North Korea: A Modern Portrait of the Past?

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‘North Korea invites parody. We laugh at the excesses of the propaganda and the gullibility of the people. But consider that their indoctrination began in infancy, during the fourteen-hour days spent in factory day-care centers; that for the subsequent fifty years, every song, film, newspaper article, and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung; that the country was hermetically sealed to keep out anything that might cast doubt on Kim Il-sung’s divinity. Who could possibly resist?’ ― Barbara Demick,

As you finish your staple breakfast of corn or maize porridge, you may put on your state-approved clothes, journey a 110 metres below ground, heave the great steal bomb shelter-like doors of the station shut behind you, pass the local guards standing gripped by their motionless national duties on your way and prepare to travel on line 2 of North Korea’s Pyongyang Metro (평양 지하철 P’yŏngyang Chihach’ŏl), one of the deepest underground stations in the world. This however, will be no ordinary metro ride, rather a ride through time from within the Earth’s crust as you are transported back to 1960′s China – or at least, a land that seems to much resemble it.

Some 50 years ago, China was in the throes of Maoist revolution, ancient cultural relics and literature were burning in the streets while children recited from their pocket-sized copies of Mao’s Little Red book; propaganda reaching from street to street had infiltrated itself into the minds of its citizens who lingered weak and emaciated in rice-less fields and its Maoist uniform-clad Red Guards who passionately saluted their hailed leader. A mirror to its Chinese neighbour, present-day Korea has sheltered itself from the outside world of global trade, technology, media and international human rights; North Korean leaders have eulogized themselves as deities fighting for the great Communist cause, indoctrinating 24 million with their Juche ideology. As reported in the documentary Inside North Korea, so deeply are the North Koreans blinded that upon having their sight returned following a cataract operation, their first act is to cry in gratitude before a mural of Kim II-Sung.

Yet are we too hasty to judge a country we cannot comprehend? Due to distorted agricultural yield reports from officials, it is possible that for an extensive period of time even Kim II-Sung knew nothing of the famine ravaging his nation in the mid 90′s. What’s more, state-run communist events enable social gatherings and places to meet potential partners while North Korean poverty has perhaps lessened in the capital as elite families and soldiers deemed at one with the party line are given favourable food rations, electrical goods, education or pay (some high-ranking officials have even be seen sporting $2,000 Longines watches) whilst fake Adidas from China and South Korean DVDs have reportedly been imported across the border. ‘I would prefer to do the school’s army training rather than not as having gone through a gruelling challenge I can better learn to master my emotions in other areas of my life’ explained Zhou Weiwei, one Chinese student from Sichuan obliged to participate in mandatory military training – we look on in bewilderment and pity at the communist displays of allegiance of radically socialist countries, but perhaps its participants are not as victimized as we imagine.

However, the majority of North Koreans do live below the poverty line, all media is government controlled, the purchase of a radio must be government authorised, those allowed access to televisions have only one channel and the World Food Programme report that ‘one in every three [North Korean] children remains chronically malnourished or stunted’. Beaming from household portrait to portrait, Kim II-Sung’s face glows from the badges of Korean citizens. Like the dissidents of Mao’s China, beaten, bound and executed or imprisoned in Re-education Labour Camps for such crimes as writing poetry or singing an anti-Communist song, far from being greeted with Kim’s winning smile, some claim North Koreans who attempt to trespass the southern border, procure South Korean literature or even speak highly of South Korea are deemed lawbreakers attempting crimes against the nation and they and their family face life imprisonment in one of the country’s 30 concentration camps in existence since 1948. Testimonies from camp escapees – such as Shin Dong-hyuk (whose finger was cut off by officials because he dropped a sewing machine) – describe tales of a woman forced by a prison guard to drown her own newborn and a 7-year-old beaten to death for spilling rice grains.

As we return again to Pyongyang’s Metro station, a former air-raid shelter littered with soldiers from the country’s 1.1 million strong militia who may pass through it on a daily basis, the residual taste of siege, isolation and war lingers between the station walls. Is this self-besieged land sheltering from war or preparing for it? The imagined ever-present threat of a nuclear attack lead by a million seemingly brainwashed militants has proven enough to keep the West away, but is it not high time to intervene? Are we as helpless as it seems? On Sunday mornings we flick through the paper, each week the media feeds our drama-hungry mouths a new scandal, we learn of hurricanes and plane crashes, earthquakes and dictatorships, we gasp and groan in horror at graphic images, we close the papers, finish our toast and carry on our lives; it seems we have become nothing more than passive beings plagued by indifference.

The ‘murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence’ inflicted on a nation as described in the UN inquiry on North Korea are ‘strikingly similarto the Nazis claims inquiry chairman Michael Kirby- should we stand back and watch on for fear of instigating war? Were we to witness Nazi Germany ourselves, would we – as Chamberlain before us – for the sake of our own safety, once more submit to a ‘policy of appeasement’ with regard to Germany’s ‘internal policies towards the Jewish race’? Ought we continue to submit to a ‘policy of appeasement’ with regard to North Korea’s internal policies towards its own people? If North Korea is a microcosm of 1960′s China, will it take another 50 years to equal China’s present levels of (limited) freedom and growing prosperity? How much do we really know about North Korea? If liberated from the shackles of Communism, would a capitalist North Korea truly be more free than a socialist one? Are media reports on North Korean purely run on the steam of Western European & American governmental propaganda hungry for war? Is the Western world itself indoctrinated with its own seedy culture-eroding dictatorship, where money rules as king? With a celebrity-obsessed media and a cult of celebrity worshipping, are we not ourselves somewhat brainwashed by the news we witness, are we not the proverbial pot calling the kettle black?

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Line 2 Pyongyang Metro (평양 지하철 P’yŏngyang Chihach’ŏl) station of North Korea’s capital city Pyongyang.

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North Korea’s Kim II Sung (left) and China’s Mao Zedong (right) entrance their nations with an illusioned utopia of Communism through propaganda.

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Although North Korea’s population size is half that of its southern counterpart, it boasts an army (left) of 1.1 million that is almost twice the size. Mao’s Red Army of loyal followers increased from 1000 to 12,000 in the space of just a few years. Both countries perpetuate Communist ideologies that promote the importance of nationalism and the national entity over individualism and free-thought. 

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1960′s China, Mao’s Great Leap forward was the largest in history with sufferers (pictured right) even turning to cannibalism & the killing of their own children in desperation- figures estimate deaths at more than 35 million. North Korea’s famine (left 4 North Korean boys lie starving in 1997) in the 1990′s wiped out more than 10 % of its population as the average citizen had no more than 100g rice per day. Both China and North Korean are societies defined by the Confucian ideals of social hierarchy, both famines were created due to miscalculations of produce brought on by this very social hierarchy and each official exaggerating produce figures for fear his superior’s wrath, it is therefore very possible that both Mao Zedong nor Kim II-Sung were unaware of starvation issues in their respective countries until it had become a critical issue.

 ‘They [fellow prisoners] were so hungry that they devoured live rats and the raw hooves of a goat that prison guards had thrown away after 

slaughtering the animal’ -Shin Dong-hyuk

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3 women walk on the streets of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) wealthiest city, Pyongyang

3 women walk side by side on the streets of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) wealthiest city, Pyongyang- Photo by Daniel Leister

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‘ When whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken’ so goes the Korean saying illustrating how one country may be destroyed as larger nations fight over it. Ever the proverbial shrimp – from the invasion of the Han Dynasty in 108 BC right through to the Japanese invasion commanded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century- North Korean nationalism is rooted in its history.

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Long has North Korea been an agrarian society, the country’s first agriculturally based settlements date back as far as 6000 B.C.

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Thousands of performers participate in North Korea’s annual Arirang Mass Games.

Architecture remains one of the few means of creative expression in the DPRK. Pictured here one of the world's largest hotels, built in the country's capital.

Architecture remains one of the few means of creative expression in the DPRK. Pictured here one of the world’s largest hotels, built in the country’s capital.

From London to Beijing, the famous North Korean cuisine is served up with gusto in restaurants across the globe.

From London to Beijing, the famous North Korean cuisine is served up with gusto in restaurants across the globe.

Ancient artefacts dating back, some claim to be from early Korean settlers living as much as 500,000 years ago, yet similarly to the People's Republic of China, many have were burnt upon creation of the Republic.

Korea is home to many ancient artefacts dating back, some claim to be from early Korean settlers living as much as 500,000 years ago, yet similarly to the People’s Republic of China, many cultural were burnt upon creation of the Republic at the turn of the century.

A model sporting a new style of the traditional North Korean dress
A fashion model sporting a new style of traditional Korean dress known as Hanbok (South Korea) or Chosŏn-ot (North Korea) . A fiercely nationalistic population, the traditional dress is worn to North Korean national events and weddings. North Korean weddings are usually a simple affair where cash or household items such as mirrors or rice cookers are given as gifts. 

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‘I thought my whole hand was going to be cut off at the wrist, so I felt thankful and grateful that it was only my finger’ – Shin Dong-hyuk, (The first prisoner ever to have escaped North Korea’s Camp 22, Hoeryong Concentration Camp)

*This weeks photos were not taken by me *

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60 thoughts on “North Korea: A Modern Portrait of the Past?

  1. Pingback: North Korea: A Portrait of the Past? | driftersonline.com

  2. What about the South, where the great capitalist economy is crashing and many females in their 60s and 70s have to prostitute themselves, because their culture of extended family has been abominised by everything western. Who can blame North Korea for not wanting that?

      • If I had chance to go it would be to the North only, I’m a commie. I put that to be inflammatory, I’d go to both really. I have affiliations with the Arabic world so stick to that region, if I can afford to get away.
        I heard a BBC radio 4 programme about over 60s prostitution, they like to voyeur but support the South, hands down.
        I’m bored with the constant criticisms of North Korea, those without power but with a little money to travel feel they are entitled to cover every inch of the planet. The people with power want capital to flow more efficiently to buy yachts.
        People believe in what enhances their life style but its not sustainable.

  3. Hi Rachel. Another really interesting insight…and I have never seen that hotel picture before…looks strangely out of place and context…unless you think of it in a military sense…like a rocket…

      • ……..by a million brainwashed militants has proven enough to keep the West away, but is it not high time to intervene? Are we as helpless as it seems?
        Why don’t you see the same thing happening in other parts of the world; namely biased population watching and reading, learning state’s and big corporates’ media and propaganda. As far as militia and other strict security measures are concerned, North Korea has no choice but to ensure to fight against potential threat from South Korea and USA! We have enough examples, like Iran, Afghanistan, Libya etc, etc!
        North Korea is of course not a democratic society, especially for corporates, open market, FDIs etc, but for the people. Even if the latter is not true, people there are better off than their counterparts in 3rd world countries, especially DRC. 1 Billion Earthians are starving today, while wealth has grown more than 1000s of times on Earth since 2nd WW!
        Whatever, why does the West have to enforce democracy in Venezuela, N Korea, Afghanistan, Iran and ruin them completely!!!!!

        • You make a valid point, as the French saying goes ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’- without an army North Korea would be completely at our mercy, which would not stretch very far I imagine given the track record of the Western world for colonization. However, if the U.N. itself is admitting the country’s crimes against humanity, it seems something should be done to impede North Korean leaders from treating their own people as if they were prisoners of war. As for the other countries you mention, I by no means wish to condone what is taking place there, this post is merely designed to shed light on North Korea.

          • Yes, you are right, yet I would like to make a point. How fair is the UNO? It has been working as a puppet organisation of imperialists in the past and experience says it acts as a front organisation of the U.S.A. and its allies after the latter attacks the sovereignty of other states like Yugoslavia to “legalise” it!

          • When should other countries step in to stop a regimes crimes against its own people? I think there is a line, but finding it can be tough.

            I am not so sure that it is North Korea’s army that protects it. I would think to the extent any other power wanted to prevent what is happening there, they would have a bigger concern in China’s reaction and the precedent of violating sovereignty.

            But I admit, although I have wondered about this, I really don’t know for sure what the considerations are of the various world leaders.

    • Hi kk16085. Following your comment I was curious, so I visited your oddly named blog which, strangely, is followed by 80% of the world’s dentists!!! I am therefore assuming you are an orthodontist of sorts. Your about page says absolutely nothing about you or the purpose of your blog and your posts, which I find impossible to understand (in the main), seem to have no purpose. It could be that I am not intelligent enough so a simple explanation of your objectives would be quite helpful. Thank you James

      • I am not dentist or any other related profession. As far as my blogs are concerned, thanks for the evaluation. The purpose of my writings, if really not clear to you, I can not help much, don’t worry.
        By the way, did my previous comment hurt you?

        • I’m not at all worried kk16085 and I apologise if I didn’t explain myself very well. I’m still rather confused as to why you are not able explain what the purpose of your blog is, because some of your posts look to have quite interesting content but no objective. Regarding your question; I don’t know why you think any of your comments would have hurt me as I don’t believe any of them have been directed at me. But the answer is no in any event. Regards James

  4. Hi Rachel. I’m so pleased you are helping to raise awareness of the world on our doorsteps in posts such as this. If history has taught us nothing (or very little) then we need reminding constantly or it will forever be repeated. Although WW11 ended 70 years ago no one should ever be allowed to forget the ‘Holocaust’ Your final comment is very important. I hope your readers pick up on it……..”are we not ourselves somewhat brainwashed by the news we witness, are we not the proverbial pot calling the kettle black?”
    Your story will be published on TDN in a couple of weeks.
    Keep well. James

  5. Moving, as Most of Your posts. Two quotes from Yours say much about the situation: 1. ‘Is the Western world itself indoctrinated with its own seedy culture-eroding dictatorship, where money rules as king?’ To which we have to answer Yes. And 2. ‘We have become nothing more than passive beings plagued by indifference.’ Very True. …On the other hand, going through the comments, and observing life in general, altogether too many people seem to think that it would be enough if an administration provided meals, (as against the largely hungry third world, as they put it). So for many, it does not matter if there is NO Freedom, if mothers are forced to kill their own babies. …As for Kettles and Pots, for all our sins, We have to act too.

  6. Reblogged this on lovehappinessandpeace and commented:
    This is what I had written in the comments to this post:

    Moving, as Most of Your posts. Two quotes from Yours say much about the situation: 1. ‘Is the Western world itself indoctrinated with its own seedy culture-eroding dictatorship, where money rules as king?’ To which we have to answer Yes. And 2. ‘We have become nothing more than passive beings plagued by indifference.’ Very True. …On the other hand, going through the comments, and observing life in general, altogether too many people seem to think that it would be enough if an administration provided meals, (as against the largely hungry third world, as they put it). So for many, it does not matter if there is NO Freedom, if mothers are forced to kill their own babies. …As for Kettles and Pots, for all our sins, We have to act too.

  7. Thought-provoking article. To answer one of your questions: I know capitalism breeds its own biases, but there’s an important difference between being able to question them outwardly and publicly and not being able to. How many North Koreans can ask that same question about Communism on a blog on wordpress?

    And of course, it’s not just the asking, it’s what follows from being allowed to ask – which is the whole reason some regimes try to shut down these discussions before they start.

  8. Well-researched post, and thoughtful response to a hostile commenter up there! I especially appreciate your scene of the person whose engagement with the world ends when he or she closes the newspaper and finishes breakfast. This type of apathy is hard to combat, even in myself.

  9. Wow, powerful stuff.

    It is hard to say how we could intervene though. I’m not sure if you’re American or not, but we take a lot of flack for putting ourselves in other people’s problems – but it is sad to just watch this horror unfold. Makes me feel all kinds of hopeless. I think you’re right about nuclear danger being part of it, but I don’t think that’s the only reason.

    I heard someone say once that no one will care if you kill your own people – which sadly seems to be true. Hitler is widely known and abhorred, but a lot of people don’t know what Stalin really did. Not many people know about Pol Pot.

    It just might not escalate until the leaders of North Korea decide to attack another nation.

  10. North Korea’s struck me as culturally interesting in that it seems to be the place where one can still pass off “traveller’s tales” of the imaginably bizarre things They Do in the parts of the world that are blank spots on the map. That is, if you wanted to pass off a legend that, say, a third of the population of a country worked eight months a year to put on a vast Olympics Of Their Own Country that lasted the other four months, and you tried to set that in, oh, Italy or Singapore, you’d be laughed right before even getting the story well-started. Tell it about North Korea, though, and, sure, that could be. Or talk of a land where it’s forbidden to forecast rain and so the weather reporters on TV can only admit the sun will run with liquid instead, and try to say the land is Brazil, and nobody would buy it; claim that it’s North Korea, and it’ll probably be passed along before anyone even asks if you were making that up. You can get a little bit of this going for China — see the flap a couple weeks back where it was claimed Beijing had erected an enormous TV to produce fake sunsets to cut through pollution — but if you want it to get believed so well nobody tries to debunk it, tell it of North Korea.

  11. Freedom is a funny concept, someone’s freedom is always another’s chain. The west sees others through its own perspective, a rather doubtful one, in lots of instances. One of your commentators asked if you were American and seemingly believed there was a comparison between the US and Britain; but is there? From what I perceive, America has bankrupted its economy, with its urge to conquer and impose its will (in my view, with Britain pulling the strings, historically Britain acted as a middle country between Europe and America, which is why, French nationalists didn’t want Britain in the European Economic Union for so long, I guess). As a result low paid workers do not receive enough money to live and the American environment is a disaster, with floods occurring all the time, because the government has not invested in the infra-structure for decades.

    There was a BBC radio4 programme about prostitution, among pensioners, in South Korea, it was frightening. The presenter kept referring to the new economy, which began 60 years ago, (after a devastating war, that enabled colonisation by the capitalist machine). Up to the 1980s South Korea and its infrastructure had not benefited at all from this new economy but the ”bubble”, that occurred then, did enable recovery a bit, but now the price is being paid, as the family structure is in collapse and people are more in debt. The difference between the Korean and Vietnam wars was, that despite the fact N.Vietnam was the victor, it succumbed to pressure from the world capitalist market, N.Korea did not and who can blame them, when they see what has happened to their Southern counterparts?

    All the countries in that part of the world are a cultural and religious mix but N. Korea and Burma are still communist, so a natural ”enemy” and, of the west, thus it gets the worse press. The others like Singapore, Malasia, S, Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand etc., are certainly no less corrupt and messy, but more compliant to ”us”, I guess.

    It is plausible to believe ”our” way is best but this shouldn’t be decided upon without knowledge of others’ culture and particularly for me, their history, that’s why I am writing my blog. I do think, though, that this economic and permissive freedom is leading to disaster everywhere; always doom and gloom me, if certain ones close to me are to be believed.

      • Ta for your reply, its exciting for me cos I don’t comment much.
        Proper communism is my dream, so I don’t want to use its name in vain but that’s the way Burma is perceived by the British government.
        I don’t have a deep knowledge about the politics of any country but my own and I don’t have time to find out.
        My concern is, that people soak up widespread concepts, such as freedom and justice, uncritically and, that they are all cast in terms of western values.
        Will take a look at your blog now.

        • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You say that proper Communism is your dream and I agree in principal, for each man to have his fair share of the pie both literally and politically is an ideal each society should ultimately aspire to. However, in practice, whenever a country attempts to adopt such a system it is inevitably exploited, such is the instinctive nature of human greed- to my mind, an ideology that ignores human selfishness cannot be successful.

          Unfortunately, our own Capitalist society seems no better- media censorship happens here in England too where newspapers and the BBC are not allowed to disparage British military conduct or promote such things as sedition and abolition of the monarchy whilst our culture seems to be eroding away to an American superculture where high profit yields have been chosen over sustainable farming, where skills have been exchanged for smartphones, where small town tailors and bakers have lost out to multinationals and chain shops, where even a smile must be paid for.

          Having said that though, I may travel abroad to meet foreign family members without fearing for my life, I feel free enough to open this blog filled with our own uncensored thoughts without getting arrested, we may access the internet or voice our thoughts on radio programs, we may instigate change without the worry of governmental persecution- I do not call this freedom, but these all seem very basic activities most North Koreans are unable to undertake.

          It is very possible that many North Koreans are quite content; North Korean emigrant Hyeonseo Lee even admitted her and her family were living perfectly happily in North Korea for many, many years; yet as she herself admits, frequent human rights abuses do occur there. Perhaps it is not the whole system we should look to overturn as the media would have us believe, but surely its victims deserve to be liberated from violence, or at least enjoy the right to travel abroad as we do.

          • Rachel. You make 4 very pertinent points here which I believe encapsulate perfectly the purpose of your original post. Here are my thoughts.

            Point 1. Proper Communism is an ideal that has so far failed miserably when put into practice.

            - South Africa, where I lived for most of the last 20 years since the ANC came to power, is an interesting example. The ANC in a tripartite alliance with the trade unions (COSATU) and the Communist Party has ruled for 20 years. Although it purports to be a left-wing social democracy its powerbase is effectively communist. The chances of its power being eroded in the foreseeable future are slim so it is able to rule effectively as a dictatorship. The ANC’s promises of upliftment to the suppressed Black people have long since been forgotten The power has allowed the party elite to line their pockets to such an extent that the gap between rich and poor has widened so much so that inequality is one of the highest in the world. Corruption is rife, Over 25% are unemployed, more than 50% of children live in poverty, over 25% are below the food poverty line and Whites have been marginalised. One now wonders why Mandela denied being a Communist for more than 50 years when he had been a party member since the 1940′s? These are damning facts and statistics and as you rightly say “..such is the instinctive nature of human greed.”

            Point 2. Is Capitalism any better than Communism?

            - One could argue , is any one system better than another? I don’t think so. There are many ways to skin a cat. It all depends on the morals and ethics of those in power.

            Point 3. Freedom should be the basic right of any human being.

            - The people either elect others to govern them, as in a democractic society, or others seize power to govern by force. Either way the people gave up their right to total freedom centuries ago. The world has been divided and subdivided many times since. Immigration laws are strict and no-one can come and go as they please. As you say “…I do not call this freedom,” Neither do I.

            Point 4. Human rights abuse is not acceptable.

            - This is the big issue because it is prevalent world-wide and it takes many forms. When the people give the power to an elected group, a minority, they are trusting them to exercise that power in a moral and ethical way. Therein lies the problem. The elected become a closed shop, non-disclosure becomes the norm under the guise of ‘official secrets’ and covert operations click into place. Under a real democracy the people have the power to sack and elect a new government but the power is still not with the people afterwards. All my life I have been utterly appalled by man’s inhumanity to man and his lack of compassion and understanding. Whatever it takes we must fight to eradicate human rights abuse across the world. I agree 100% when you say “….victims deserve to be liberated from violence,” But I disagree when you say “.. or at least enjoy the right to travel abroad”. There can be no compromise where human rights are concerned.

        • Welcome! I am thankful to social media, which permits us to interact and develop comradeship. As far as “Freedom and Justice” is concerned, its not absolute. Freedom for Corporate means no legal or moral binding to usurp maximum profit, throw the workers out in economic recession, where as the freedom of workers mean least of no exploitation and a secure life, free of economic chains so that he can grow as human being and pursue his other human aspects as education, culture etc.
          Keep in touch.

          • I like your philosophy.
            Social media has its pros and cons, true of all technology. Look at the luddite movement, that saw the pitfalls of factory machinery, technology, that made life so much easier for people, in the long run. Marx, in his writing slowly came to favour technology, though it enhanced capitalism, it benefited the working people.
            In the end its all about, how technology and money is used by people.

  12. I have wondered a number of times if psychiatry, psychology and other aspects of metal health are practiced, studied and treated in North Korea. I have yet to find a satisfactory answer. If the answer is “yes”, then I have to also ask, what does it mean exactly?

  13. Wow, this is so very powerful. Every day, I pray for and think about North Korea. One day, I hope to do more to help them. Thank you for telling us about this important issue.

  14. It is really incorrect to conflate contemporary North Korea with China’s Cultural Revolution. During that period, China came as close to fascism as it’s possible for a degraded Communist system to get. That doesn’t prove anything about Communism itself. The Red Guard were extraordinarily young adolescents who were whipped into a frenzy and allowed to run rampant – exploited child soldiers who terrorized a nation.
    America CREATED North Korea: we had absolutely no business interfering in another nation’s civil war. In fact, we did more than interfere. The Communists had the nation’s support following World War II, and we agitated and armed a resistence that we knew would agree to serve as our outpost in the region – as South Korea has done.
    WE isolated North Korea with our aggressive, imperialist capitalism. Do you really think the nation would have developed as it has if it were not on the defensive for over 60 years? I am not saying the governing regime is not oppressive. I am saying that we should not patronize millions of people by viewing them all as victims, incapable of thought and analysis. Their ancient culture has not just disappeared! It is many, many centuries old – it was not displaced by 60+ years! The West must stop all of its judgements about the East and just get the hell out of there. NOBODY LIKES US, NOBODY WANTS US, and we have nothing to “teach” the world.
    Yankee go home!

    • Claire you pull no punches where America’s Foreign Policy is concerned and how I agree with you. “NOBODY LIKES US, NOBODY WANTS US, and we have nothing to “teach” the world.” As you use the word ‘we’ in this quote I take it you are American. I’m a Brit who lived in South Africa for 20 years and now Thailand for 5 and I fail to understand why America cannot see what most people outside USA can see; that is, exactly what you say. The horrors of the Vietnam War when America virtually obliterated three countries, wiping out village upon village of innocent agrarian people, and then walked away because they couldn’t win, clearly taught the USA nothing. It is difficult to see America ceasing to interfere wherever it feels inclined. America could learn so much from the world that would enrich it but I doubt I will live to see the blinkers and the ear muffs removed.

      • Yes, sorry, I wasn’t assuming you are an American ( I added the P.S. clarifying this when I realized that my last sentence could be read as ordering YOU to go home (-: But I knew you are a Westerner, and that’s a shared responsibility. It’s hard to look at small, multi-cultural Britain with its universal health care and somewhat centralized economy as a bad guy on the world stage, but it’s a terrible mistake not to realize that it didn’t just decide to be nice one day.
        It did not invite the Empire to tea.
        Entire continents (India! Australia! Much of Africa, large chunks of the far East – all fought long, usually bloody battles to oust the Brits. Australia’s indigenious peoples are at this moment STILL reeling in shock over their Stolen Generation, which was implemented by policies that did not change until the 1960s and 70s!
        Urban Britain is multi-cultural because the Empire came home to roost
        And America is as far west as western European expansionism could go. We are very much connected. I realize how impossible it feels for people in small western European nations to feel that they can influence America – but they can and they must. Just one example: people in Indonesia are STILL waiting for the Dutch to go home.
        We ordinary American citizens cannot control the powerful global networks that dictate U.S foreign policy – you guys don’t realize the absolutely huge gap between millions of Americans living in poverty and the tiny percentage in power. Almost a million African-American men are in prison!

        I can see that we will never agree about communism, but I do see a lot of room for agreement in many areas – and it is this upon which I place my hopes for the future of the world: that all Westerners take responsibility for our shared legacy and RESIST the United States together.
        We cannot do it without you.

        In solidarity,

        Claire

        • Hi again Claire.

          After skipping over the history of the British Empire I am not sure I fully understand you now. Could you help me by clarifying these assumptions you make:

          1. “I realize how impossible it feels for people in small western European nations to feel that they can influence America – but they can and they must.”

          What people are you referring to? How do you know they feel that way? And why must they do as you say?

          2. “…..you guys don’t realize the absolutely huge gap between millions of Americans living in poverty and the tiny percentage in power.”

          who are ‘you guys’? And why do you assume ‘you guys’ are ignorant of this fact?

          3. “I can see that we will never agree about communism,……”

          Who is we? And why will the ‘we’s’ never agree?

          Unfortunately I cannot understand your last paragraph which appears to be the crux. I think, maybe, because it is rather vague.

          It would be nice to get some clarity to see if we are on the same page.

          James

          • I don’t think these are serious questions. I think they are rhetorical devices. You agree with me enthusiastically when I describe American global dominance, then hit me with all the subtle semantics of a detective when I express an understanding of how that power feels to the rest of the world. “Powerless to stop us” is a perfectly legitimate description of how the people of, say Greece, feel along with fury at having the American will forced upon them.

            When I say “you must” resist the American government, it is clearly the plea of an American who knows all to well how ruthless her government is, knows that it will not hesitate to turn its force against its citizens (BELIEVE IT) and believes that only a united global effort can stop aggression that threatens the small planet we share.
            You don’t really believe that I’m ordering anyone to do anything, nor that I believe I have the power to do so. Go right ahead and wait until America blows up the earth. We’re the only nation who has used nuclear bombs.

            Twice.

            We did that. None of those “terrorist” nations did it. Not once

            So why aren’t we the world’s biggest nuclear threat? Let’s see:

            USA = twice
            North Korea= never

            Maybe I’m just doing the math wrong.

            _____________________________________

            People know what “you guys” means. Don’t waste my time.

            America exports an image of itself that completely distorts the reality of life here. I want people in other nations to know about the shocking scope of poverty here, the 10,000 homeless people living in the New York City subway tunnels alone, the birth rate of the poor that’s lower than many developing countries, the hundreds of children who die by gun violence every year, huge regions of the nation where shocking rural poverty remains hidden, the use of prisons for the social control of young Black men, and the widespread lack of basic health care to millions. How many homeless people are there in Denmark, Sweden, Norway? Three in each country? Do Danish children suffer from malnutrition?

            I said this because I am an Internationalist and I believe that the international working class is the hope of the future – not national boundries. You may not hear me, but that doesn’t mean others around the world will not.

            People who put the word Holocaust in parentheses and think Nelson Mandela had any responsibility to tell any white man anything about his political strategy tend to be in a minority, Good god, the man spent half his life in a South African dungeon. Show a little respect for those who gave their lives for the right to live in their own land. I would have kicked all the whites out, myself.

            Finally, if you think you can “skip over” the British Empire, you are as deaf and blind as the most boorish Yank: I don’t spare my country ANY criticism – and you can’t remember that during the Vietnam War, some African territories were still fighting YOU for independence?

            You know, come to think of it, you’d fit right in here: that is, in Mississippi or Idaho. We have a lot of people in those states who don’t believe in the Holocaust either. I’ll tell them to save a white sheet for you.

            • Hi Claire.

              I am really sorry that you have completely mis-interpreted my well intentioned reply to your comments regarding Rachel’s excellent post and that you have seen fit to take an aggressive stance against me and to publish it on her blog.

              Although Rachel has chosen to publish your comments I don’t feel comfortable encroaching on her space in this manner (apologies Rachel) so I will not ‘waste your time’ ,as you suggest I am, any further by continuing the debate.

              All the best

              James

  15. Hi Claire, don’t worry, I am not American and I understood what you meant anyway. :-) I agree with what you are saying, after having spent some time in China, I wanted to highlight the similarities between the two nations that I could see from an outsider’s perspective on Korea- for example, the style of propaganda, the stifling of imagination and creative thought brought on by an outdated education system and a famine somewhat similar to the Great Leap Forward in that it was brought on by farmers and officials exaggerating agricultural yield at each stage of the hierarchy; yet you are quite right, there are as many differences as there are similarities. North Korea’s current status was brought on as a result of international war that ultimately divided the country, whilst Mao had united China after an endless string of battles between warlords.

    Western education undoubtedly has its faults too and its own level of government control (I studied history until the age of 14 in England, never once having learnt of colonization and the British Empire), but there seems to be a unique difference in that in history, science and literature classes we are taught to question everything, to use our imagination and most importantly, to constantly formulate our own opinions and come up with new ideas, rather than learning by rote. It is here, in education that I believe a change ultimately needs to take place,

    What’s more, as I said before, my primary concern is the human rights abuses inflicted on a (however small) proportion of it’s people, but at the same time, I do not wish for the U.S. and European armies to dab their fingers in another pie that does not belong to them, claiming to bring ‘freedom’ when all they are bringing is violence as we have seen in Iraq, Syria, Korea, Vietnam and all the civilizations that have been a victim of Western colonization throughout history (I recently read a report on American soldiers raping a 14 year old Syrian girl- to me, soldiers conditioned for violence hardly seem champions of a peace process). The after effects of such aggressive colonization can be seen in the world today, having colonized so many nations, the English have inflicted their language on the world- all around the globe people must break their backs trying to learn English whilst the majority of native English speakers find themselves quite at ease in the global job market never having learnt another language- this however, is another issue. I do not wish for the Western world to colonize North Korea as it has done so many other nations, I am simply asking is there no way to do something for the people in Korean camps through peaceful diplomatic relations rather than a military coup ? Would any attempt to interfere lead only to war and violence? Do we ourselves, citizens of so-termed ‘democratic’ nations have no command of our own governments?

    • Once again Rachel, you raise the issues and pose the questions. Here are my thoughts.

      1. “Do we ourselves, citizens of so-termed ‘democratic’ nations have no command of our own governments?”

      I fear the answer to that is pretty much ‘yes’. People have the power to elect but not the power to control the elected. Of course governments are bound by the constitution but that can be changed. I remember, in the 1970′s. when punitive taxation in Britain, where the top rate was 98%, spawned a flourishing tax avoidance industry. The British government were powerless to stop it so they changed the laws and made them ‘retrospective’ thus giving the Inland Revenue unreasonable powers.

      2. “Would any attempt to interfere lead only to war and violence?”

      History indicates the answer to that is also ‘Yes’.

      3. “………..is there no way to do something for the people in Korean camps through peaceful diplomatic relations……”

      I would like to think so. We know it can and has been done but we also know that when a country isolates itself for an extended period it can take a long time. As has been proved time and time again, force is bad option.

      James

    • Hi Rachel,

      This has been a bit confusing as my first time commenting. I started off writing to you, based on your post – I wish I’d seen your reply first, because it reflects my initial sense that we do share a lot of common ground. And I can really sense how much you care.

      I have to take a break right now, but I want you to know that I look forward to responding to your thoughtfuly considered reply. I’ll be back in a few hours.

      Peace,

      Claire

  16. Thought-provoking post. The issue of national sovereignty vs human rights vs the treat of neuclear war (and so forth) is a very complex issue not only to solve but also to write about (which you did very well).

  17. Excellent piece of writing. Very thought provoking, and I love how you turned it around right at the end and related the North Korean situation to our Western ‘brainwashing’ equivalent of media/celebrity culture. Good job! :)

  18. I have not much to add and I wonder why I feel compelled to comment, but somehow I do. This is an extremely revealing article, in that it expands upon the common impression of North Korea, and injects a different slant. But I am so aware of the influence good journalism can have upon the peoples of the ‘free’ world and the danger of emotions engendered by heart-breaking tales of atrocities that seem to happen in countries at variance with our own political philosophy. We are very skilled at brain-washing and we are constantly exposed to it – at least the North Koreans have only one TV Channel.

    We are not free of brutality – turn over any stone in any of our major cities. We are not immune to poverty and starvation, to inhumane practices or the tyranny of law. We do seem to be capable of media-led witch-hunting, and we practice it far too often, usually upon weak and vulnerable targets. I certainly do not think we have the right to enforce our fallible doctrine beyond our borders, and if you ask me is there ever a time to intervene in the affairs of another sovereign nation to satisfy our perception of ‘human rights’ I would have to say no. There have been too many examples in recent years where we should have said ‘no’. Only if there is a realistic threat of attack should we respond; otherwise, let us spend some time healing our own crippled society and leave others alone.

  19. I lived in South Korea and travelled in Vietnam a lot. It always struck me how a happy the Vietnamese seemed to be and how stressed out and busy the South Koreans were. There is no right or wrong way to live but the pursuit of happiness, and not through material goods is something we can all aspire to.
    Thanks for your piece. Keep them coming!

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