Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Bad News: No Agreements Are Ever Honored Because North Korea Is A Land Of Lies


In a contest of congenital liars Trump may have met his match-- with North Korea. Author Suki Kim spent much of 2011 teaching English to children of North Korea’s elite at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). In 2014 she wrote Without You, There Is No Us about North Korea and she seems to know more about the remnants of the Hermit Kingdom than anyone else. Jon Schwartz published an interview he did with her at The Intercept Monday, All Paths Lead To Catastrophe.

"Kim’s book," Schwartz wrote, "is particularly important for anyone who wants to understand what happens next with North Korea. Her experience made her extremely pessimistic about every aspect of the country, including the regime’s willingness to ever renounce its nuclear weapons program. North Korea functions, she believes, as a true cult, with all of the country’s pre-cult existence now passed out of human memory.
Most ominously, her students, all young men in their late teens or early twenties, were firmly embedded in the cult. With the Kim family autocracy now on its third generation, you’d expect the people who actually run North Korea to have abandoned whatever ideology they started with, and have degenerated into standard human corruption. But PUST’s enrollees, their children, did not go skiing in Gstaad on school breaks; they didn’t even appear to be able to travel anywhere in North Korea. Instead they studied the North Korea ideology of Juche, or worked on collective farms.

Unsurprisingly, then, Kim’s students were shockingly ignorant of the outside world. They didn’t recognize pictures of the Taj Mahal or Egyptian pyramids. One had heard that everyone on earth spoke Korean because it was recognized as the world’s most superior language. Another believed that the Korean dish naengmyeon was seen as the best food on earth. And all Kim’s pupils were soaked in a culture of lying, telling her preposterous falsehoods so often that she writes, “I could not help but think that they-- my beloved students-- were insane.” Nonetheless, they were still recognizably human and charmingly innocent, and for their part came to adore their teachers.

Overall, Without You, There Is No Us is simply excruciatingly sad. All of Korea has been the plaything of Japan, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China, and like most Korean families, Kim’s has close relatives who ended up in North Korea when the country was separated and have never been seen again. Korea is now, Kim says, irrevocably ruptured...

Schwartz: Essentially no Americans know what happened between 1945 and the start of the Korean War. And few Americans know what happened during the war. [Syngman Rhee, the U.S.-installed ultra-right wing South Korean dictator, massacred tens of thousands of South Koreans before North Korea invaded in 1950. Rhee’s government executed another 100,000 South Koreans in the war’s early months. Then the barbaric U.S. air war against North Korea killed perhaps one-fifth of its population.]

Kim: This “mystery of North Korea” that people talk about all the time-- people should be asking why Korea is divided and why there are American soldiers in South Korea. These questions are not being asked at all. Once you look at how this whole thing began it makes some sense why North Korea uses this hatred of the United States as a tool to justify and uphold the Great Leader myth. Great Leader has always been the savior and the rescuer who was protecting them from the imperialist American attack. That story is why North Korea has built their whole foundation not only on the Juche philosophy but hatred of the United States.

Schwartz: Based on your experience, how do you perceive the nuclear issue with North Korea?

Kim: Nothing will change because it’s an unworkable problem. It’s very dishonest to think this can be solved. North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons. Never.

The only way North Korea can be dealt with is if this regime is not the way it is. No agreements are ever honored because North Korea just doesn’t do that. It’s a land of lies. So why keep making agreements with someone who’s never going to honor those agreements?

And ultimately what all the countries surrounding North Korea want is a regime change. What they’re doing is pretending to have an agreement saying they do not want a regime change, but pursuing regime change anyway.

Despite it all you have to constantly do engagement efforts, throwing information in there. That’s the only option. There’s no other way North Korea will change. Nothing will ever change without the outside pouring some resources in there.

Schwartz: What is the motivation of the people who actually call the shots in North Korea to hold onto the nuclear weapons?

Kim: They don’t have anything else. There’s literally nothing else they can rely on. The fact they’re a nuclear power is the only reason anyone would be negotiating with them at this point. It’s their survival.

Regime change is what they fear. That’s what the whole country is built on.

Schwartz: Even with a different kind of regime, it’s hard to argue that it would be rational for them to give up their nuclear weapons, after seeing what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

Kim: This is a very simple equation. There is no reason for them to give up nuclear weapons. Nothing will make them give them up.

Schwartz: I’ve always believed that North Korea would never engage in a nuclear first strike just out of self-preservation. But your description of your students did honestly give me pause. It made me think the risk of miscalculation on their part is higher than I realized.

Kim: It was paradoxical. They could be very smart, yet could be completely deluded about everything. I don’t see why that would be different in the people who run the country. The ones that foreigners get to meet, like diplomats, are sophisticated and can talk to you on your level. But at the same time they also have this other side where they have really been raised to think differently, their reality is skewed. North Korea is the center of the universe, the rest of the world kind of doesn’t exist. They’ve been living this way for 70 years, in a complete cult.

My students did not know what the internet was, in 2011. Computer majors, from the best schools in Pyongyang. The system really is that brutal, for everyone.

Schwartz: Even their powerful parents seemed to have very little ability to make any decisions involving their children. They couldn’t have their children come home, they couldn’t come out and visit.

Kim: You would expect that exceptions were always being made [for children of elites] but that just wasn’t true. They couldn’t call home. There was no way of communicating with their parents at all. There are literally no exceptions made. There is no power or agency.

I also found it shocking that they had not been anywhere within their own country. You would think that of all these elite kids that at least some would have seen the famous mountains [of North Korea]. None of them had. That absoluteness is why North Korea is the way it is.

Schwartz: What would you recommend if you could create the North Korea policy for the U.S. and other countries?

Kim: It’s a problem that no one has been able to solve.

It’s not a system that they can moderate. The Great Leader can’t be moderated. You can’t be a little bit less god. The Great Leader system has to break.

But it’s impossible to imagine. I find it to be a completely bleak problem. People have been deprived of any tools that they need, education, information, sharing tools.

[Military] intervention is not going to work because it’s a nuclear power. I guess it has to happen in pouring information into North Korea in whatever capacity.

But then the population are abused victims of a cult ideology. Even if the Great Leader is gone, another form of dictatorship will take its place.

Every path is a catastrophe. This is why even defectors, when they flee, usually turn into devout fundamentalist Christians. I’d love to offer up solutions but everything leads to a dead end.

One thing that gave me a small bit of hope is the fact that Kim Jong-un is more reckless than the previous leader [his father Kim Jong-il]. To get your uncle and brother killed within a few years of rising to power, that doesn’t really bode well for a guy who’s only there because of his family name. His own bloodline is the only thing keeping him in that position. You shouldn’t be killing your own family members, that’s self-sabotage.

Schwartz: Looking at history, it seems to me that normally what you’d expect is that eventually the royal family will get too nuts, the grandson will be too crazy, and the military and whatever economic powers there are are going to decide, well, we don’t need this guy anymore. So we’re going to get rid of this guy and then the military will run things. But that’s seems impossible in North Korea: You must have this family in charge, the military couldn’t say, oh by the way, the country’s now being run by some general.

Kim: They already built the brand, Great Leader is the most powerful brand. That’s why the assassination of [Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother and the original heir to the Kim dynasty] Kim Jong-nam was really a stupid thing to do. Basically that assassination proved that this royal bloodline can be murdered. And that leaves the room open for that possibility. Because there are other bloodline figures for them to put in his place. He’s not the only one. So to kill [Jong-nam] set the precedent that this can happen.

...It’s interesting to be analyzing North Korea in this period of time in America because there are a lot of similarities. Look at Trump’s non-stop tweeting about “fake news” and how great he is. That’s very familiar, that’s what North Korea does. It’s just endless propaganda. All these buildings with all these slogans shouting at you all the time, constantly talking about how the enemies are lying all the time.

Those catchy one liners, how many words are there in a tweet? It’s very similar to those [North Korean] slogans.

This country right now, where you’re no longer able to tell what’s true or what’s a lie, starting from the top, that’s North Korea’s biggest problem. America should really look at that, there’s a lesson... You see how humanity can be so distorted, and manipulated, and violated.

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At 10:09 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

I find Suki Kim's views interesting and credible, but it bothers me that there is almost no reportage on NK's openness to negotiation, today's piece in The Intercept being a rare exception.

While it might be true that "North Korea is a land of lies", it is rational for NK to consider nuclear weapons as an insurance policy of sorts, considering (a) US duplicity with Libya and Iran; (b) the intensification of US military activity in the area; and (c) Trump's bombastic threats.

NK has indicated its willingness to negotiate in return for a threat reduction. Better to negotiate with an unreliable adversary than to back them into a dangerous corner.

At 2:47 AM, Blogger Skeptical Partisan said...

While not peace, detente is not outright war; that in itself makes establishing and maintaining detente a worthy diplomatic goal.

While there is no comparison between the information control of NK and the U.S., we need to recognize corporate media has stultified public debate with its embargo of an expansive Overton window. The only acceptable sphere of debate spans the establishment Republican and Democratic talking point; everything outside is either radical left or so loony, it doesn't deserve mention. Creativity requires brainstorming; when media restricts public discourse, public brainstorming is shut down. This is bad for critical thinking, bad policy and bad for democracy.

At 6:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When trying to deal with cults such as this, you must factor in how dangerous they are.

This cult has nukes. This cult won't feel constrained from using them. It's sad and all that, true. But sadness won't keep their Jim Jones from pulling the trigger whenever it amuses him.

If you anthropomorphize a lunatic, you delude yourselves.

Why do we refuse to so delude ourselves about trump but seem willing wrt kim?

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Bill Michtom said...

One country has used a nuclear weapon. One country has overthrown tens of other countries over 70 years.

You're worried about NK?


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