I know that I did. I didn’t like the idea of Little Boots II bringing down our electric grid with EMP nukes.
Our primary tactic was to schmooze him and get him to believe that we were totally committed to support him and adore him and help him in every way. We doubted that he would actually believe our overtures, but we had to try. So, we clapped at his rancid jokes and praised his collection of fast cars and told him as many nice things as we could possibly invent. I might have overdone it, for here I was, taken in tow behind him as the conference room door closed with a thud.
To my relief, I wasn’t ushered to the fourth subbasement of the Pyongyang palace to be slowly tortured. Instead, as we walked to his private quarters, he took my hand in his overly soft paw and whispered, “You must teach me all about the vices of America. I adore videos of women. Many women. All at once.”
My Adam’s apple moved quite substantially as I swallowed, and said, “Of course, Dear Leader.”
The next few days were difficult for me. I didn’t like videos like that at all. Not even a little bit. They made me feel greasy and my pores felt clogged with cement. Fortunately, I was able to avert my eyes most of the time, with the excuse that I had to explore other vices for him to enjoy.
I had learned in my time in Korea that some Korean men think that the universe started its revolution of stars and planets when they were born, and that the sun would never go to bed unless they graciously gave it leave to depart. Not all Korean men, mind you. Some were fabulous and warm and humorous, and would drop everything and walk you to your destination if you asked them for directions.
No, I’m talking about Men of Hubris, who of course can be found all over the world. These men take inordinate pleasure in watching people bow and scrape and proffer their souls and fortunes for the pleasures of the leader.
His Squirminess was such a man; a man whom Lord Acton could point to and thunder, “Harumph! I told you that power corrupts! Now do you believe me?”
I believed him. Yes, I did. Kim Jong Un was just about the most corrupted man of absolute power that I had ever met. When I managed to slip away one afternoon and catch up with my two companions, they told me that the conference attendees had started a wager to see who could figure out how many communicable diseases Kim had picked up in his bed-hopping adventures. The odds were on “more than twenty.”
The conference was one of those hunkered-down, month-long affairs that managed to keep its participants because of all the after-hours thrills. In North Korea, good-times were limited to a very small area of Pyongyang, serviced by a population handpicked to make Westerners think that everyone in North Korea was as fat as His Plumpness and happier than anyone could possibly be. No one believed that, but the more scurrilous conference members didn’t care anyway. They just wanted to have fun.
My two partners were delighted that I had made a breakthrough with Kim, and encouraged me to keep at it and “attend” him. So I did.
KJU was fascinated with his own brilliance, and to help him think that I was too, I shadowed him constantly. As he weaved his way through the conference, graciously smiling at leaders from around the world, I walked one step behind him, with my notebook and pen ready to take down his instructions. I made sure to bend over slightly, so that my six-foot-two frame was less conspicuous next to His Shrimpiness.
Following him around was a hard task, and left me no freedom to talk with other conference goers. I felt especially chagrined as a friend—a tall and lanky Anglican vicar—bustled up to me as I was following Kim through a revolving door into a fake French restaurant. I waved my hand at him and shook my head, and plunged on through, barely hearing the vicar’s words, “I just have one question!”
Leaving Kim’s side was simply not an option if my mission was to succeed.
By the fifth day of my devotion to the Great Leader, things were going well. Kim seemed to be interested in me as a person. He told me that I wouldn’t be required at the next morning’s 5 a.m. staff meeting because I looked tired. I thanked him, and said that yes, I was plagued with headaches every day, and in fact had one at that very moment.
He looked at me curiously and said, “Oh, you too? What do you do about them? I have headaches sometimes, and my physician says it’s too much stress. So I usually just find a relative or friend and shoot them with my cannon. It’s amazing! The headaches just go away. Maybe they’re afraid of me.”
His method was a high bar to surmount, so I simply said, “Well, I usually breathe hard, and lean against a wall. Hopefully not in front of a cannon.”
His face got red for a moment, and I thought I wasn’t going to have to worry about headaches any longer, but then he burst out laughing and slapped his knee. He looked around at his security men and the gaggle of half-dressed women who were all nervously staring at their feet and bellowed, “In front of a cannon! Did you hear that! This American is really stupid, but I like him anyway.”
He kept going back to it, over the next few days, muttering “in front of a cannon!” and then giggling to himself.
I was gaining his trust, it seemed to me, with every apple that I polished. At one point, he brought out a boxed set of DVDs to show to some of the European conference members and said, “These are great videos of women divers. You should all watch them.”
The Germans and French seemed mildly interested, but the folks from the Vatican had to act respectable, so they shook their heads and went back to their discussion about why North Korean spaghetti was so awful. His Sweetness puffed out his chest, which was farther back than his stomach, and was about to order his cannon, so I thought I’d better step in and save the Vatican.
“You know, Dear Leader, that we should show these videos of women divers to all of the participants at tomorrow’s plenary session. And then we can do a Q&A with you leading the program. I think that would be very grand. Don’t waste them on this small group of ignoramuses. I think your idea to do this for the whole group is brilliant.”
Since I said all of this in Korean, the Europeans just smiled, and the Vatican men shrugged and lit their cigars. But Kim: oh my, he was so pleased with himself that he waved away the cannon man and ordered extra lunch for everyone.
The next day—a Friday—Kim came and roused me out of bed and said that I had to drive with him to the airport. He was on his way to his private island where he went whenever he felt the need for really private vices. He went there about once a week.
Before we left, I told my two teammates to meet me at the Pyongyang Supreme Leader’s Number One Bulgogi Restaurant, where we could catch up and have some lunch. I was feeling draggy around the edges with all of the scurrying and scraping.
I sat in the front of the Chinese-made limousine, and Kim and two of his mistresses sat in the back. It didn’t take long to get to the airport across the empty roads, since nobody could afford cars except members of the government and the military.
At the airport, I helped him out of the limo, giving him my arm to get out. His legs were hurting, probably because of gout and his evil ways. After he straightened up, I glanced back in the car and saw that he had dropped his wallet and sunglasses, so I leaned in and got them. He seemed grateful.
He was turning away, with a woman on each arm, but then he stopped and looked at me.
“You have to do something for me.”
I bowed, and said, “Of course, Great Leader.”
He put on his sunglasses and said, “You have to kill someone. At least one person. I don’t care who it is. But you have to kill one person before I come back on Monday. I need to know that you’re with me.”
Not knowing how to work this new turn of events, I simply said, “Yes, Dear Leader. Of course. Have a lovely time.”
He snorted, and turned away, with his babes on his arms, who both looked back at me as if to say, “You stupid American. You should have stayed at home.”
I stubbed my toe getting back into the limo, and asked the driver to drop me at the restaurant, which he did. He looked at me like I was a moron. Maybe I was. For a few minutes I couldn’t even remember how to say moron in Korean.
My buddies jumped up when I approached their corner table. They must have noticed my white face, or perhaps it was my trembling lips, or my deep sighs of Get Me Outa Here angst. Whatever it was, they plied me with bulgogi and kimchee and sparkling cider and then even more kimchee. The kimchee helped a lot. When a person feels weak in the pit of his stomach, kimchee will fix him right up. I’ve always felt that Koreans personify bulgogi and kimchee in their spirit and character and personality. Tough and hot and long-lasting.
But every time I thought about the Royal Command that His Putrescence had given me, I felt sick. My companions wisely took me out to the empty streets of Pyongyang where we could commiserate and curse the Cannon Meister without anyone hearing us.
They wanted me to go through with it. “Think of the mission,” they said. “Think of the millions of lives saved from EMP attacks.”
I couldn’t argue with anything they said, but I told them that I needed to be alone. So they obligingly left me to my own devices. I wandered the streets of Pyongyang for quite a number of hours, until soldiers stopped me from going out of the “posh” areas. Eventually, I found a taxi and went back to the hotel.
Saturday and Sunday were hard days. I won’t tell you what I did, but you know, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Like they say in Texas. Or is it Connecticut? I’m not sure. I felt cornered, and mumbled over and over, “Whaddya gonna do?” That’s from New Jersey. I know that for a fact.
On Monday, around 9 a.m., the Roly-Poly Tyrant called me into his penthouse office that looked out over the hollow grandeur of a miserable city. His office had sliding windows that opened onto a huge, terraced balcony upon which he hosted frequent dance parties, set to the music of the Beach Boys.
He stood up when I came in, and motioned for me to follow him onto the terrace. I did, trying to figure out his mood.
He led me to a corner of the terrace and looked me up and down.
“Well?” he asked.
I bowed, carefully. “Dear Leader, I believe that you need men whom you can trust, because they never lie to you.”
He nodded, and murmured something.
“Well, I am that kind of valuable man. I’m happy to report that I’m a man of principle that you can count on.”
“How many?” he asked.
I stood a little straighter, and replied “I cannot kill anyone, Dear Leader, because that would go against my principles. And you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
He folded his arms and scowled. “You really are a stupid American. I didn’t want to have to use my cannon, because you helped me learn all about the naked women of America even more than I knew already.” He preened. “And of course, I know everything.”
He pointed behind me. “Make a choice. Kill someone like I said, or...”
He stopped, and looked at a piece of paper in his hand. “Oh yes, that’s it... say hello to my little friend!”
I turned around and yes, indeed, his little friend was there, but it wasn’t little at all. In the opposite corner of the terrace sat a gold-plated cannon, with a swimsuit-clad girl standing next to it with a long-handled lighter.
The Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea walked with dignified and unhurried steps and put his arm around the cannon girl, who smiled at him, probably hoping that she would not be next.
The Big Boss looked at me and said, “Here’s a bit more incentive. We have agents in your capitalist pig of a country and if you don’t kill someone, our agents will kill your entire family, including your wife, your children, your three sisters, and your aged grandmother. It’s up to you.”
I looked at the Horrid Leader, and then gazed at the overcast pallor of the North Korean sky, and then at the poor slip of a cannon girl, and thought for a long moment. I had always felt critical when I saw the tired old movie plot where you have the bomber moan to the FBI that he had to blow up the office building and kill all of the people inside because the terrorists had kidnapped his family and if he didn’t do it, the terrorists were going to kill his family. So he had no choice.
I always thought, well, of course he had a choice. Better to die and have his family die, proud of him that he had not murdered other innocent people on their account.
And here I was, on the horns of the same dilemma.
I looked at Kim—poor, miserable, doomed Kim Jong Un—and said, “No.”
The Cannon Meister scowled. He hated it when people said no. Then he smiled, quite happily it seemed, and motioned to the cannon girl.
I don’t remember what happened after that.
This story is entirely fictional.
Only the Cannon Meister is a real person.
Caricature illustration of Kim Jong Un by J. Conescu, 2017, (CC BY 2.0), Wikimedia Commons
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”