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Rodman Brings Bread and Circuses to Pyongyang

8:16 AM, Jan 7, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
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The most shocking recent press report, difficult to verify, is that Kim Jong-un and his brother, Kim Jong-chol, assembled a pack of 120 famished dogs to rip his uncle and five of his aides to pieces as an audience of 300 top party officials watched for an hour. Even if this gruesome report is true, it is not unprecedented in the archives of world history. The power-crazed Roman Emperor Nero reportedly had Christians fed to dogs in the arena—an ancient form of bread and circuses. According to the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus, Nero targeted Christians to deflect blame as rumors spread of his own involvement in the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD: “He ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified and burned.” (Nero himself allegedly ignited the fire to clear a section of Rome for his new villa “Domus Aurea” (Golden House) and then famously fiddled while Rome burned. Kim Jong-un has his equivalent of Nero’s Domus Aurea in his construction of a luxury ski resort at Masik Pass, possibly with Canadian and European equipment banned under current U.N. sanctions.)

Kim Jong-un may well be a Nero for our times. Both murdered close relatives—Nero had his own mother killed while Kim Jong-un executed his uncle. And some may hope the parallels continue. Nero was 30 years old—approximately Kim Jong Un’s age—when a military revolt led by the prefect of Nero’s own Praetorian Guard caused him to commit suicide with the assistance of his private secretary. Some had hesitated to raise a sword against Nero as he represented the last ruler descended from the bloodline of the founder of Imperial Rome – Julius Caesar. With the death of Nero, the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended. Perhaps the former NBA players accompanying Dennis Rodman to Pyongyang should recall the old Latin slogan allegedly uttered at the assassination of Julius Caesar, “sic semper tyrannis” (thus always with tyrants), as they provide bread and circuses for Kim Jong-un’s birthday.

Dennis P. Halpin is a former Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, a former U.S. consul in Busan, and a former adviser on Asian issues on the House Committee of Foreign Affairs. He is currently a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins).

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