It's easy to make fun of North Korea.
The late Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, loved to regale his subjects with stories about how he shot a 38 under par in his first golf game, how he wrote hundreds of novels a year, and the ascension of a new star that heralded his birth atop a heavenly mountain.
Then there are the stories about the dictator kidnapping his favorite actress and director, forcing them to make movies for his own entertainment. Or the time Kim hired celebrity chefs from Italy to teach his cooks how to make pizza, with anecdotes about his chefs carefully recording, in millimeters, the gaps between toppings.
For those with a darker sense of humor, there are the outlandish threats, the bluffs about drowning Washington "in a sea of nuclear fire," the comic book villain bluster about sending enemies to "a final doom."
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In a sense, it's gallows humor. But all the jokes make it easier for us to forget that, behind the pudgy dictators, there are millions of people suffering under the heartless North Korean regime. Stories abound of the 2 million-plus who died of starvation in the 1990s, the famished citizens who resorted to eating tree bark, and the estimated half a million North Koreans suffering in the country's labor camps.
As the U.S. and United Nations consider imposing even more sanctions on the isolated country, ostensibly to dissuade young dictator Kim Jong Un from going ahead with another nuclear weapons test, it's worth thinking about those innocent millions.
At this point, sanctions are a knee-jerk reaction, the standard response to North Korean provocations, like firing rockets in the general direction of Japan, or shelling the Demilitarized Zone along the South Korean border. Nuclear tests are more dangerous than the usual provocations, for sure.
But do the sanctions actually accomplish anything?
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Sanctions force North Korea to squeeze its belt ever tighter, but it's not Kim, his military brass or elite families who suffer. It's the regular people. If the common, nutrient-starved North Koreans go without, Kim will still enjoy lobster airlifted to him daily.
The young Kim spends $300 million a year on luxury items for himself, according to a 2014 U.N. report. While his people starve, Kim enjoys luxury yachts, jet skis, private theaters, call girls, gourmet food and basketball memorabilia from his NBA idols.
Another $300 million-plus is spent buying the loyalty of Kim's top generals, according to the same U.N. report. Those who aren't mollified by a lifestyle of excess are publicly executed for treason, the young dictator's favorite way of dealing with threats to his power.
While all this is happening, North Korea is in the middle of its worst drought in recent memory. Although solid information is notoriously difficult to obtain from the closed-off country, reports say the drought has decimated the country's rice crops, putting millions at risk of starvation again.
Some analysts say the nuclear tests may be a way of rallying the citizenry around the flag -- and Kim himself -- to distract from domestic problems.
It's 2016. You'd think the international community would have a better way of dealing with dictators at this point, or at least better ways to make sure millions of innocents don't starve because of the mismanagement and lavish lifestyles of their elites. The fact that this is still happening is a stain on the world community.
Instead of doing the easy thing and levying sanctions against North Korea, the U.N. should take a leadership role in figuring out how to prevent another mass tragedy. It's the right thing to do.