Kim Jong-il in his role as comforting parent of the entire Korean people mourning the loss of Kim Il-sung
B. R Myers, whose book The Cleanest Race sits unread on my bookshelf, believes that the key to understanding North Korea is in its propaganda and that while it is sometimes almost impossible not to laugh at its po-faced naiivete
, the themes that emerge are genuinely believed in. He also thinks that some of the assumptions made about North Korea are shown to be incorrect when the propaganda is carefully studied. In particular Myers points out that Communism, or even the official Juche
philosophy, is only given lip-service by the Kim regime and that the real driving ideology is an extreme nationalism that has elements of racial superiority. According to him the DPRK sees Koreans as a unique race that can only be protected from a hostile outside world by the Kim family, whereas the decadent lackeys of Western imperialism in the south are allowing this unique blood to be sullied by outsiders. In an FP article
in which he sketches out his theory he writes:
"Our nation has always considered its pure lineage to be of great importance," a North Korean general told his South Korean counterpart during a 2006 meeting to discuss realignment of the maritime border between the two states. "Since ancient times our lands have been one of abundant natural beauty," he said. "Not even one drop of ink must be allowed."
The belief in a specifically Korean natural beauty that must be defended against a hostile outside world is sometimes depicted as in the pitcure above of Kim Jong-il on a wave-swept beach staring defiantly at the storm. Myers sharply observes in his book that Kim Jong-il took advantage of such imagery when Bill Clinton went to the DPRK to negotiate the release of the reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling as the group photograph of Kim sitting (again with a somewhat defiant or stroke-addled expression) in front of more paintings of waves behind them shows.
This propaganda can only work, however, if foreigners - particularly the Americans and the Japanese (from whom Myers says a lot of North Korean propaganda slogans were adopted) along with support from their south Korean lackeys are depicted as incorrigibly dangerous and anti-Korean. Along the streets billboards showing the Yankee soldiers succumbing to massive Korean fists are common while children are given any and every opportunity to learn about their hated enemy.
Here's a picture I took of a children's game at the funfair in Pyongyang. I think it may be called, "Kill the Yankee Imperialist Aggressors", although Myers gives some rather more alarming examples of indocrination in his article.
Even the English-language propaganda isn't shy about using racial epithets that are completely unacceptable in the West these days. So, for example, the programme I bought for a revolutionary opera called Sea of Blood has a couple of eyecatching captions:
Myers sees something distinctly ominous about this racially-driven propaganda in the likely impossibility of an agreement being reached on the Korean peninsula.
What is especially significant and perhaps unique about North Korean nationalism is its emphasis on the vulnerability of the race. Whereas World War II-era Japan's racialized worldview equated virtue with strength, the North Koreans are taught that their virtue has rendered them as vulnerable as children in an evil world -- unless they are protected by a great leader who keeps a watchful eye on military readiness.
Unfortunately for the United States, there is no place in this for any improvement in relations between the two countries. Were Kim Jong Il to abandon his ideology of paranoid, race-based nationalism and normalize relations with Washington, his personality cult would lose all justification, while his impoverished country would lose all reason to exist as a separate Korean state.