Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong-Il and the U.S.: Of Tyrants Great & Small

As the whole world knows now, the "Dear Leader" of the self-proclaimed Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-Il, died this weekend.

By all accounts Kim, the son of North Korea's first leader Kim Il Sung and the father of the supposed next leader, was a dictator who didn't stint on his own luxury while his country suffered the effects of international isolation — much of it self-inflicted — in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Starvation, malnutrition, poverty, and technologically backward conditions are said to be the rule in the northern half of the Korean peninsula.

With his chubby, gnomish build and his poofy bouffant hairdo, Kim was easily caricatured; the personality cult built on his father that was grafted onto his own relatively gloryless history seemed to outsiders as particularly bizarre and forced. The rule of Kim's Workers Party is by most reports brutal and harsh; while Kim's taste in fine liquors seems corrupt and despotic. Defended politically by a homegrown nationalist ideology with only tenuous links to the Marxist-Leninist ideology that spawned it, the DPRK is big on mass spectacle, dramatic gesture, preposterous claim, and closely guarded secrecy. Once a technological overachiever, North Korea fell behind the South in most areas excluding perhaps weapons technology: under Kim Jong-Il the DPRK seems to have developed working nuclear weapons.

I don't expect history to be particularly kind to Kim Jong-Il. But that said, I'm finding much about the blogosphere's celebration of his passing to be a self-righteous frenzy of pro-imperialist propaganda.

Even satirical website Gawker called out the internet commentariat for its widespread promotion of the song "I'm so Ronery" from the animated film "World Police: Team America" that features a puppetized Kim Jong-il character: "Twitter Relates to Death of Kim Jong-il By Endlessly Referring to Stupid Racist Song."

Amidst all the encomia for a new era in Korea and for freedom for the people of the DPRK, one must ask the question, who exactly will be bringing that freedom to the north?

Because here are truths that should not be overlooked: for the past sixty years North Korea has been parked between the three most powerful military nations in the world. The American military fully occupies South Korea with massive military might including nuclear weapons aimed right at the people of the DPRK. Goaded on by the US the South Korean military has a long history of provocation against the North.

On the radio this morning I heard a government official of the DPRK, distraught over Kim's death, defending his country against its international ill repute. One of the things he said was that the U.S. that threatens his country is one of the worst human rights violators in the world. It came across as a laugh-line, a punchline to show how removed from reality the North Koreans are. But put yourself in their shoes. There is plenty of evidence that the scale of American tyranny dwarfs anything that the DPRK is capable of, especially when you consider how the U.S. treats the world around it as its exclusive reserve.

During the American war on Korea, two million Koreans were killed; including hundreds and hundreds of thousands of civilians. While history doesn't point to any clean hands in that conflict, the U.S. is absolutely guilty of thousands of war crimes against innocent civilians, and the South Korean dictatorship propped up by the U.S. for years after the war ran death squads against suspected Communists in the south.

Consider the wave of repression in this country against #OWS encampments. Students and workers beaten and gassed with chemical weapons? That wasn't in Pyongyang.

Consider this angry OpEd piece in the New York Times this weekend, by a law-abiding, gainfully-employed young African-American man named Nicholas Peart who has been repeatedly stopped, harassed, frisked, and thrown to the ground by the NY city police as part of the "stop and frisk" campaign that sees all young black men as potential criminals: "It feels like an important thing to be part of a community of hundreds of thousands of people who are wrongfully stopped on their way to work, school, church or shopping, and are patted down or worse by the police though they carry no weapon; and searched for no reason other than the color of their skin..."

Consider this fact also reported in the New York Times: "The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners....The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London. China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison.... "Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror," James Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. "Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons." Prison sentences here have become "vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared..."

The U.S. has overthrown or helped overthrow the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya in the past decade. It attacks people with utter impunity in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. It supplies weapons to repressive governments around the world: weapons that are actually used, as in Egypt and Palestine. If you were in the DPRK wouldn't you feel threatened?

The U.S. has a habit of portraying the rulers of countries it doesn't like "madmen," or "insane." This as half of our own country prepares to rally around someone like Newt Gingrich? It's easy to call attention to Kim Jong-il's eccentricities. But isn't that just awfully convenient? The U.S. learned long ago that if you dehumanize your enemies you can eliminate them as carelessly as they do with stray kittens at the Humane Society.

The DPRK is a one-party state. Do you feel that our acclaimed two-party state, our supposed democracy, actually represents you? I sure don't.

Life is probably much easier in the United States than in the DPRK. The fact that this is the richest country in the world, courtesy of the exploitation of the world's resources, kind of helps make that so. It's true I can write this blog here while I couldn't in Pyongyang: But we'll see how seriously the government starts applying before the NDAA makes that no longer true. The NDAA is certainly full of repressive laws that Kim Jong-Il would love. Not sure what that makes Barack Obama...are you?

Anyway my point is not to glorify North Korea, nor to lionize the late Kim Jong-Il. He's certainly not my dear leader.

But it's not that simple. Don't believe the hype. The so-called "Free World" is about as accurately named as the "People's Democratic Republic" of Korea. This isn't the occasion for gloating. We in the U.S. have serious work to do before we can be calling the kettles of the world black.

Our enemy is here at home, first.

Image shows a sheet of stamps from the DPRK, 2011, showing achievements of Kim Jong-Il.


  1. I feel I have been a bit neglectful in the comment department of late. But know even if I don't comment I am reading.

    Your sentiments expressed here were quite similar to my own when I heard of the death of Kim Jong-il.

    It's not so much that I support these regimes as it is I am so tired of the U.S. and their holier than thou attitude towards the world as a whole.

    I wish we would 'zip-the lip' and do more about setting a good example.

    I am lucky I was born here, but I had no control over that fact, just the luck of nature. But I find it rude to run about, chest thumping, and screaming how great we are and how evil the rest of the world is.

    What is that saying....'let he who is without sin cast the first stone...

  2. Annie I feel lucky to have you as a reader, and I'm grateful that you got my point so clearly!

    Your second-to-last paragraph is a thought I think all the time and it makes me happy to know you...thanks for putting that into words.