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That One Time the USA and DPRK Worked Together to Fight Pirates

Travis Cunha

Nov 5, 2023

An event that has been missed by many anti-imperialist and should be regarded as a celebratory occasion had its sixteenth anniversary on October 29. It has been sixteen years since the United States and The Democratic People’s Republic worked together to overthrow Somali pirates who had seized a DPRK cargo ship off of the coast of Mogadishu. Yes, you read that correctly. One of the biggest geopolitical rivalries in the world was cast aside for about 48 hours as both nations worked together to remove the pirates and restore order aboard the ship. 

While celebrating this anniversary, I began to wonder, what else should the United States and DPRK collaborate on to erase our history of bloodshed and crippling economic sanctions against them. It sounds unlikely, but so did the thought of these two nations working together in pirate filled waters. After reading this, you may realize the USA and DPRK had more in common with each other than you were led to believe. 

What Happened?

The Dai Hong Dan incident took place on October 29, 2007 when a DPRK cargo ship named Dai Hong Dan was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Seven pirates disguised as guards boarded the ship and violently took control of the vessel and held the crew of twenty-two DPRK sailors hostage. The pirates demanded only $15,000 as ransom for the hostages. The sailors covertly signaled a distress signal to a naval base in Malaysia, and from there the US Navy was contacted. 

In a rare act of international cooperation, the United States Navy, with the consent of the North Korean government, dispatched the USS James E. Williams to intervene. While waiting for backup, two Somali pirates were taken down by the DPRK sailors and took their weapons, with one pirate being killed in the attack.  

The American warship then arrived and engaged with the pirates resulting in a small gunfight between the pirates and the combined DPRK-USA sailors, and managed to regain control of the Dai Hong Dan. During the operation, several pirates were captured, and the crew of the ship was rescued, with six receiving injuries but none dying from the event. 

The aftermath of the pirate attack witnessed the only time the DPRK media made a positive statement about the United States. The statement read, “We feel grateful to the United States for its assistance given to our crewmen.This case serves as a symbol of the DPRK-U.S. cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. We will continue to render international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, in the future, too.”

We found out that day that the USA and DPRK make excellent partners in the act of fighting pirate terrorism, but what else would we collaborate on if we ended the ongoing tensions and decided to work together in other areas? Well, you’re in luck because we have envisioned it for you. 


People forget that Kim Jong-Un is a basketball superfan. Prior to Donald Trump making a historic meeting with Kim, our most notable ambassador to the DPRK was the former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman. Rodman, an already controversial figure in the USA made headlines with his trips to visit the DPRK and even made the film “Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang” where he and other retired NBA players held basketball camps and played in a friendly game with the DPRK players. 

We can even learn a lot from the different types of rules the DPRK has for basketball. A lot of American sports fans have scoffed at the rule in North Korean basketball which awards three points for slam dunks. Why would anyone be opposed to this? Why are we in the West giving more points for standing further away and just throwing the ball in the hoop, which literally anyone with arms can do? The DPRK has it correct, slam dunks are awesome and should be worth more. I for one, am done rewarding players for being cowards and not taking it to the paint (the area near the rim for those not familiar with hoops). 

The DPRK already has the perfect stadium to fit our love for sports in America. The Rungrado First of May Stadium can seat 150,000 people, which dwarfs the USA’s largest sports stadium, which can only seat a measly 107,000 at Michigan Stadium used for football by the University of Michigan. The First of May Stadium was the largest by seating capacity in the world until India built the Narendra Modi Stadium. Wait, I thought it was North Korea who was obsessed with naming things after their leaders? I digress. 

We already send NFL teams to play games in Mexico City, London, and Berlin, so why not pack the stadium and show the DPRK how we Americans turn our brains to jelly by smashing into each other over an egg shaped ball? 

Instead of threatening to drop bombs on the DPRK (again), we should be sending Steph Curry and Lebron James to Pyongyang to drop bombs from 40 feet away from the basket and perform rim-rattling dunks; now that's diplomacy at its finest. 


In the field of cinema, the DPRK and the United States already have a rich history together, well sort of. Following the Korean War, seven U.S. soldiers defected across the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and surprisingly some had successful careers as movie stars in the DPRK. The most famous of the bunch is James Dresnok, aka “Comrade Joe” as he was known in the DPRK. Dresnok remarried and had two sons, who still live in the country. Dresnok was an actor in the popular series “Unsung Heroes” which told the story of the Korean War from the side of the DPRK. 

Cinema has come a long way since the 1970s, and the opportunities for collaboration in the field of movies and even music are limitless. Imagine a world without economic sanctions and travel bans, where we can see a cinematic adaptation of the North Korean song “We Will Go to Mount Paektu'', with Leonardo Dicaprio and Ri Young Ho scaling the mountain against all obstacles. Maybe a remake of the North Korean monster flick Pulgasari, or even a heartfelt comedy with Seth Rogen showing the first person from the DPRK visiting the United States, and both realizing, “Hey maybe we aren't so different?”. 

Music would also be thrust into a new area of touring and collaboration. You think the crowds at Taylor Swift’s concerts are big? Wait until the Moranbong Band sells out Madison Square Garden and puts Swift in her musical grave. Nobody is ready for the technical skills, beautiful voices and thoughtful lyrics of these five women. 

Will American music do well in the DPRK? By the looks of their faces while watching a South Korean Kpop group, it would take a special musician to break into that market. Maybe we should start with a musical act that both countries mutually showed adoration for, and that is Psy, known for “Gangnam Style”. Psy has mentioned he wants peace in his homeland of the Korean Peninsula, and before one concert in South Korea he stated,  "Tonight me and 50,000 Korean people... we are going to sing out loud. We are going to shout out loud and we are really close to them, so they [the North Koreans] can hear." I never was a big fan of Psy, but if gangnam style and the Moranbong band help create peace, then count me in as a massive Psy guy. 


While sports and entertainment are excellent tools for creating bonds, nothing brings friends and even enemies together like a well cooked meal. The United States is home to many culinary fusions, we have Tex-Mex in the south, Italian-Irish in the northeast, and Panda Express nationwide bringing Chinese-American food. What delicious concoctions are we missing out on by pushing aggressive foreign policy towards the DPRK?

You may be saying, “But we already have Korean BBQ”. Yeah we do, and it’s really good, but a real foodie like myself needs more, much more. We need to lift the sanctions in order to engage in peaceful relations, but also we need to see what kind of dishes would emerge from North Korean-American unity. I want burgers and hot dogs slathered with kimchi, cold noodles served with grilled cheese. The DPRK opened its first pizzeria in the 2000s and it is a shame we have not yet been exposed to whatever North Korean pizza has become. 

Hope for a Peaceful Future

The history of the relations of the  DPRK and United States is unfortunately plagued with violence and crippling sanctions, but it does not have to be this way forever. Let us use the event of the Dai Hong Dan as an example of what could be, a future of peace and collaboration between these two nations based on mutual respect. The world was shocked when these two came together to fight pirate terrorism, and again when Trump visited Kim Jong-Un, so is it possible to go even further in the future? I am optimistic I will see the day where we can take a seat at the Rungrado First of May Stadium to watch the Beyonce-Moranbong performance with my kimchi hotdog and Korean beer, we can all hope right?

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