What does the leader of North Korea want?
What was Soviet Russia's role in creating the so-called Democratic Republic of North Korea?
How did the Kim regime gain and keep total control over the people of North Korea?
Why is the best weapon against the totalitarian regime also the least destructive?
These and other questions are brought to mind in a bite-sized book of history and context: "North Korea: Unmasking Three Generations of Mad Men" (Lightning Guides, Callisto Media, Berkeley, CA, 2015).
Like Neil deGrasse Tyson's, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry," this book offers quick, to-the-point, relevant information – in this case about the inscrutable black hole of North Korea in the 21st century.
Nothing illustrates the stark difference between the North and South better than the NASA image of the Korean Peninsula showing a bright South Korea with blazing lights of Seoul and Pusan compared with the North's blackness except for a "tiny speck of light in the region of Pyongyang."
The editors of this Lightning Guide enlighten readers with the origins of North Korea in the years following World War II. The Soviet Union wanted the entire peninsula under their control, so they supported Stalinist Kim Il-sung, who served as a major in the Soviet Red Army in the 1940s until Imperial Japan surrendered.
"Though both North and South were hoping for a unified Korea, the ideological tensions between the pro- and anti-communists were ultimately too powerful. In the short time between the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south, it became increasingly clear that each side would try to overtake the other. The conflict – one as much between the Soviet Union and the United States as between North and South Korea – cost millions of lives and cemented in place a division that brought chaos to one side and prosperity to the other."Kim Il-sung launched an invasion of the south on June 25, 1950, taking control of Seoul. With the help of the U.S. military and the United Nations, the communists were forced back to the 38th Parallel, which became a demarcation line under the Korean Armistice Agreement and created a militarized demilitarized zone. Notably, China came to the aid of the North Korean regime to fight against UN forces.
|The endangered Amur Leopard|
The paranoia and resentment of leaders in the North creates an environment of fear, hate, intolerance and distrust, where absolute obedience is mandated ("Juche") and freedom seems like a fantasy.
This Lightning Guide quickly introduces us to each of the three Kims who have ruled with an iron fist and who continue to threaten the United States. "Son of the Sun" Kim Jong-il is introduced and described as leaving a "legacy of destruction and despair." He curried favor with his father through narcissistic fawning, built thousands of statues of his father throughout the countryside in the midst of a nationwide famine, and produced thousands of propaganda films. Kim Jong-un, the current dictator, continues his father's and grandfather's quest for totalitarian power and a reunited Korean Peninsula. But in the Kims' world, reunification can come about only if the peninsula is under the control of North Korea.
Will the United States be lured into another war? What if we have faith in our defensive capabilities and the power of a freedom and prosperity? Would knowledge of the outside world be the ultimate weapon to free the people of North Korea? When will the "light come on" for the oppressed people in the north?
"To those living outside North Korea, the situation can seem abstract. Oppression is less harsh without the sound of individual cries, and the Kims have gagged an entire nation. Starvation can be difficult to understand for people who have never been hungry, and the Kims have made it invisible. Perhaps their isolation is a blessing to North Koreans, since just across the Demilitarized Zone, so close and yet so far away, people with the same cultural legacy are thriving. Yet the electronics and digital revolution that has brought so much prosperity to the South may eventually be the undoing of the Kim Dynasty. When information [objective truth] is the greatest threat to a regime, a single tablet or cell phone may end up being more powerful than Kim Jung-un's weapons of mass destruction and repression."That may be the regime's real problem: how to defend against the truth.
Freedom fighters, including defectors, routinely send information via balloons carrying information leaflets, snacks and even U.S. and ROK currency. Broadcasters send information over radio waves to the hungry people in the north.
This small book can whet your appetite to dig deeper for more information about the history of North Korea, and I'm working my way through Bradley K. Martin's 874-page "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty" (St. Martin's Press, 2004, 2006), which includes details of the USS Pueblo incident and the effects of "Vietnam Syndrome."
Martin considers options for dealing with North Korea and urges patience and understanding even in the face of heated hyperbolic rhetoric. His conclusion: "If the United States should feel compelled to fight with North Korea, I had been saying and writing for a decade, the war should be fought with information rather than bullets."