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Peter Carlson -- Give Kim Jong Il the Khrushchev Treatment
"What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there? Have gangsters taken hold of the place?" he bellowed, his face reddening, his fists punching the air. "I say, 'I would very much like to see Disneyland.' They say, 'We cannot guarantee your security.' Then what must I do, commit suicide?"
It was a strange, frightening moment. But a few minutes later, Khrushchev smiled and sat down to observe the filming of a dance scene in the musical "Can-Can," watching Shirley MacLaine and 15 other scantily clad dancing girls shake their stuff for the cameras. The premier seemed to enjoy the show, but the next day he denounced it as decadent capitalist pornography.
"Mankind's face," he told reporters, "is more beautiful than its backside."
On and on it went, a traveling road show that blew the minds of the 300 reporters who followed Khrushchev across the country and the millions of Americans who watched it on TV.
In San Francisco, the premier entertained labor leaders with his own butt-shaking parody of the Can-Can dance. In Iowa, he visited the cornfield of a crotchety farmer named Roswell Garst, who got so mad at the media mob trampling his crops that he threw handfuls of silage at photographers and kicked a New York Times reporter in the shins, while Khrushchev laughed uproariously.
Finally, after 10 days of absurd adventures, Khrushchev arrived at Camp David for a weekend of talks with Eisenhower. The two leaders did not sign any epoch-making agreements. But they did watch the classic Western "Shane," and they agreed to convene a four-power summit with the British and the French to solve the sticky problem of Berlin. And Ike promised to visit the Soviet Union in the spring of 1960.
When Khrushchev returned to Moscow, he praised Eisenhower's "wise statesmanship" and cut the Soviet military by 1.2 million men. He also ordered the construction of the Soviet Union's first golf course so that his new American friend could play his favorite sport when he visited. For a while, it looked as though the Cold War was thawing.
But seven months later, on May 1, 1960, the Soviets spotted an American U-2 spy plane flying over Sverdlovsk and shot it down. Khrushchev went (ahem) ballistic, cancelled Ike's trip to Russia and deliberately sabotaged the summit with the Brits and the French. Then he appointed himself head of the Soviet delegation to the United Nations so that he could return to the United States, where he famously banged his shoe on a U.N. desk.
So what does this bizarre shaggy-dog story tell us about how to handle Kim Jong Il?
Well, it suggests that a two-week road trip across America can go a long way toward soothing an eccentric, unpredictable communist dictator who has been rattling his nukes. The trip didn't quite transform Khrushchev into an Eisenhower Republican, but it did change his attitude toward the United States. He learned that this country wasn't the capitalist nightmare portrayed in Soviet propaganda. In fact, he kind of liked the place.
It's hard to tell whether a similar trip would have a similar effect on Kim Jong Il -- so let's invite him and find out. It just might help. After all, he has a well-documented fondness for American pop culture.
Kim loves basketball so much that when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited North Korea in 2000, she gave him a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. But we can do better than that. Let's get him some good seats to an NBA game -- maybe let him watch the Lakers with Jack Nicholson -- or even to next year's NCAA March Madness.
Kim loves pizza. In 1999, he imported two Italian chefs to set up his own personal pizza kitchen. So why not let him eat his way through New York's Little Italy, then fly him to Chicago to sample some deep-dish?
Kim loves monuments. His government has erected more than 30,000 statues of Kim's late father and predecessor, Kim Il Sung. So let's take him to Mount Rushmore and let him see what you get when you carve a monument out of a mountain.
And maybe we can capitalize on Kim's plan to put his son in power, thus perpetuating the world's only Stalinist hereditary monarchy. Hey, America loves dynasties! Kim and the kid could travel to Kennebunkport and hang out with the Bushes, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Tafts and the Gottis.
But what Kim loves most -- aside from absolute power -- is movies. He is said to own more than 10,000 films. His favorites include "The Godfather," James Bond flicks, "Friday the 13th" and anything with Elizabeth Taylor. Okay, let's take him to Hollywood, let him lunch with Liz and maybe some younger starlets, too, like Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba or Beyonce. That kind of company can change a man's outlook on life.
And this time, let's not make the mistake Ike made with Khrushchev. If Kim wants to go to Disneyland, by God, let him go. Back in 2001 Kim's oldest son, Kim Jong Nam, was arrested trying to enter Japan on a fake passport. "I wanted to go to Disneyland," he explained. So why not give the whole Kim clan free passes to the Disney theme parks of their choice? After a couple of spins in those teacups, the dictator might return home whistling "It's a Small World After All."
After all, it really is a small world. And as Ike realized 50 years ago, nuclear war would not be good for it.
Peter Carlson, a former reporter for The Washington Post, is the author of "K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude, Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist."