This is a great new article on North Korea, an interview with a fine North Korea scholar, Colin Marshall, an American who teaches at a university in South Korea. He has been intensively studying North Korea for 20 years now, mostly by reading their official publications.
A few points:
First of all, he disagrees that this is a classic Marxist-Leninist state anymore. North Korea recently removed the word “Communism” from its Constitution. Indeed, many Leftists and even Communists have washed our hands of these guys a long time ago. Instead, he argues that this is a state that results when the Far Left and Far Right meet in a sort of a circle. So, it is kind of a Marxist-Leninist-Fascist state, if such a thing is even possible.
The state is based on a racist rhetoric (Marshall sees North Korea as possibly the most racist state on Earth right now) that sees the Koreans as the pure people, untainted by evil, who are being menaced by these evil forces, specifically the Americans. The South Koreans are included in this racist view of the world. Kim Jong Il and his father are romanticized as some kind of blood and soil fathers of the people.
Even with access to outside media in recent years (Yes, many North Koreans can now access outside media) the overwhelming majority of North Koreans still buy into this philosophy. Even if they realize that many of the stories about Kim and his father are not true, they believe in them the same way that some believe in religious stories – that the story may not be factually true, but it represents the essence of what Kim is all about.
The article also plays up the paranoid, belligerent and irrational nature of the state, whose view revolves around the Korean War and specifically the US bases and military in South Korea. South Korea is seen as a good land of the great pure Koreans that has been colonized by the evil Americans. I’m not sure if Kim even wants to negotiate a peace treaty with the US, because then he would have little to rally his people around.
In recent years, North Koreans have begun to realize that most South Koreans live pretty well, and regime propaganda about the horrible lives of South Koreans was not true. Now the regime has to justify to the people why it is that their lives are in general so much worse than South Koreans’. This cognitive dissonance may well set off a new war.
The author says it’s true that the North has a command economy, but fascist Germany and Japan had command economies too. He draws some analogies to the fascist and extremely militaristic states and the North Korean state.
North Korea is not nuts enough to attack the US or Japan. This is what the crazy anti-Communist North Korea haters in the US continuously harp on. However, they may well be nuts enough to attack South Korea, and that’s a disturbing thought right there.
The North Korean military is a vast military machine, the 4th largest on Earth. They are well-fed and supplied with a tremendous amount of innovative vehicles and weaponry, some of which would boggle your mind. They also have excellent skills at information warfare. They are not to be dismissed or messed with at all.
The article, ultimately, was depressing. I’m not sure how the world can appease or accommodate North Korea. This is important because if we don’t, we may see more risky type provocations on their part, with potentially ominous consequences.
The regime is definitely desperate for money. I’m not sure what can be done about that either.