The Curious Case of North Korea
North Korea has been in the news a lot recently, and that’s good for me, because I’m fascinated by the backwards, communist, dictator-run country. It’s not so great for many of the world’s diplomats though, as they must deal with the steady barrage of threats fired by a seemingly loose cannon.
While North Korea is often in the news for one thing or another, this current string of events—last April’s space shuttle launch and this February’s nuclear test—has been especially aggressive, and on Wednesday North Korea cut off its last military hotline with the South, suggesting war could break out at any moment. The reason for this escalation of threats can most certainly be attributed to Kim Jong-un’s rise to power in December of 2011, after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. The pudgy Kim Jong-un is believed to be either 29 or 30 years old, and it is uncertain whether he is crazy or simply trying to impress his fellow North Koreans and fill the enormous shoes left by his father.
In the past, North Korea’s threats were well calculated and empty. Kim Jong-il would sporadically make a stink about something and threaten South Korea as a way of demanding food or gas or some other essential resource that the country severely lacked be given to them. It worked too, as countries across the globe sent rations to appease the unstable Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and prevent another war from breaking out on the Korean Peninsula. Though the last few months have been extra intense, and it appears that North Korea really wants to blow up its neighbor this time, smart money says it’s all still an act.
While we don’t know all that much about the internal goings-on of North Korea, it is clear that their military is an incredibly important part of their culture. They abide by a principle called the Juche Idea, which states that a strong military posture and a reliance on Korean national resources must be taken into account when making any and all policy decisions. This would explain the giant army’s grandiose high step marching and the rows and rows of uniformed generals behind their leader in almost every photo you see. It would also help explain what Kim Jong-un is doing. He has to do everything in his power to convince the world that North Korea is strong and not afraid to fight for what it needs, and he must do this in order to convince his generals, many of whom are surely way older than him, that he’s a competent leader and deserves their respect. He is most likely also trying to let the international community know that, even though North Korea is now run by a late twenty-something, the nation won’t be pushed around. Kim Jong-il was seen as a god by his people, and as a strong force by his peers and rivals, so Kim Jong-un must replicate the methods used by his father in order to command the same amount of love, fear, and/or respect.
For all intents and purposes, Kim Jong-un’s got a good thing going right now, and he’d be foolish to mess it up. God knows if he actually did try to take South Korea, the U.S. and all of its allies would be there to wipe him and his army off the map. As it stands, he gets to stay in power, ruling his impoverished people and remaining a god in their eyes. He’s currently doing his best to appease and impress his generals, while not putting an end to his family’s regime. What more could he want?
As for the U.S., it seems strange that we haven’t gone in and liberated the Democratic People’s Republic. With our recent history of being the world’s bouncers, feeling it is our inherent right and obligation to dictate what goes on in other countries, why aren’t we all up in North Korea’s business right now? Why aren’t we putting an end to the enormous genocide that’s going on? The forced abortions of fetuses that aren’t 100% North Korean? The labor camps in Siberia? The political prisons? The many people starving and living without power? It seems mysterious, but I think there’s a simple answer: we don’t want to.
While we certainly have the forces required to remove this dictator from power and make a big difference in the lives of millions of North Korean citizens, we wouldn’t get any tangible reward for it, and that likely isn’t enough for us—let’s be honest, we’re selfish. Add in the fact that, if we did invade, North Korea would probably launch everything in its arsenal at Seoul and Japan, killing tons and tons of people, including U.S. soldiers. Plus, if Kim Jong-un were removed from power, there would be a bunch of uneducated, malnourished North Koreans on the Peninsula, and any unification effort between North and South would likely cost South Korea a lot of time and money, so for now we’ll just continue the same old routine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.
To add my final two cents, I think it’s important to see what kind of comparisons can be drawn between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic. While the two nations are almost always on opposite ends of any issue, and would appear to be bitter enemies, certain aspects of our cultures aren’t really all that different.
North Korea gets a lot of attention for putting its own spin on things, and it’s true, the nation’s citizens are subjected to an immense amount of anti-Western World propaganda. But maybe I’ve been brainwashed here in the U.S. too, because I can’t help but question how different these two countries really are. The majority of the United States’ wealth rests in the hands of the few, while millions of citizens live in impoverished conditions, struggling to find food or a warm place to sleep. Many Americans seem to live for violence, with guns being their true god. Meanwhile, we have a government that uses its enormous military to strong-arm other nations in order to get what it wants, invading countries that potentially house “weapons of mass destruction,” despite the fact that we own more nukes than anyone. Add in the fact that the federal government, through legislation like the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, has the power to listen to our calls and read our emails, and that drones can legally kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and it becomes apparent that our freedom has been compromised. The direction our nation is heading is scary.
Now I certainly don’t think the United States is on the same level as North Korea, nor do I intend to excuse the actions of Kim Jong-il by pointing out the equally depressing state of the U.S., but I do think the United States has its fair share of problems. As we wait and hope that none of North Korea’s threats come to pass, I think it’s also important that we, as a nation, start making efforts to reverse the dangerous and frightening course that the country is on, before things get even more out of hand.
At the risk of being cliche, why can’t we all just get along?
Since this post was published: Over the last 24 hours, North Korea has shut down the last remaining border crossing with South Korea, a shared industrial zone that accounts for a large amount of the impoverished North’s income, and also moved long-range missiles to launching sites along its eastern coastline, within striking range of U.S. bases and major cities in Japan. Though media outlets across the United States continue to pump out reports of a terrible conflict with on the Korean Peninsula, one Defense Department official recently said that, “We accused the North Koreans of amping things up, now we are worried we did the same thing.” It is very possible that this whole conflict is being perpetuated by tough talk, and for that reason I refuse to believe that any catastrophic war is imminent, despite reports that say things are getting worse and worse. Only time will tell what happens, I suppose.