The List: unlikely diplomats

Last week Dennis Rodman, sometime transvestite and former star of the NBA, touched down in North Korea to engage in “basketball diplomacy”. It’s a tall order: during his stay, local state media pledged “bitter hatred for the US”. John Sunyer selects four other unusual peace missions.

1. Diplomat Samurai Band

In 1983, four workers at the Japanese consulate in New York founded a band. Under the name of Trios Los Diplomaticos, they played their first gig at an office Christmas party, dressed in sombreros and false moustaches. Soon they were playing gigs across New York and discussing US-Japanese relations on the radio. Four years later they changed their name to the Diplomat Samurai Band, ditching sombreros for uniforms worn by samurai warriors. “We’re showing American people that we’re not ‘all work,’” Itaru Umezu, deputy consul-general and bandleader, told The New Yorker. “We know we’re pretty weird,” added a fellow band member.

2. Rudolf Hess

In May 1941, Hitler’s deputy flew to Scotland from southwest Germany on a secret mission to negotiate peace between Germany and Britain. After successfully evading a pursuing Spitfire, Hess parachuted out over a field not far from Glasgow and was arrested by a farmer. Later, Hess wrote, “I was marched off by a civil servant with a revolver in my back.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill rejected Hess’s peace offer and said, shortly after his arrival, “Yes, the maggot is in the apple”. Hess was later tried for war crimes and imprisoned until his death in 1987 aged 93.

3. The ‘Flying Swami’

Indian guru Vishnudevananda Saraswati, founder of one of the first yoga teacher training courses in the west, flew a number of peace missions over areas of conflict, dropping flowers and spiritual pamphlets. In August 1971, he flew to Northern Ireland in his twin-engined “Peace Plane”. British actor Peter Sellers joined the “Flying Swami” on the ground and together they walked through Belfast chanting, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”

4. Mathias Rust

In the cold war atmosphere of 1987, 19-year-old Rust flew a daring “peace mission” from Helsinki to Moscow. He evaded Soviet Union air defences for 500 miles before landing his single-engine aircraft in Moscow’s Red Square where he was arrested by the KGB and later served 14 months in prison. “I was thinking I could use the aircraft to build an imaginary bridge between west and east,” explained the teenager, who said he wanted to make a difference after a summit between the Soviet and US presidents had ended in stalemate.

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