Having Soup with the Devil

An indescribably slapstick movie is the latest cause for rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. This should be the time for discussions, not more sanctions.

Anyone asked to sit through the American film “The Interview” would likely find it incomprehensible that this “comedy” could possibly increase tensions between America and North Korea.

If North Korea were a halfway normal country, the Pyongyang regime would be content to ridicule this two-hour Hollywood romp from a distance and let it go at that.

But because normality is a stranger to North Korea, it reacts with threats against a film that features two loony talk show personalities who are asked by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un after the dictator grants them an interview.

In response, Pyongyang — according to the FBI — launched a hacker attack on Sony Pictures, the movie’s producer. And there’s suspicion that former Sony employees had the privacy of their emails and other data compromised.

In any case, North Korea applauded the hacker group, “Guardians of Peace,” and whoever might be hiding behind that title. When theaters planning to show the movie began receiving threats of violence, Sony ended up canceling plans to distribute the film.

Then Barack Obama got involved, declaring that the U.S. couldn’t allow “some dictator” to censor its media. The fight had become one involving principles. Now it was about artistic freedom — even though you have to stretch the definition of “art” if you want to include “The Interview.” But Obama is still right: Even the lousiest film should be a matter for film critics, not censors.

But try explaining that to North Korea! One doesn’t joke around with films over there. Kim Jong Un learned that from his father, Kim Jong Il, who had a movie star and a director kidnapped and brought to North Korea to help perfect their propaganda. Films in North Korea, The New York Times later commented, could be a “matter of life or death.”

Consequently, Pyongyang threatened deadly attacks on Christmas day, the scheduled opening day of the movie, in over 300 U.S. theaters. The U.S. responded by imposing new financial sanctions on North Korea, which Obama said was the “first aspect” of America’s retaliation.

North Korea, angered by the sanctions, insists it had no part in any cyberattack on Sony nor did it threaten any U.S. movie theaters. It said further, “Now is the time for the U.S. to know that its sanctions did not weaken the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] but proved counter-productive as shown by the DPRK’s measures to further sharpen the treasured sword of Songun.” Songun is the policy that emphasizes military priority over all other aspects of North Korean society.

That’s how it goes between Pyongyang and Washington. It would be comical if a nuclear armed North Korea would just stop waving its bombs and rockets around. It was just two years ago that it threatened a nuclear attack against the United States.

Despite all the lunacy, the Kim dynasty has no desire to commit suicide, so such threats should not be taken too seriously. However, rejecting out of hand every North Korean offer to negotiate as the Obama administration has done is also not the smartest move. Unlike his stance with Iran and Syria, Obama appears absolutely unyielding with North Korea. High-ranking American ex-diplomats call it a policy of outright denial.

Obama’s disgust with Kim’s way of ruling is totally understandable but treating Kim cavalierly could well lead to irrational reactions. To keep the peace, it’s sometimes necessary to share soup even with the devil. That works if your spoon is long enough.

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