Christopher Hitchens on North Korean Propoganda

Posted: February 4, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Politics
Tags: , ,

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, tries to update his view of North Korean after reading B.R. Myers’ The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters.  While Hitchens had assumed that North Korean totalitarianism was best understood as a combination of “classical Stalinism with a contorted form of the deferential, patriarchal Confucian ethos,” Myers’ book convinced him that North Korea has actually become a radically nationalist (and therefore far right) dictatorship.  Here’s part of his argument:

Consider: Even in the days of communism, there were reports from Eastern Bloc and Cuban diplomats about the paranoid character of the [North Korean] system (which had no concept of deterrence and told its own people that it had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in bad faith) and also about its intense hatred of foreigners. A black Cuban diplomat was almost lynched when he tried to show his family the sights of Pyongyang. North Korean women who return pregnant from China—the regime’s main ally and protector—are forced to submit to abortions. Wall posters and banners depicting all Japanese as barbarians are only equaled by the ways in which Americans are caricatured as hook-nosed monsters. (The illustrations in this book are an education in themselves.) The United States and its partners make up in aid for the huge shortfall in North Korea’s food production, but there is not a hint of acknowledgement of this by the authorities, who tell their captive subjects that the bags of grain stenciled with the Stars and Stripes are tribute paid by a frightened America to the Dear Leader.

Myers also points out that many of the slogans employed and displayed by the North Korean state are borrowed directly—this really does count as some kind of irony—from the kamikaze ideology of Japanese imperialism. Every child is told every day of the wonderful possibility of death by immolation in the service of the motherland and taught not to fear the idea of war, not even a nuclear one.

I knew that North Korea was a terrible place, but it is of course far worse than I could have imagined.  The title of for the article, “A Nation of Racist Dwarves,” is a bit crude, although here is the explanation for why he refers to the North Koreans in that way:

Here are the two most shattering facts about North Korea. First, when viewed by satellite photography at night, it is an area of unrelieved darkness. Barely a scintilla of light is visible even in the capital city. (See this famous photograph.) Second, a North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.

Myers’ book is short (200 pages or so) and looks like an important read to understand the isolationist dictatorship.  Hitchens wonders if these realities mean that North Korea cannot be dealt with on any kind of normal, rational basis.

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