Friday, February 5, 2010

North Korea as the "Master Race"

One of the central beliefs of communism is that the transcendent unity of the international working class would trump hostility between nations. Time and time again, those who awaited the eclipse of national rivalries have been disappointed. When Yugoslavia fell apart in the early 90's, it was members of the Tito's League of Communists such as Slobodan Milosevic who reconnected with and revised a modern version of Serbian nationalism.

Bulgaria under the communist rule of Todor Zhivkov expelled tens of thousands of ethnic Turks and forced many who remained to take on Bulgarian names. And who can forget Vietnam's communist government in 1975 after the fall of Saigon pushing its ethnic Chinese minority to flee Vietnam in rickety boats? How many were murdered by pirates or sank in stormy seas may never be known.

The latest communist country to give lie to its Marxist trappings is North Korea. In his recently released book, " The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves-And Why It Matters", Brian Myers takes a look beyond the official prounouncements of the North Korean government and looks what the regime tells its own people. Mr. Myers is fluent in Korean and teaches in a South Korean University. Additionally, he has been studying North Korea for 20 years. This lends considerable weight to his conclusions.

Myers systematically refutes common misconceptions about the Korean hermit kingdom. The Far Eastern Economic Review reports as follows on Mr Myer's penetrating insights.

"The author challenges some established views of North Korean regime. For instance, he believes that the regime is based neither on Stalinism nor Confucianism but rather an extreme nationalism that developed under the influence of Japanese fascism of the 1930s.

North Koreans are taught to see themselves as a unique race bestowed with an unparalleled spiritual purity. This sets them apart from the evil and inherently immoral outsiders, but also makes all contact with the outside world dangerous. Being uniquely pure, spontaneous and naïve-overgrown children, essentially—Koreans have to be guided and protected by a leader."

It should be noted that Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905 and formally annexed by it in 1910 until September of 1945. This 40 year period is comparable to the amount of time that Eastern Germany was under communist rule. Despite the seething indignation at the cruel indignities of Japanese occupation, it is worth evaluating the extent to which North Korean political ideology might be an inverted reflection of imperial Japanese political thinking in some respects.

What was striking in Myers' look behind the scenes in North Korea was his portrayal of the spin North Korea's leaders put on the food that has been sent to the famine stricken hermit nation. The Cleanest Race cites numerous instances where international aid is presented as a fearful display of cowardice by cowardly nations attempting to curry favour with mighty North Korea. This marked contrast with the world's perception of North Korea's economic implosion and collapse almost has a delusional quality.

For decades, North Koreans were told that South Korea was an impoverished vassal state of the USA. The smuggling of South Korean television tapes as well as news seeping in from China has made the maintenance of this lie completely untenable.

Now there is a new spin on South Korea's socio economic situation. According to the North Korean propaganda, South Korea has sold itself to achieve the prosperity that it has thus far achieved. Intermarriage with westerners has according to the North Koreans polluted the racial purity of South Korea. With its withdrawal from the world, North Korea is presented as having purer racial stock than South Korea. North Korea's racial purity is seen as a qualification to lead a united Korea in the future.

Although North Korea has less non Korean blood mixed into its gene pool, the most visible difference between the north and the south of Korea is the disparity in height and size. Poor nutrition leaves North Koreans notably shorter than their brothers and sister sin the south. Among others, the DPRK Studies blog notes this disturbing phenomenon as follows.

"Foreigners who get the chance to visit North Korea — perhaps the most isolated country in the world — are often confused about the age of children. Nine-year-olds are mistaken for kindergartners and soldiers for Boy Scouts.

“They all looked like dwarfs,” said Kim Dong Kyu, a South Korean academic who has made two trips to North Korea. “When I saw those soldiers, they looked like middle-school students. I thought if they had to sling an M-1 rifle over their shoulders, it would drag to the ground.”

To the extent that they ever get to meet South Koreans, the North Koreans are likewise shocked. When two diminutive North Korean soldiers, ages 19 and 23, accidentally drifted into South Korea on a boat, one reportedly was overheard saying they would never be able to marry South Korean women because they were “too big for us,” according to an account in the book “The Two Koreas,” by Don Oberdorfer."

It is maddening to see how the ethnic solidarity of South Korea with their impoverished northern fellow Koreans is misrepresented to the people of North Korea. It is hard to believe that the west is hard hearted enough to lump the people of North Korea with their government and to abandon them to starvation.

North Korea lost about 10% of its population to famine. The country is divided into a caste system, with the highest caste living in Pyongyang. Progressive gradations of political unreliability are assigned their closed zones, with a gulag on the bottom rung of the ladder. When aid does come in, it is controlled by the leadership and doled out to those considered worthy and politically reliable.

News is seeping in. Additionally, the presence of starvation, blackouts and idle factories are there for all to see. But the ruthless efficiency with which opposition has been eradicated leaves North Korea with no viable leadership for its opposition. Will underground Korean churches produce a disciplined political leadership? It would take a miracle for that to happen. What might be more likely would be a Krushchev or a Gorbachev finding the right moment to introduce reforms.

Myers raises a lot of questions and provides rare insights into life in North Korea. It seems that communism in that isolated nation has died. But what has replaced it is perhaps far worse. It is a mutated nationalism and racial supremacism held together by the Kim family's ubiquitous projection onto North Korea's national life.

What will bring normalcy to North Korea? Who knows? But Brian Myers in "The Cleanest Race" is starting to ask the right questions. Sphere: Related Content

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