“He took care of all North Korean people with his warm love.”
Kim Jong IL on Kim Jong IL
The body of Kim Jong Il now like that of his father, Kim Il Sung, has been suitably embalmed and ready for a post-respiratory career as a venerable mummy. The current speculation is that the National Palace will soon become a unique historical site where visitors will be able to gaze upon the corpses-in-repose of both the Father and the Son, Kim Sr. (“our Fatherly Leader” as he was affectionately called by his hungry and malnourished subjects) and Kim Jr., who made it through sixty-nine years, it is reported in the official obituaries, never having to defecate, immaculate in his own special way.
Should the North Korean people enjoy the beneficence of a long-lived Kim Jong Eun, a mere chubby-faced lad with many years ahead to enhance the paradise bequeathed by his elders, he will no doubt have performed many miracles of his own, maybe an even longer feces-free existence than his father. Perhaps someday the National Palace will host for the curious to behold a rosy communist Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy --- well … expectations will no doubt be high for Kim III.
All of this must be somewhat disconcerting for the keepers and groomers of Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh – but perhaps not. How many mummies mounted in gaudy mausoleums, after all, does a properly functioning communist dictatorship need to maintain? How many can one afford? In China, Mao, 36 years expired, is ubiquitous. His visage decorates the currency. His face is everywhere, on buildings, posters, tee-shirts, ties. Long lines of Chinese still form to stroll past his bier in the gigantic hall. Lenin, who died at fifty-four, is only two years shy of ninety years of mummy-hood. He gets an occasional chemical bath, I have read. One does wonder.
One also wonders if Raul Castro might be thumbing through the Greater Havana Yellow Pages under the "embalmer" heading, readying himself to appoint soon The Master to prepare hermano mayor for eventual display. El Lider Maximo is old and looking mighty peeked. Pedro Ara, the Spaniard who did the nice work on Eva Peron’s mortal coil is himself long dead, unfortunately. Unlike Moscow or Pyonyang, Havana, however, is really warm year around. How much spare electricity on this island of notable basic scarcities will it take to keep Fidel’s withered cadaver looking, uh, revolutionarily fit?
The communist affinity for mummification of the Leader has become a comically symbolic gesture that speaks emphatically to the false and delusional nature of the system, a system that consists of everyone at every level pretending. The Party pretends to believe in the perfection of the departed Chief, making even his corpse into an uncorrupted object for eternal contemplation and edification. The people pretend to grieve and everyone pretends that the misery and depravation they experienced daily never ever happened under the rule of the Dearly Departed. All is sweetness and light in the magic kingdom where the handsome Prince reigns over his happy and prosperous subjects. The mausoleum that holds his remains is constructed to remind everyone that visits of the vast goodness and unfathomable virtue of the Departed that never actually existed.
This weird deification rite of passage for the Dead Heads was born in desperation. In 1924 when Lenin’s brain hemorrhaged its last, the regime he imposed was floundering. The Russian people were not happy with the progress of communism. The peasants were starving and the workers were worse off than ever. At this moment of crisis, Lenin’s determined disciple, Stalin, needed a religious-like relic, a physical, personal object of grief for the peasants and workers who had not yet grasped the impersonal nature of Marxian dialectics. It seemed to work, and the mummy in the glass box has become one of the more curious and ironic elements of “communist culture.”
Much of the outside world now contemplates the ghastly and hideous death rituals of the North Koreans dictators with macabre amusement and scorn. There are notable and depressing exceptions. In a letter of personal condolence to Kim Jong Eun, our very own Fatherly Leader, Jimmy Carter, wished the new dictator “every success as he assumes his new responsibility of leadership, [and was] looking forward to another visit [to North Korea ] in the future.” It would be enlightening, no doubt, to know how Mr. Carter imagined the new Kim might parse these well-wishing words.