Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"The most important questions regarding North Korea are the ones least often asked: What do the North Koreans believe? How do they see themselves and the world around them?"
February 2, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Hitch reads up on North Korea: "I have recently donned the bifocals provided by B.R. Myers in his electrifying new book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, and I understand now that I got the picture either upside down or inside out. The whole idea of communism is dead in North Korea, and its most recent "Constitution," "ratified" last April, has dropped all mention of the word. The analogies to Confucianism are glib, and such parallels with it as can be drawn are intended by the regime only for the consumption of outsiders. Myers makes a persuasive case that we should instead regard the Kim Jong-il system as a phenomenon of the very extreme and pathological right. It is based on totalitarian "military first" mobilization, is maintained by slave labor, and instills an ideology of the most unapologetic racism and xenophobia." Read the first chapter here.
posted by ocherdraco (59 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
These conclusions ... carry the worrisome implication that the propaganda of the regime may actually mean exactly what it says

Reminds me that some people think the Klan were really heroes just fighting against corrupt, Union-backed, Reconstruction-era political graft.

"No, no, I'm pretty sure they're exactly what we think they are..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The whole "North Koreans are 6 inches shorter than South Koreans" freaks me out a bit. These two men - Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung - have altered that nation for generations to come...it's hard to imagine that even if somehow North Korea normalized relations with the rest of the world and its citizens were to finally get the truth about what's been happening outside their borders for the past 50-odd years that they will be anything other than a nation full of totally mind-blown, fucked up shorties with a serious chip on their collective little shoulders. It's really amazing. I don't see how they can ever be "normal," (ie like South Koreans, not "USian normal") or anything approaching it.

Unless ole Hitch is way off base which, of course, is entirely possible.
posted by nevercalm at 10:39 AM on February 2, 2010


You would have thought he'd learned his lesson about hyperbole and scare mongering after being waterboarded and forced to eat his words. This guy has been around the world as a journalist and can honestly write this with a straight face:

I was struck at the time by how matter-of-factly he said this, as if he took it for granted that I would find it uncontroversial.

I've been around the world enough to know how matter-of-factly certain people in certain nations talk about Jews, or how certain people in certain states talk about gays, etc to not be struck by this universal phenomenon. For him to act surprised by finding this in North Korea is ludicrous.
posted by spicynuts at 10:40 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The excerpt (last) link here is what you want. The part with "Hitch" is chaff.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:43 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've been around the world enough to know how matter-of-factly certain people in certain nations talk about Jews, or how certain people in certain states talk about gays, etc to not be struck by this universal phenomenon. For him to act surprised by finding this in North Korea is ludicrous.

In his defense, it's not that he claimed to be shocked or profoundly offended by it. "I was struck by" is a pretty mild way of putting it; he's just saying that it was something he took note of. He even goes on to say that he soon forgot it because it was such a minor detail compared to the totalitarian theater of North Korea. He mentions it because Myers' book reminded him of this particular detail.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:53 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]



"In this book, therefore, I aim to explain North Korea's dominant ideology or worldview — I use the words inter- changeably — and to show how far removed it is from communism, Confucianism and the show-window doctrine of Juche Thought. Far from complex, it can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure blooded, and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader."
posted by jason's_planet at 10:54 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's the point of linking to Hitchens? Ugh.
The whole "North Koreans are 6 inches shorter than South Koreans" freaks me out a bit. These two men - Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung - have altered that nation for generations to come
For generations to come? They're short because they don't get enough food during childhood. The height of Japanese people shot up between WWII and the 1980s when living standards went way up. Once things return to normal economically, North Koreans will be just as tall as their neighbors to the south.
posted by delmoi at 10:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


More remarkable has been the extent to which academics, think-tank analysts and other Pyongyang watchers have neglected to study the worldview of the military-first regime.

Probably because it's impracticable to interview enough North Koreans to see what they really think, although digesting the written works of the North Korean regime is valuable as well.

Conservatives generally explain the dictatorship's behavior in terms of a cynical struggle to maintain power and privilege,

Really? I was under the impression that conservatives think that Kim Jong-il is a fanatic in charge of a fanatic, well-armed, though materially crumbling, regime.

while liberals prefer to regard the DPRK as a "rational actor," a country behaving much as any tiny country would in the face of a hostile superpower.

What the goddam hell? I don't know any liberal who thinks this way.

Most Americans know just as little about Islamism as they did before 9/11. But why is there more talk of ideological matters in any issue of Arab Studies Journal than in a dozen issues of North Korean Review?

Agreed 100% on the ignorance score. As for the second sentence here, though I think it's fair to say that we can actually interview Muslims, those who have lived/worked in Muslim countries, and so-called Islamists as well, whereas for North Korea we have their propaganda wing, a tiny number of escapees, refugees, True Believers elsewhere, and pictures of girls waving minimal traffic.

Also, there was that time that so-called Islamists actually attacked America on 9/11, Europe on 7/11, the attacks in Mumbai, etc., and also those two full-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are also those valuable natural resources in the Mideast. So, "Arab Studies" and suchlike have been more immediately relevant to most Americans than North Korean Studies.

[North Korea's] approach can be contrasted with that of Stalin's Soviet Union, or Mao's China, where propagandists were not quite so effusive or incessant in their praise of the leader, yet regularly made claims — of bumper harvests, for example — which everyone knew to be untrue.

This is actually interesting, though. According to the Zizek book I'm reading now, there was a similar contrast between Nazi propaganda and Communist propaganda.

They call the regime "hard-line communist" or "Stalinist," despite its explicit racial theorizing, its strident acclamation of Koreans as the world's "cleanest" or "purest" race. They describe it as a Confucian patriarchy, despite its maternal authority figures, or as a country obsessed with self-reliance, though it has depended on outside aid for over sixty years.

Maybe it's just been my reading, but I don't recall anyone having called North Korea "Stalinist." If they did, it was probably just a half-informed-but-understandable comparison to another dictatorial, nominally Communist regime. NK's racializing seems famous-ish as well. I haven't heard anyone describe NK as a Confucian patriarchy, although it's true that I don't know who the maternal authority figures are out there.

As for the contradiction in re: NK's self-reliance, though, I thought that was very, very, very widely understood.

By far the most common mistake, however, has been the projection of Western or South Korean values and common sense onto the North Koreans. For example: Having been bombed flat by the Americans in the 1950s, the DPRK must be fearful for its security, ergo it must want the normalization of relations with Washington.

Now THIS is an interesting thought.

Sensationalist American accounts of the "underground railroad" helping North Korean "refugees" make it through China to the free world gloss over the fact that about half of these economic migrants — for that is what most of them are — voluntarily return to their homeland.

Also interesting.

Too many observers wrongly assume that the (North) Korean Central News Agency's English-language releases reflect the same sort of propaganda that the home audience gets. In fact there are significant differences. For example, where the DPRK presents itself to the outside world as a misunderstood country seeking integration into the international community, it presents itself to its own citizens (as I will show later) as a rogue state that breaks agreements with impunity, dictates conditions to groveling U.N. officials, and keeps its enemies in constant fear of ballistic retribution.

Once again, I feel like the author is off with regard to what people perceive about NK. I get the sense from DPRK's propaganda that they are, proudly, a rogue state that decides when it will obey an agreement, that dictates conditions to groveling whoever-will-listen, and so on and so forth.

This chapter frustrates me because it seems like the material about NK will be strong, but much of what the author says about people's perceptions of and reactions to NK seems off-base to me. Maybe I'm just grouchy. Regardless, this is fascinating, thanks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:59 AM on February 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


"Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear..."

Oh "Hitch!" Am I the only one that was rather troubled by the unintended irony of his choice of words here? Perhaps if we look close enough we might find that North Koreans are also developing horns...
posted by drpynchon at 10:59 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Christopher Hitchens is a drunk!"

There, Metafilter, I got that out of the way for you. Proceed.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:07 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, on reflection, I should have made the chapter the main link, but I came to it through the Slate piece, so that's how I was thinking about it.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:07 AM on February 2, 2010


I can only imagine what horrors we're going to see when the regime collapses.

It can't have many years left.
posted by empath at 11:09 AM on February 2, 2010


"I was struck by" is a pretty mild way of putting it; he's just saying that it was something he took note of.

Well I think if you take into account the tone of the remainder of his article, in which he essentially paints every N. Korean as a soil-dwelling, night-crawling, bent and hoary, near-animal whipped into lust for American blood, I would have to say that by 'struck' he indeed means 'shocked'. And if he himself wasn't shocked, he certainly wants his reader to be shocked at these stunted Lord of The Rings devil-people.
posted by spicynuts at 11:09 AM on February 2, 2010


I have wondered how much it would cost to buy an all-access pass to anywhere in DPRK, wouldn't take photos or video, but just being able to freely visit anywhere in the country I would like just to see.
posted by wcfields at 11:19 AM on February 2, 2010


empath: "It can't have many years left."

Actually, a totalitarian military dictatorship is one of the most stable forms of government that exist. History is full of them. They are easy to set up, easy to maintain. Much simpler than a Democracy, which is one of the most complex and difficult forms of government ever invented.
posted by stbalbach at 11:28 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


So, Mr. Hitchens, Weren't You Wrong About Iraq?

Full of eloquent shit before the invasion of Iraq, full of eloquent shit after the invasion of Iraq.
posted by three blind mice at 11:36 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


> For generations to come? They're short because they don't get enough food during childhood. The height of Japanese people shot up between WWII and the 1980s when living standards went way up.

That's forty years; two, almost three, generations.

Providing proper access to good nutrition and health across the breadth of a populace takes a long time, because it involves the restoration of good agriculture and food distribution networks, general public wealth to afford better food and enough of it, and frequently the education of the populace in how to eat properly and take care of themselves.

> The whole "North Koreans are 6 inches shorter than South Koreans" freaks me out a bit.

A photo of a North Korean soldier flanked by American soldiers.

As a datapoint, South Koreans are still growing; each generation of South Koreans is still significantly more than the preceding one, and they've been actively working on modernization since the 1960s. In another twenty years, the average South Korean may be eight inches taller than the average North Korean.
posted by ardgedee at 11:51 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


A photo of a North Korean soldier flanked by American soldiers.

I seem to remember reading that both South Korea and the US have a policy of only putting tall (something like taller than six foot and weighing over 200 pounds) soldiers on duty at the DMZ as part of a psychological thing.
posted by knapah at 12:13 PM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


A photo of a North Korean soldier flanked by American soldiers.

Is an unfair comparison. My uncle used to have some involvement in the DMZ. It seems during the 1970s the North Koreans would regularly get into fist fights with American soldiers working there. Some got beaten up rather badly. The Air Force decided to these fights would be far less frequent if the American soldiers were all over six feet and 200lbs so they picked the biggest, baddest boys for DMZ work and the intimidation ended more or less right away.

That photo pretty much shows why.
posted by three blind mice at 12:14 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


"...a paranoid nationalist, “military-first” state on the far right of the ideological spectrum."...so essentially, they are Republicans?
posted by Xoebe at 12:16 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


> they picked the biggest, baddest boys for DMZ work

Even if the Americans in the photo are 6'2" - taller than average for Americans - the DPRK soldier's still barely 5' tall without his hat.
posted by ardgedee at 12:18 PM on February 2, 2010


That a reclusive regime with a cult of "self-reliance" and dynastic tendencies such as North Korea's turns out to be deeply xenophobic and racist is not exactly Earth-shattering news.

This said, the article reminded me of the most chilling passage in Guy Delisle's comic "Pyongyang" (possibly one of the best journalistic accounts of North Korea): when Delisle asks about the puzzling total absence of handicapped people in the streets, his minder answers him, in deadly earnest, that the nation is so homogeneous that all North Koreans are born strong, intelligent and in good health.

It's quite clear that, whenever the regime falls, we are going to find out extremely gruesome crimes committed under it.
posted by Skeptic at 12:25 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


North Korea is such an intellectual mystery. I'd like to see a book with essays from top ten political thinkers, each writing about the exactly same subject "The Cult of Leader in North Korea" or something like that, with the best knowledge they have. See which way each would jump.
posted by Free word order! at 12:27 PM on February 2, 2010


Even if the Americans in the photo are 6'2" - taller than average for Americans - the DPRK soldier's still barely 5' tall without his hat.

The comparison is still gross.

The Dutch are the tallest people in Europe - taller on average than the Belgians to the south of them. A Dutchman might conclude that this is the fault of the inept and incompetent Belgian government, but it's probably more complicated than that.
posted by three blind mice at 12:29 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, a totalitarian military dictatorship is one of the most stable forms of government that exist. History is full of them.

Really? What evidence do you have for that statement? I mean you could mount a very good argument that, for example, the British parliamentary system is one the most stable forms of government. Or indeed the US system of democracy. You can measure their stability in centuries. Not sure you could say the same about any totalitarian military dictatorship. History may be full of them, but I am sure that means they are the most stable.
posted by vac2003 at 12:38 PM on February 2, 2010


It's quite clear that, whenever the regime falls, we are going to find out extremely gruesome crimes committed under it.

I wonder about that, actually. The Nazis were meticulous record keepers, and even after they burned huge amounts of documents when Allied forces were advancing, investigators still were able to have a pretty accurate picture of what they were up to. Do the North Koreans do this? Or is there an institutional memory hole so that when some worker is transferred or a program is ended, there's little in the way of documentation?
posted by Burhanistan at 12:39 PM on February 2, 2010


The Dutch are the tallest people in Europe - taller on average than the Belgians to the south of them. A Dutchman might conclude that this is the fault of the inept and incompetent Belgian government, but it's probably more complicated than that.
The Dutch are a half-inch taller, on average, than the Belgians. 6 inches != .5 inches. The correlation between malnutrition and stunted growth is not exactly pulled out of thin air. It's been demonstrated time and time again around the world, including the interesting case of Guatemalans born before and after their civil war.
posted by zvs at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uh...Water Dynasty tends to be the most stable form of govt.
posted by The Whelk at 12:52 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's quite clear that, whenever the regime falls, we are going to find out extremely gruesome crimes committed under it.

We already know of some of it, as detailed in the book The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Free to read/download on Google Books. I first heard of the book from this comment, which also provides links to a couple of amazing videos.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:59 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


A photo of a North Korean soldier flanked by American soldiers.

As a datapoint, South Koreans are still growing; each generation of South Koreans is still significantly more than the preceding one, and they've been actively working on modernization since the 1960s. In another twenty years, the average South Korean may be eight inches taller than the average North Korean.
posted by ardgedee at 2:51 PM on February 2 [+] [!]


Are you sure those are both American soldiers? The guy on the right looks like he's wearing a Korean nametag, and those kind of look like Republic of Korea Jump Wings.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:04 PM on February 2, 2010


Oh, and also the title of the entry is USA, DPRK, ROK.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:04 PM on February 2, 2010


They're short because they don't get enough food during childhood.

yeah, but doesn't chronic malnutrition have a cognitive component as well? at least in that generation?
posted by toodleydoodley at 1:10 PM on February 2, 2010


Girls are born with all the eggs they'll ever have, so it really affects two generations.
posted by NortonDC at 1:28 PM on February 2, 2010


Don't be heightist, nevercalm: short people aren't more likely to be Napoleonic than anyone else.
posted by davel at 1:35 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, check out this trailer for a very unusual Danish documentary on North Korea.

Interview about the film.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:36 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]



I can only imagine what horrors we're going to see when the regime collapses.

It can't have many years left.


North Korea is really some kind of sick experiment in how far you can push things with human societies, how long that will last and how twisted the leaders can become.

The results: not good. Not good at all.
posted by Erberus at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find the disparity of uniforms in that photo interesting. The American is wearing the latest and greatest fancy computer generated camoflague, the South Korean is wearing the classic woodland camo that preceeded it. And the North Korean looks like he just stepped out of, well, the Korean War.
posted by Jawn at 2:15 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Though, to be fair, I think that's the coolest uniform of the bunch. But if I had my way, our soldiers would still be decked out in Napoleonic era uniform complete with bicorne hats and feathers and the like.

And they'd do their fighting with swords like real men too!
posted by Jawn at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The correlation between malnutrition and stunted growth is not exactly pulled out of thin air.

The sought after correlation is between the government of North Korea and short Koreans and I am cutting Mr. Hitchens no slack on his assertions no matter how self-obvious they may appear to be and no matter how eloquently he presents them.

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

Thus Hitchens.
posted by three blind mice at 2:19 PM on February 2, 2010


Conservatives generally explain the dictatorship's behavior in terms of a cynical struggle to maintain power and privilege,

Really? I was under the impression that conservatives think that Kim Jong-il is a fanatic in charge of a fanatic, well-armed, though materially crumbling, regime.

while liberals prefer to regard the DPRK as a "rational actor," a country behaving much as any tiny country would in the face of a hostile superpower.

What the goddam hell? I don't know any liberal who thinks this way.


He is referring to "liberals" and "conservatives" within the field of "North Korean studies" -- "academics, think-tank analysts and other Pyongyang watchers." Your personal experience is not relevant unless it is about scholarly opinion in the field of North Korean studies.
posted by grobstein at 3:14 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


He is referring to "liberals" and "conservatives" within the field of "North Korean studies" -- "academics, think-tank analysts and other Pyongyang watchers." Your personal experience is not relevant unless it is about scholarly opinion in the field of North Korean studies.

Fair enough. Still: a North Korea scholar I am not, but I have read more than your usual newspaper reader's amount of material on NK. I have never to my recollection read either of those "conservative" or "liberal" beliefs as such, let alone seen a trend that any significant school of thought had those beliefs. Where is he getting this? My reading of the author citing those two extreme-to-me positions is that he's throwing out two straw men to pave the way for his own revelations after doing his own research.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:46 PM on February 2, 2010


Not to trivialize the matter, but I think World War Z actually provides a rather haunting metaphor for North Korea’s isolation. [SPOILER ALERT] From what anyone on the outside is able to discern, it looks like North Korea’s sealed borders are pretty effective at shielding it from the zombie plague. But then, the North Koreans just start disappearing. It happens gradually, but eventually the entire country is just empty. It’s assumed that the whole population retreated to vast network of underground shelters, sealed themselves in for god knows how long, and are by now either still carrying-on unaffected or have been completely overtaken by the infection.
posted by treepour at 3:54 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is not exactly a strictly North Korean thing. Many older Soth Koreans are very upset about the influx of foreigners and especially upset about foreigners dating Korean women. Purity etc etc.
posted by GilloD at 4:02 PM on February 2, 2010


The Dutch are the tallest people in Europe - taller on average than the Belgians to the south of them. A Dutchman might conclude that this is the fault of the inept and incompetent Belgian government, but it's probably more complicated than that.

Yeah. Not a foot and a half taller. I doubt the dutch and Belgians are very genetically different to begin with, and we're always seen the same population suddenly sprout in height when living conditions change (such as the case with the Japanese)
posted by delmoi at 4:03 PM on February 2, 2010


Fair enough. Still: a North Korea scholar I am not, but I have read more than your usual newspaper reader's amount of material on NK. I have never to my recollection read either of those "conservative" or "liberal" beliefs as such, let alone seen a trend that any significant school of thought had those beliefs. Where is he getting this? My reading of the author citing those two extreme-to-me positions is that he's throwing out two straw men to pave the way for his own revelations after doing his own research.

I think the 'rational actor' point refers less to the entirety of NK's actions (many of which are clearly not those of your average rationally-governed small country) and more to their tactics of political brinksmanship and presumed pursuit of nuclear weapons. If I was a small totalitarian military dictatorship facing a hostile superpower, I would think it perfectly rational to blow hot and cold in negotiations (to keep them hoping that I can be dealt with peacefully) while making strenuous efforts to develop nuclear weapons as a last-ditch deterrent. In any case, I've seen the 'rational actor' point mentioned a fair number of times in articles on NK (for example), so it's not particularly extreme.
posted by inire at 4:11 PM on February 2, 2010


extreme-to-me

Maybe me clarifying why I find those two beliefs so extreme will explain my vivid reaction. The DPRK is famous around the world for, among many other reasons, being one of the most nakedly ideologically-driven nation-states in the world. The author appears to be saying that "North Korea studies" to this point had been divided roughly into two factions, each faction denying in its own way the obvious power of North Korean ideology itself on and from the DPRK's government and people. I find this incredible.

I understand that there are levels of irony, suspicion, disbelief, and rebellion in any totalitarian state, but I find ludicrous the idea that the citizenry and government of North Korea are not in some sincere way powerfully motivated and constructed by their own openly espoused ideology.

These "conservatives" believe that the propaganda wing of the DPRK espouses beliefs they themselves feel to be cockamamie merely, and "cynically", so that those in power can hold their power and control the populace? These "liberals" believe that the DPRK would rank even within the top 150 nation-states as far as "mere" "rational actors" go? I would be astounded to discover that these are beliefs seriously held by scholars. Either Myers has constructed two straw men for rhetorical purposes, or "North Korea studies" has been, to this moment, a bizarre place.

That, or there has been an enormous chunk of North Korea studies that 1) has aggressively ignored ideology itself as a fuel for the activity of North Korea as a nation-state and 2) I have totally missed until now, but 3) has now been refuted for more or less the first time by Myers.

As far as "rational actors" go: I'm aware that that term is meant to apply to things like, as inire smartly points out, their actions in negotiations where they are acting in ways that further their own interests. But even in the BBC article you link to, isn't their "rationality" with regard to their own interests being cited as an exception, and not a rule? I don't deny that the DPRK does some things in a rational manner, in the sense that they recognize how actions have cause and effect - they'll blow puffs of steam so that they can keep on receiving aid and plodding ahead to acquire nuclear materials. But, the idea that they're a mere rational actor requires a total change in the definitions of the words "mere" and "rational." After all, aren't the DPRK's nuclear adventures entirely irrational at their basis? The fact that some aspects of how they work towards their goals are governed by something resembling common sense does not overwhelm that, for me.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2010


"More remarkable has been the extent to which academics, think-tank analysts and other Pyongyang watchers have neglected to study the worldview of the military-first regime."

There's a breathless tone to this which rubs me the wrong way. The better Korea blogs focusing on policy towards the North were all over the fact that the re-written constitution did away with Communism and focused soley on the autocthonic DPRK military tradition as its new guiding light.

I'm glad he's bringing attention to the issue but he's taking credit for a "discovery" that wasn't his. It's pretty weasel-y to finally pay attention to something and claim that recent trends in that issue were your insights, not those of the people who actually fucking made them in the first place.

Oh Hitch, our relationship is so complicated.

GilloD writes: "This is not exactly a strictly North Korean thing. Many older Soth Koreans are very upset about the influx of foreigners and especially upset about foreigners dating Korean women. Purity etc etc."

Yeah, my thoughts too. Korea is a peninsula that might as well have been an island. South Koreans certainly think of themselves as "purer" than other races. They have a grudging respect for the Chinese, a real hatred of Japan, and a pretty complicated relationship with America swinging between the poles of respect for its wealth, might, and culture and contempt for its loud, overweight, conceited people.
posted by bardic at 4:24 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


No no, you have it all wrong. After WWII when the Allies where busy spiriting away NAZI scientists, the Americans said, "OK, we'll take you scum, but you have to make us rockets." The South Americans said, "OK, we'll take you scum, but you must make us beautiful women." The Dutch said, "Yeah, we'll take you, but you gotta make us TALL."
posted by digitalprimate at 5:13 PM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sticherbeast, I think my disagreement with you focuses on your point that NK's rationality with regard to its own interests is the exception rather than the rule (and that labelling NK as a rational actor is therefore bizarre). NK's interests are, to some degree, bizarre; however, the actions they take to achieve those interests are arguably rational. Thus, the description of NK as a rational actor refers to the methods used to achieve their interests, not to the interests themselves.

Just as another data point, this book review mentions the 'rational actor' viewpoint as one "now correctly assumed by most students of North Korean politics" - even discounting 'correctly' as bias on the part of the reviewer, there's presumably some meat to this view.
posted by inire at 5:22 PM on February 2, 2010


From the FPP:
"I have recently donned the bifocals provided by B.R. Myers in his electrifying new book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, and I understand now that I got the picture either upside down or inside out. The whole idea of communism is dead in North Korea, and its most recent "Constitution," "ratified" last April, has dropped all mention of the word. The analogies to Confucianism are glib, and such parallels with it as can be drawn are intended by the regime only for the consumption of outsiders. Myers makes a persuasive case that we should instead regard the Kim Jong-il system as a phenomenon of the very extreme and pathological right. It is based on totalitarian "military first" mobilization, is maintained by slave labor, and instills an ideology of the most unapologetic racism and xenophobia."

Hmm, maybe this is a revelation to Myers, but the rest of the world has known for a long time that "communism" hasn't been a part of the North Korean world for roughly 40 years.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:38 PM on February 2, 2010


vac2003:

>>"Actually, a totalitarian military dictatorship is one of the most stable forms of government that exist. History is full of them.

Really? What evidence do you have for that statement?


Sub-Sahara Africa. Perhaps the word "stable" is a source of confusion - stable in the sense they are the easiest form of government to create, the most common throughout history. Add Monarchies and the Aztecs etc.. to the list - any sort of government were a single ruler has absolute power. The original posters contention that the regime was bound to fail soon is not borne out by history. It's a common myth that Democracy is an inevitable stage of growth and dictatorships inevitably fail. It's not at all inevitable because dictatorships really do work quite well, at a certain level. They are cheap and easy to set up and maintain and provide the basic functions of governance (namely defense).

I mean you could mount a very good argument that, for example, the British parliamentary system is one the most stable forms of government. Or indeed the US system of democracy. You can measure their stability in centuries. Not sure you could say the same about any totalitarian military dictatorship. History may be full of them, but I am sure that means they are the most stable."

Your right, modern Democracies are also mostly stable. It's not an either/or situation. Democrat nations can (and do) co-exist side by side with dictatorships. North and South Korea.
posted by stbalbach at 9:05 PM on February 2, 2010


Kim Jong-il's regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought.

Why is it necessary for Hitchens to mentally relocate the North Korean regime to the rightward extreme of the political spectrum before he can consider it truly evil? Starving millions in a state-created famine is pretty bad I guess, but this kind of thing:

Wall posters and banners depicting all Japanese as barbarians are only equaled by the ways in which Americans are caricatured as hook-nosed monsters.

...is just despicable!

He did a similar dance with regard to Iraq as I recall, arguing that under Saddam Hussein Iraqi Ba'athism was no longer a kind of pan-Arab socialism but was better classified as a form of fascism. Wow, when you look at it like that, he's a really bad guy!

This kind of petty left/right bone-picking infects too much of Hitch's writing.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:09 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is not exactly a strictly North Korean thing. Many older Soth Koreans are very upset about the influx of foreigners and especially upset about foreigners dating Korean women. Purity etc etc.

Certainly every Kiwi I know who has lived in Korea has commented on the vast ediface of racism there. And those are all people who loved living there, enjoyed their time, and many of whom would cheerfullly move back (but, as one noted, a white guy can't get a job in any of the fields he has skill in, because middle-aged Koreans aren't gonna hire a white guy in professional positions if they can avoid it).
posted by rodgerd at 12:39 AM on February 3, 2010


Please look at where the Korean peninsular is on the map in relation to China. The peninsular has great strategic significance. North Korea is extremely valuable to China as a buffer state to South Korea and its allies. As well, North Korea engages in highly bellicose rhetoric and activity that serves the Chinese regime well without it having to put its name to it. Myanmar is another (but less strategically important) example of such a state.

You cannot address the issue of North Korea without addressing the fact of its great utility to the regime in China.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 12:40 AM on February 3, 2010


Korea at night.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:57 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast: Maybe it's just been my reading, but I don't recall anyone having called North Korea "Stalinist".

I see it all the time, and Google backs me up with almost 900,000 hits for the terms "north korea stalinist".
posted by Harald74 at 4:03 AM on February 3, 2010


We already know of some of it, as detailed in the book The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Free to read/download on Google Books. I first heard of the book from this comment, which also provides links to a couple of amazing videos.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:59 PM on February 2


Is this something you would need a US google account for? I'm viewing that page on google books from the UK but can't see a link to view or download the book for free.
posted by Edame at 4:24 AM on February 3, 2010


We already know of some of it, as detailed in the book The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Free to read/download on Google Books. I first heard of the book from this comment, which also provides links to a couple of amazing videos.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:59 PM on February 2

Is this something you would need a US google account for? I'm viewing that page on google books from the UK but can't see a link to view or download the book for free.


Me too and I am in the US.
posted by grobstein at 4:53 AM on February 3, 2010


three blind mice: "So, Mr. Hitchens, Weren't You Wrong About Iraq?

Full of eloquent shit before the invasion of Iraq, full of eloquent shit after the invasion of Iraq.
"

Choice excerpt:

Was the terror connection not exaggerated?

Not by much. The Bush administration never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001.


What a lying sack of shit.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:26 PM on February 3, 2010


« Older Interview with Berkeley Breathed...  |  "The symbiotic relationship be... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments