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Juche, Reconsidered
March 1, 2010 1:32 AM   Subscribe

Happy birthday, Comrade Kim Pepe Escobar's series in the Asia Times (parts 1, 2, 3) reveals how everything we know about North Korea is wrong.
posted by telstar (73 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Remember that time Kim Jong Il kidnapped a director to make a movie about how great he was?
posted by rebent at 1:43 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pepe Escobar's series in the Asia Times (parts 1, 2, 3) reveals how everything we know about North Korea is wrong.

No, he doesn't.
posted by Skeptic at 1:51 AM on March 1, 2010


Of, fer fuck's sakes:

In the countryside conditions are much harsher; but in Pyongyang at least there's not a single beggar, homeless people or anyone starving in the streets (tell that to people in Detroit or New York).

From what I know about North Korea, I prefer not to imagine what would happen to anybody who'd have the impudence of begging in Pyongyang, never mind in sight of a foreign journalist. What sort of idiot writes such an article?
posted by Skeptic at 1:56 AM on March 1, 2010 [20 favorites]


Yes, how exactly does this contradict everything we know about North Korea? The article opens talking about the well-known mass games and hero worship, goes on to describe the repressive bureaucracy that is largely run by members of the extended Kim familly, Kim Jong-Il's obsession with Western pop culture and goods, a state constantly on the verge of collapse for decades based on a murky ideology...which is exactly what people think of when they think of North Korea.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:04 AM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Keep reading.
posted by telstar at 2:05 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The highlight of the day is synchronized swimming..
posted by three blind mice at 2:18 AM on March 1, 2010


Sorry, telstar, I kept reading to the end of the last article, and nobody is giving me those twenty minutes of my life back. What we read here is an account of an activist (the word "journalist" doesn't seem adequate), who made something like a 3-4 day visit to Pyongyang on the occassion of Kim Jong-Il's birthday, got the full (much derided) official tour, never left a tightly controlled bubble, and parrots the official North Korean line that everything is the US' fault.
posted by Skeptic at 2:18 AM on March 1, 2010 [14 favorites]


Googling "Kimjongilia" from the article also lead me to this (Warning: Loud patriotic music immediately upon loading!).
posted by Anderson_Localized at 2:21 AM on March 1, 2010


Reminds me of the Friends of Kim documentary somebody linked in a previous DPRK thread. Hint: totalitarian regimes often have ways of putting a shiny face on their bullshit. And propaganda isn't just a U2 fan magazine.
posted by kmz at 2:30 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


reveals how everything we know about North Korea is wrong.
Everything you know about articles that show how "everything you know is wrong" is wrong. At least in situations where "Everything" = "They aren't a huge waste of time".
What we read here is an account of an activist (the word "journalist" doesn't seem adequate), who made something like a 3-4 day visit to Pyongyang on the occassion of Kim Jong-Il's birthday, got the full (much derided) official tour, never left a tightly controlled bubble
We had a great post the other day about someone who did the same thing and came away with a very different impression, and recorded lots of video along the way. Unfortunately it was deleted as a dupe, but from like two years ago.
posted by delmoi at 2:34 AM on March 1, 2010


North Korea Blue?


He is not the socializing type - he'd probably rather drop dead than join Facebook.

And - very important - he loves to laugh.

Pyongyang in winter strikes the visitor as a silent meditation in shades of black, brown and gray - as striking, in fact, as the circumspect elegance of North Korean women.

The banknotes though look fabulous - destined to become collector's items in the West.


Seriously, most ads aren't this fellating.
posted by Bobicus at 2:49 AM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Keep reading.
telstar

I read. I'm still not seeing what you think is so eye-opening about this article. It tells us what we already knew with a big dollop of weird propaganda. Can you explain what you found so interesting about this?
posted by Sangermaine at 2:50 AM on March 1, 2010


He's a collector with an immense video and DVD library. especially from Hollywood.

I wonder if he cried during Team America.
posted by chillmost at 2:54 AM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


He's a collector with an immense video and DVD library. especially from Hollywood.

Also, a collector of people.
posted by JHarris at 3:21 AM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aside from the uncritical reporting of the bizarre idea that someone's managed to breed a flower with that perversely precise an internal clock (which I find doubtful - maybe some botanist will disagree though), the first page talks of Song Hye-rim/Sung Hae-rim in the present tense - despite her reportedly having been dead for nearly 8 years? It all seems a bit weird, even by the standards of an article on North Korea.
posted by edd at 3:35 AM on March 1, 2010


"The march was a very schizoid, schizophrenic moment for me, because one part of me was very full of admiration and clearly recognizing the grandeur in Jacob’s courage and his will to rebel against this extremely repressive regime, while standing in the heart of that regime. The other part of me wanted to silence him completely, because I was terrified. So it was a very complicated moment, and also I was drunk at that moment."

(Mads Brügger on filming The Red Chapel aka Kim Jung Il's Comedy Club [Last link to BBC iPlayer])
posted by Kiwi at 3:43 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus, what a stupid article. You can go on and on all day about the oh-so-intriguing details of Dear Douchebag's daily life, but we know what that government has done in the world - we know it as a certain fact. Of course it means nothing that this government has spent the last few decades pointing missiles of every goddamned kind at any and all nations in the area. N Korea's not part of the 'axis of evil'? Fine - it was a crime against language when that stupid phrase was invented, anyway - but you can't tell me the so-called fucking DPRK as a regime isn't evil. Hell, even if you could tell me that, I'd dare you to tell Japan, S Korea, Hong Kong, etc - every nation in the region has trembled in its boots at the insane ramblings of crazy Kim and his vendetta brigade. That's not fucking cool, no matter how you spin it.

This is even fucking lame as propaganda. Good lord. You want propaganda? Look at the media blitz China managed to churn out last year for the Olympics - stellar stuff. Really great nasty regimes can put out nice, professional-seeming propaganda. This is just shite. This is the kind of boring propaganda that a crap regime like the so-called DPRK puts out.
posted by koeselitz at 3:57 AM on March 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Heh, Pepe doesn't seem to go well on Metafilter: AfPak & ChiRan. I'm disappointed I wasn't able to get here first to make fun of him.
posted by FuManchu at 4:03 AM on March 1, 2010


I can't get myself to enjoy Pepe Escobar's stuff - that Globistan book was a silly kind of amateurish barroom theory, not a well-thought idea. I increasingly feel like he's trying to be the next Thomas Friedman.
posted by koeselitz at 4:13 AM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


(By the way, in my humble opinion this post is presented pretty badly. The first two parts of the article are not worth reading - I suspect even Escobar would cut them out but for editorial constraints and such. They're just local color, a bit of 'oh, look what I saw on my tour' stuff. You'll find the real meat of this article in part 3 - that's the only bit worth the trouble, really. That's why telstar said "keep reading;" but honestly, don't, just skip to part 3, especially if you're rolling your eyes and shaking your head like I was.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:16 AM on March 1, 2010


Thanks for the post. I've never read the Asia Times and now I know to avoid it.
posted by DU at 4:40 AM on March 1, 2010


After reading it, the only things I want to say I've already said,

First, about "contrarian" visitors to North Korea:
I've met a few people who've gone to NK that stuck me as oblivious as these guys. My theory is that most media reports on North Korea as if it's one huge prison, with soldiers pointing guns at the citizens at all times. They visit the country and see that, hey, lots of people are walking around just fine and they're even buying things. Their guides let them walk around a bit. Then they somehow jump to the conclusion that all the western reports are just propaganda. They seem oblivious to the fact that they're projecting their own experience onto the other people, oblivious that they are insanely rich tourists passing through, while the people they see have to live there (along with the risks to selves and family from police).
Then, about Pepe's lack of interest in real reporting:
Gah, I am so tired of this kind of reporting -- always looking for the conspiracy, and missing out on larger details because of it. The rag Asia Times is full of it. I previously gave faint praise to Pepe saying he was the sanest writer for them. Which is true, considering they regularly publish North Koreans apologists. [Bruce Cummings is one, mentioned in the article, and the only expert Pepe may have spoken to for this article]
...

He's just some dude who's not terribly knowledgeable (or at least doesn't display it) trying to find the next geo-political conspiracy. And it's sad, because there are some very interesting things going on there. ... But instead of giving a great report on any one of those (and he obviously has the ability to relate things in an awesome way), he muddles through all of them to produce whatever it was he was saying above.
He's just a lazy writer, and appears incapable of talking to any experts in the areas he writes on. Probably because they're all too "establishment" for his hard-hitting meandering.
posted by FuManchu at 4:43 AM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here's a recent New Yorker article about the "between six hundred thousand and two million" North Koreans who starved to death during a famine in the '90s. The full article can be read only by subscribers, but the abstract conveniently sums it up.
posted by ekroh at 5:01 AM on March 1, 2010


Why? Why would a nice guy like you want to kill a genius? Feeling pretty good, huh? Why? Do you know that the man really likes you? He likes you. He really likes you. But he's got something in mind for you. Aren't you curious about that? I'm curious. I'm very curious. Are you curious? There's something happening out here, man. You know something, man? I know something you that you don't know. That's right, Jack. The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad. Oh, yeah. He's dying, I think. He hates all this. He hates it! But the man's a...He reads poetry out loud, all right. And a voice...he likes you because you're still alive. He's got plans for you. No, I'm not gonna help you. You're gonna help him, man. You're gonna help him. I mean, what are they gonna say when he's gone? 'Cause he dies when it dies, when it dies, he dies! What are they gonna say about him? He was a kind man? He was a wise man? He had plans? He had wisdom? Bullshit, man! And am I gonna be the one that's gonna set them straight? Look at me! Look at me! Wrong! You!
posted by popechunk at 5:16 AM on March 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


ekroh: “Here's a recent New Yorker article about the "between six hundred thousand and two million" North Koreans who starved to death during a famine in the '90s.”

Yes, and that looks like an interesting article; the abstract points out that as much as ten percent of the population died during that famine. But as Escobar says in his article:

from article: “It's absolutely impossible for Americans, Western public opinion and global public opinion to understand what's at stake in the Korean nuclear dossier without understanding how the memory of the Korean war burns so vividly in Pyongyang among the old revolutionaries - and how it has been forever imprinted on the DPRK's national security strategy. Israel can always get away - literally - with murder ("eliminations") and maintaining a vicious occupation, not to mention keeping a "secret" nuclear arsenal. North Korea at least should be granted a fair hearing. ¶ The US air war on North Korea was an incredibly vicious bloodbath... North Koreans are as proud of their survival in this war against all odds as they are proud of the collectivization of land in the 1950s, when peasants were granted access to cooperative farms uniting an average of 275 households; and as they are proud of their current nuclear and ballistic missile technological savvy.”

With due respect to Mr Escobar: bullshit. N Koreans are not "proud of their survival" in a war that happened 50 years ago. Sure, some of them might be, but I'd imagine they've had their minds well taken off of that in the generation since by things like, oh, losing one in ten people to a famine, to name but one example. I have a feeling N Koreans are just as "proud of their survival" in the US-Korea war as Iranians are "proud of their victory" over the US-backed Shah in 1979; sure, fine, it was a big deal, but at this point there are kind of more pressing goddamned matters than something that happened decades ago. Any fixation on the US in N Korean minds, methinks, has little to do with reality and much to do with an image the reigning powers would like to project - an image that Escobar falls for hook, line, and sinker. 'Oh, the N Koreans are still hung up on the US because of the 50s' - no, I think the N Koreans are probably hung up on the fact that, in the midst of watching their uncles and aunts and cousins and mothers and fathers die of starvation, they have to watch as the leader of their nation lives richly and spends vastly on nuclear weapons to put them more deeply in the shit.

But far be it from me to say I know what's on the minds of N Koreans. Perhaps they are the staunch, stoic type who are relatively indifferent to food and shelter and prefer to think abstractly about defending their nation's 'dignity' by dying in a sad way. I think that's a rather convenient and stupid government lie, but again, maybe I'm just not experienced enough in the world to know what people might think on the other side of it.

I hope stavrosthewonderchicken happens along here soon. He is the resident expert on things Korean, I think. He might have a useful perspective - and he bloody well knows more about it than Pepe Escobar.
posted by koeselitz at 5:19 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Asia times is the same rag that report Iran's birth rate dropping as a sign of "spiritual decline", completely ignoring the fact that 1) Iran had been encouraging procreation in the past and 2) Iran actually started heavily promoting family planning and contraception afterward.
posted by delmoi at 5:20 AM on March 1, 2010


Are there any sites that actually show, on a map, pipelines and the current flow rates through them?

Many comments here would have us disregard most of what Escobar has to say. I have found his writing on AfPak informative; this is a non-Escobar article which is similar in its linkages of politics and oil.

From the RawStory article:

Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan's natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.
"The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now president of Afghanistan," Murray noted.

The explanatory power of this model simply overwhelms the other stated reasons for our presence in the region. Escobar seems to be one of the few journalists willing to put more information out there, but the comments here make me concerned about over-relying on him for news.

So, in the interests of objectivity, does someone have a map of flow rates?
posted by dragonsi55 at 5:22 AM on March 1, 2010


Mr. Escobar should be invited back to Korea once the Kim regime falls. There, he will be called before the high court on internationally broadcast TV, fitted with a helmet shaped to look like a horse's ass (which also contains speakers to repeat random bits of this suck-up job masquerading as journalism), covered in rancid kimchi from the Gak vat, and summarily deported.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:25 AM on March 1, 2010


Is Kim Jong Il on Twitter? Because that's one thing that would make me go to Twitter.
posted by goatdog at 5:26 AM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, in the interests of objectivity, does someone have a map of flow rates?

In the interest of curiosity, what does this have to do with North Korea?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:27 AM on March 1, 2010


dragonsi55 Even for my pipeline conspiracy theories, I prefer somebody like Ted Rall. You know, somebody who actually researches what he writes about instead of regurgiting half-digested wisdom.
posted by Skeptic at 5:29 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are two issues here: North Korea, and the veracity of Escobar.

I'm taking into account what has been said here about North Korea, and that leads me to question Escobar as a source.
posted by dragonsi55 at 5:33 AM on March 1, 2010


Pepe Escobar's series in the Asia Times (parts 1, 2, 3) reveals how everything [that Escobar thinks] we know about North Korea is wrong.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:47 AM on March 1, 2010


Reminds me of the Friends of Kim documentary somebody linked in a previous DPRK thread.

It was Peter McDermott who linked to that, and I'd like to thank him now for doing so. It's a very interesting piece of documentary filmmaking which deserves viewing, for sure.

And I think this Escobar article was shite.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:53 AM on March 1, 2010


What a knob
posted by Monkeymoo at 6:29 AM on March 1, 2010


During his visit to Russia, [George Bernard] Shaw demonstrated that he possessed in abundance the virtue of self-deception, for which he had frequently praised the English. He found Stalin charming, "with an irrepressible sense of humor." He accepted at face value all he was told and shown. Because food was plentiful at the banquets given in his honor in Moscow, he refused to believe that there was a famine in Russia.
—Julian Bertram Kaye, Bernard Shaw and the Nineteenth-Century Tradition (University of Oklahoma Press, 1958), p. 190.
posted by languagehat at 6:39 AM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's articles like this that make me wonder:

Why the fuck am I not a journalist? Really. If that guy can get a steady gig, anyone on this forum should be showered with money, prizes, and copious quantities of North Korean meth.

Goddamn. Now I gotta go buy a manual typewriter.
posted by aramaic at 6:46 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I already knew he was the world's greatest fashion designer. That article did nothing to disprove my belief.
posted by electroboy at 6:48 AM on March 1, 2010


Today is the 68th birthday of the general secretary of the Worker's Party of Korea, chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army - comrade Kim Jong-il. For Pyongyang's 2 million or so residents, it's time to party.

It's time to party, Let's party
Eat six grains of rice and have a crazy party
All praise to the Party
Have a killer party or we'll send you to the zinc mines

Don't even try and deny it
you have been harboring unsavory elements
And you know we're gonna do it tonight
You're gonna lose it all
If you continue to fail to exemplify the harmonious teaching of the Great leader in the spirit of Juche
Party, Party, There's gonna be a party Tonight!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:58 AM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Even for my pipeline conspiracy theories, I prefer somebody like Ted Rall. You know, somebody who actually researches what he writes about instead of regurgiting half-digested wisdom.

I would prefer a conspiracy theorist who can draw.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:02 AM on March 1, 2010


if you knew juche like i know juche
oh oh oh what a thrall!
posted by pyramid termite at 7:07 AM on March 1, 2010


As a CNC machinist, let me be the first to welcome the DPRK to 40 years ago. Congratulations on your economic miracle.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:26 AM on March 1, 2010


Their not a bunch of starving lunatics whose political system is basically a personality cult organised around the worlds least compelling personality?
posted by Artw at 7:40 AM on March 1, 2010


kmz: "Reminds me of the Friends of Kim documentary somebody linked in a previous DPRK thread. Hint: totalitarian regimes often have ways of putting a shiny face on their bullshit. And propaganda isn't just a U2 fan magazine."

I didn't look at that vid yet, but I was just gonna mention that there is some organization that tries to do this, so I'm guessing your video about that group. But that is *precisely* the vibe I got from what I was reading (didn't read the full thing).

Yay propaganda! Off to watch!!!
posted by symbioid at 7:46 AM on March 1, 2010


I would prefer a conspiracy theorist who can draw.

Good point. Rall is a good writer, and a decent journalist. I don't know why he decided to become a (crap) cartoonist instead.
posted by Skeptic at 7:48 AM on March 1, 2010


I appreciate the effort to "naturalize" NK by means of on-the-ground reporting. I lived in the USSR a long time ago and came back with the impression that the place was really more run-of-the-mill than I'd read in the Western press (or at least some Western press). That said, sometimes run-of-the-mill is just bad, as in this case. There is nothing very complicated about North Korea: it's is a despotism--the Dear Leader virtually owns everything and everyone. Still, everybody's got to live life (or try), and the poor North Koreans are no different. The author observed them making do (in this case, celebrating). Good enough. But then he seems to have drawn an poor inference from the parts (North Koreans) to the whole (North Korea). Just because North Koreans party doesn't mean that North Korea is a party. Even despots let the people have a good time on occasion.

Still, I appreciate the effort to make North Koreans look like people, because that is just what they are (I know, it sounds trite, but what can you do?)
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:50 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kind of like Rall's stuff. Real Americans Admit: The Worst Thing I've Ever Done is a great read, and the art really works with it. I don't love his weekly strip, but, hey, it's far from the worst messagy alternative strip out there.

Which is damning with faint praise, I suppose.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:02 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Western Friends of North Korea part 1 part 2 part 3...
All weirdos.
posted by Damienmce at 9:25 AM on March 1, 2010


Yeah, that article was pretty much horseshit.

I just picked up Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, though, and I recommend that wholeheartedly. It's mostly sourced from interviews with defectors to the South, and I think it gives a much more interesting and in-depth picture of actual people's lives in the DPRK than another thumbsucker based on the standard foreigner's propaganda tour.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:48 AM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Blaming the journalist is well and good, but remember that for any article out there that's erroneous or inaccurate, there's always an editor who is singularly responsible for deciding to bring that material into public view.
posted by crapmatic at 10:55 AM on March 1, 2010


[George Bernard] Shaw demonstrated that he possessed in abundance the virtue of self-deception, for which he had frequently praised the English. He found Stalin charming, "with an irrepressible sense of humor."

But the joke was always on other people.
posted by ersatz at 12:03 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


And if you're interested in what North Koreans believe, much better post previously.
posted by grobstein at 1:54 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


there's always an editor who is singularly responsible for deciding to bring that material into public view.

And a publisher who's trying to sell ad space. Sex and violence, kids, sex and violence.

Seriously, though, to dismiss all of ATimes because of some pieces you find foolish or wrong or simply distasteful is pretty parochial.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:07 PM on March 1, 2010


Sheit, I thought that was satire, but is slowly came to me that maybe it isn't. Are we sure it wasn't just cribbed from The Onion?

If it is entirely serious (and the fellows history would say it is), then my only question is he just be contrarian for the sake of discussion, or is he just an idiot?
posted by Bovine Love at 5:37 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Utter tripe.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:19 PM on March 1, 2010


Seriously, though, to dismiss all of ATimes because of some pieces you find foolish or wrong or simply distasteful is pretty parochial.

But if most pieces in the Asia Times are apparently as foolish, wrong and distasteful as this one, doesn't that build a pretty solid case against that rag?

I mean, the NYT is still getting grief over Judith Miller, never mind Jayson Blair...
posted by Skeptic at 1:47 AM on March 2, 2010


to dismiss all of ATimes because of some pieces you find foolish or wrong

I dunno, I can dismiss the NY Post pretty easily. Seems like the same applies here, despite the geographic differences.

...or wait, were you assuming that we'd never heard of Asia Times before?

Ah, I see.
posted by aramaic at 6:13 AM on March 2, 2010


Damn! What's with all the Escobar-hate out there? So maybe the mefite's intro promised a bit more than the articles delivered our even intended. They are still good articles with a bit of history and a side of North Korea that one did not get to see often. And from what I gathered from actually reading the articles, Escobar does not try to deny the many horrible things that we've heard about the regime, he merely tries to put it in perspective. I for one had no idea that the Kims got their start as freedom fighters against the japanese. And who doesn't like a good story about freedom fighters turned dictators! And America's contribution to the current situation should not be ignored. Like it our not, that's our baby too over there.
posted by jake1 at 8:51 AM on March 2, 2010


Yes, Jake1, it seems that most commenters here didn't get around to reading part 3: The last frontier of the Cold War. I now know where the expression "bombing them back to the stone age" comes from. Ah well, all I can do is post Part 4: All aboard the juche train, posted at the Asia Times today.

Thanks for the post. I've never read the Asia Times and now I know to avoid it.

My own attempts to peg the Asia Times politically haven't met with much success as they seem to publish authors from the far "left" all the way to the far "right" of the political spectrum on a regular basis. My kinda website.
posted by telstar at 6:24 PM on March 2, 2010


Buddy of mine has written a lot of pieces for them. I don't have a problem with the outlet, just this series of articles.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:34 PM on March 2, 2010


A tantalizingly spare review, stavros. But then, dismissing Escobar's articles out of hand seems to be the order of the day here on MeFi. Many here seem to be saying "don't look there, nothing to see, utter tripe, yadda yadda". But there is plenty to see, especially as to how the North Korean state came about largely as a direct result of American "bomb 'em back to the stone age" campaigns during the Korean war and survives largely on the intransigence of the American state refusing to sign a peace treaty with North Korea. There is a direct historical parallel here with the carpet bombing campaigns in Cambodia in the early 70's which resulted in the rise of Pol Pot. Today we see the Taliban surviving and thriving despite, or is it because of the American bombing campaigns in the middle east?
posted by telstar at 9:55 PM on March 2, 2010


No offense, telstar, but anyone who knows anything about NK beyond "bad ruler, nuke danger" (which admittedly is all you can glean from most "reporting") knows all that stuff already. It's like defending Walter Duranty's credulous reporting on Stalin's Soviet Union by saying "Well, but he tells you all about how awful the tsarist regime was and why they had to have a revolution!" Well, but you can learn all that elsewhere without the useless crap about "not a single beggar, homeless people or anyone starving in the streets."
posted by languagehat at 8:55 AM on March 3, 2010


...survives largely on the intransigence of the American state refusing to sign a peace treaty with North Korea

See, that is the kind of statement that is in the vein of why the article is so terrible. What are the conditions of the peace treaty? Why does America refuse to sign it? Who else is involved? In particular, lets see this peace treaty and when it was offered and refused. It is absolutely de rigor to say "oh, we'd be at peace if the other side would just sign on.". Witness every labour dispute and just about every international dispute.

And claiming that the formation of North Korea is largely a result of American bombing is willfully being blind the the role of the other players (including the USSR, China, lots of internal forces, etc). It is a untenable simplification and just plain wrong.

I won't argue that the 'other side' doesn't do similar simplification, but that doesn't make this anymore right.

Incidentally, I don't think people here dismissed it out of hand. We read it and dismissed it based on knowledge and analysis.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2010


Today we see the Taliban surviving and thriving despite, or is it because of the American bombing campaigns in the middle east?

It's a bit of a stretch to call Afghanistan the middle east, but the Taliban came about long before we started any military action in Afghanistan.
posted by electroboy at 11:26 AM on March 3, 2010


telstar: “... survives largely on the intransigence of the American state refusing to sign a peace treaty with North Korea.”

I disagree strongly. I don't see exactly how the willingness or unwillingness of a foreign nation to sign a peace treaty constitutes the survival of an authoritarian regime. I accept that the US should take more stock of its destruction of North Korea fifty years ago, but the drawback of this article is that it focuses solely on the 'crimes' that the US has committed as the regime claims, without paying any attention whatsoever to the real historical facts.

This is certainly not to say that the US never embarked on a horrifying bombing campaign in North Korea. But the fact of the matter is that that's only a very small part of the story of what's happened there in the last fifty years; and, most importantly, the so-called 'DPRK' has been responsible for at least as much death and destruction as the United States ever managed - not that they even should be compared. That's the trouble, really: Escobar seems to want to evoke a kind of comparison, or rather he pretty much presumes from the beginning that the US has either directly or indirectly caused most of the troubles in North Korea over the last fifty years.

Fine. So we did some terrible things a few decades ago. Let's not minimalize that; the bombings in Korea (and Cambodia, etc) were a horrifying thing, terrible and veritably anti-humanitarian. Escobar seems hung up on MacArthur's silly ideas and plans which weren't actually put into place at all, which is frankly somewhat annoying because it detracts from the very important historical point that what did happen was quite wrong. But this isn't really the point for Korea today. To suggest that bombings that happened many decades ago are the most pressing problem in North Korea today is simply blind to the reality there.

Most importantly, I want to say that this series of articles does whitewash the Kim regime's crimes against humanity. The number of people who have starved to death in institutionally-created famines, who have been unjustly imprisoned, who have been executed and tortured, in Korea is vast, vaster than Escobar seems to realize. These articles are annoying not just because Escobar minimizes those things but because he doesn't mention them at all; either he simply doesn't know that they occurred, or he has bought the party line that they were minimal.

The fact is that the destruction the US wreaked on North Korea isn't news. The fact that North Korea was occupied by Japan isn't news, either. It's just... well, what I'd like to see is a revealing, thoughtful portrait of life in North Korea as it actually is. This is far from it. And I still have a hard time believing that the US bombing of North Korea many decades ago is a real and pressing concern on the minds of the millions of North Koreans who face famine and starvation every day.
posted by koeselitz at 1:43 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the Wiki entry
The 1954–56 three-year plan repaired the massive damage caused by the war and brought industrial production back to pre-war levels. This was followed by the five-year plan of 1957–61 and the seven-year plan of 1961–67. These plans brought about further growth in industrial production and substantial development of state infrastructure. By the 1960s North Korea was the second most industrialized nation in East Asia, trailing only Japan.
and
Due to a series of ill fortuned policy decisions concerning military expenditures and mining industries and the radical changes in international oil prices by the late seventies, the North Korean economy began to slow down. These decisions eventually affected the whole economy, forcing the nation to acquire external debts. At the same time North Korea's policy of self-reliance and the antagonism of America and its allies made it difficult for them to expand foreign trade or secure credit.
posted by electroboy at 2:56 PM on March 3, 2010


Due to a series of ill fortuned policy decisions concerning military expenditures and mining industries and the radical changes in international oil prices by the late seventies, the North Korean economy began to slow down. These decisions eventually affected the whole economy, forcing the nation to acquire external debts.

Sorry, which country was I reading about just then? Although I started to think the passage described North Korea, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a description of the United States of America.
posted by telstar at 3:10 PM on March 3, 2010


You couldn't win the argument so now you're just going for zingers. Good move, maybe nobody will notice.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:15 PM on March 3, 2010


Oops, linked to the wrong entry. Correct one is here.

Sorry, which country was I reading about just then?

It's cool. You're wrong about both the Taliban and North Korea, I understand that snark is all you've got left.
posted by electroboy at 3:16 PM on March 3, 2010


but the Taliban came about long before we started any military action in Afghanistan.

Yes, they simply "came about", as in an act of Nature or God. Or did they result from Ronald Reagan's insistence on calling the Afghan mujahideen "freedom fighters" and securing US funding and CIA assistance to the most fundamentalist factions of the Muslim resistance in Afghanistan? I invite readers here to peruse the numerous MeFi posts concerning Blowback (mefi search) that is, unintended consequences of foreign military adventurism. In a sense, NK can be viewed as one of the paramount and lasting examples of blowback existing in the world today.
posted by telstar at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2010


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: “You couldn't win the argument so now you're just going for zingers. Good move, maybe nobody will notice.”

Hey now. No need to go calling the OP out for not arguing in their own post.

electroboy: “It's a bit of a stretch to call Afghanistan the middle east, but the Taliban came about long before we started any military action in Afghanistan.”

telstar: “Yes, they simply "came about", as in an act of Nature or God. Or did they result from Ronald Reagan's insistence on calling the Afghan mujahideen "freedom fighters" and securing US funding and CIA assistance to the most fundamentalist factions of the Muslim resistance in Afghanistan? ... In a sense, NK can be viewed as one of the paramount and lasting examples of blowback existing in the world today.”

Hm. I was sort of surprised at this angle, as I initially wondered if you might take a different approach when you mentioned the Taliban. I think the Taliban is indeed an example of 'blowback,' but ironically not blowback against the United States; if anything, the Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan caused the Taliban. This is an interesting point, because it shows that the US is not alone in provoking these kinds of responses.

But the fact is that blowback has always been a very partial explanation. You can say that the USSR 'caused' the rise of the Taliban, or that US empire-building 'caused' foreign terrorism - but in the minds of those people who adhere to it, that's simply not true. People in the Taliban don't see themselves as motivated by the USSR or the US; they see themselves as motivated by their interpretation of what Islam means.

In the case of North Korea, a very insular and isolated nation, hatred of the US does not and indeed could not play the major role in propping up the current regime. We simply don't play a major role there at all. Yes, the US plays a major role in the government's propaganda, but since the regime's power rests on military might rather than democratic persuasive force that hardly matters. And the fact that Escobar emphasizes so highly the US's role made a lot of us feel as though he'd just bought the regime's party line.
posted by koeselitz at 4:47 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, they simply "came about", as in an act of Nature or God.

Not what I said, but they have very little to do with bombing in the Middle East. The Taliban and the anti-Soviet mujahedeen are not necessarily the same people. In fact, the Taliban was organized as a reaction against mujahedeen warlords fighting for control of Afghanistan after the Soviets left. If you're talking about Al Qaeda, that's a different story. But Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren't the same either.

In a sense, NK can be viewed as one of the paramount and lasting examples of blowback existing in the world today.

No, that's completely wrong. North Korea has basically destroyed itself through a combination of a horribly managed planned economy, alienating their Chinese and Soviet allies and basing an economy on weapons sales, counterfeiting and international food aid.
posted by electroboy at 6:35 PM on March 3, 2010


Directing traffic in the DPRK
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:44 AM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


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