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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Empire Follies

Remember Saddam Hussein? Muammar Gaddafi? They were, like others before them, labeled international pariahs, thanks to Western officialdom's demonization and an unrelenting media campaign painting them as evil incarnate. A careful observer may have noticed the contradictory shifts in elite opinion about these characters coincident with US and European interests. When Hussein was killing Iraqi Communists he wore a white hat. Similarly, when Gaddafi cooperated with Western oil interests, like the Italian Eni company, he wasn't such a bad chap.

After making the top of the US/NATO wanted posters, both were summarily executed, one quasi-legally and the other butchered by “freedom-loving” bandits.

The curious thing about the demise of these tyrants, supposedly hated by their own people, is that their respective countries collapsed into sectarianism, death, and despair as a result of the Western campaigns. What were once among the most secular and socially and economically advanced countries in the Middle East and Africa are now failed states, with violence, inadequate health and welfare services, and deteriorating living conditions touching almost every life. Of course no Western humanitarian democrat will take any responsibility for this catastrophe. It's a pity they can't blame Saddam or Gaddafi.

Today, the top wanted poster, the top name on the hit list is owned by Kim Jong-un, the current leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Kim, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the DPRK and a figure revered as a resistance leader against the Japanese occupiers, is the third generation of a family holding the leading post. Western opinion-makers invariably mock this penchant for hereditary secession, while conveniently overlooking over 80 years of hereditary rule in trusted ally, Saudi Arabia. The other Husseins, the family that has ruled Jordan since its independence, are never derided by the Western press, either. They, too, have been compliant friends of US and European leaders.

The DPRK has long followed a self-reliant, go-it-alone path that its leaders call Juche.

During the Soviet era, the DPRK maintained formal, but distant relations with the socialist community, insisting on blazing its own path. Many sympathetic observers saw this approach to Marxism-Leninism as excessively voluntarist, that is, overly confident in men and women's ability to master objective conditions, material impediments.

That said, the foreign policy of the DPRK has been a consistent application of Juche philosophy.

At the same time, DPRK posture toward other countries has been shaped profoundly by the experiences of the mid-century Korean War. The near total destruction of the northern part of the Korean peninsula by the US's air power and scorched earth policy left the DPRK with a determination to find a deterrent to a repeat of that catastrophe. They found that deterrent in the crash development of a nuclear-weapon capacity. Given the US and NATO's attempt to reorder the world in the Western image since the demise of Soviet power that decision seems, in retrospect, to be both wise and effective.

Despite the fact that the DPRK has remained at peace for over sixty years, the US government and its servile, spineless media have maintained an unrelenting campaign of slander and bellicosity.

Not unlike the fear-mongering and fantasies concocted against socialist Cuba, the DPRK has been depicted as a land of prisons and deprivation. Much of the hysterical imagery comes from defectors, in particular, Shin Dong-hyuk. Shin's story was compiled in a book by Washington Post writer, Blaine Harden, with the ominous title: Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West. The book was favorably reviewed by nearly every major journal. A member of the United Nations' first commission of inquiry into human rights abuses of North Korea reportedly cited Shin as the world's "single strongest voice" on the atrocities inside North Korean camps.

DPRK officials answered by releasing a video of Shin's father and family members denouncing him as a falsifier, a fugitive from a rape charge.

Of course NO ONE in the toady capitalist media placed any credibility in this claim. Nor did any Western journalists seriously listen to the other defectors who challenged details claimed by Shin. The story is too good, too spectacular to question.

Unfortunately, it isn't. And unfortunately, nothing short of a confession would convince the shabby Western media, the UN, or the predisposed human rights groups. They got that confession on January 16 when Shin reported that portions of his harrowing tale were fiction. Sheepishly, he withdrew from further public comment, anticipating that further exposure would come forth.

The UK Independent reported: “Human rights activists said this could significantly set back the campaign to indict Kim for crimes against humanity.” One would hope so! One would hope that the fact that the primary source for demonizing Kim admitted to lying might encourage human rights groups to actually rethink the campaign. Could it be that some human rights groups are as corrupted as the major Western media that foisted the Shin farce on the public?

With scant evidence, the US and European commentariat constantly reminds us that the DPRK is a bleak, gloomy landscape populated by starving, freedom-hungry people. A Singapore commercial photographer, Aram Pan, had read and heard these harsh judgments. As reported by the conservative UK Daily Mail last May:

When a man from Singapore had his wish to visit North Korea granted, he braced himself for the scenes of 'barren lands' and 'really, really sad people' that he had seen via a BBC Panorama documentary.

But what he found blew his mind - for all the right reasons.

Inside the communist enclave in 2013, photographer Aram Pan witnessed bustling markets, men and women enjoying themselves at a Western looking water park and miles and miles of crops ready for harvest, shattering all of his illusions about what a holiday to North Korea would entail.

Though expecting to find it difficult to get into the supposedly secretive state, Mr Pan explained: “I sent several mails and faxes to multiple North Korean contacts, all of which are easily available online if you do a search. Then one day someone actually replied and I met their representative. It was a lot easier than I expected.”

After two visits, the incongruity of official and media accounts and what he actually saw troubled Mr. Pan:

Coming back from my second trip, many things still puzzle me. I've travelled from Pyongyang to Hyangsan to Wonsan to Kumgangsan, to Kaesong and back. The things I've seen and photographed tell me that the situation isn't as bad as I thought.

People seem to go about their daily lives and everything looks so incredibly normal. Some of my friends tell me that everything I've seen must be fake and all that I've photographed are a massive mock up.

But the more I think about that logic, the more it doesn't make any sense… would anyone mock up miles and miles of crops as far as my eyes can see and orchestrate thousands of people to seemingly go about their daily lives?

Mr. Pan's pictures can be seen here.

In another shining example of a US ally's firm grip on human rights and democratic principles, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the DPRK's capitalist neighbor to the south, was deporting Korean-American Shin Eun-Mi for “praising” the DPRK in lectures in Seoul. According to Deutsche Welle in an article last week, Ms. Shin, a California native and no relation to Shin Dong-hyuk, “... angered the South Korean authorities when she said a number of North Koreans living in South Korea would prefer to return to their home country because of the frustration with their lives in the South. She also said that many North Koreans were hopeful the communist nation's young leader Kim Jong-Un would improve the quality of life in the hermit state.”

“The writer also praised North Korean beer, which she said was better than the South's ‘tasteless’ brews.”

Apparently, preferring the DPRK beer could put you in ROK prison for up to seven years.

Earlier, in December, Ms Shin was attacked by a high school student who threw a home-made explosive devise at her in protest of her speech. You can see the attack here. A conservative journalist immediately raised $17,000 for the terrorist's defense. Local police held Ms. Shin for questioning regarding her speeches, according to the Wall Street Journal. I suppose that's how US allies honor human rights.

Not surprisingly, these counter-narratives, accounts at odds with officialdom, are absent or buried in the back pages of Western media. But in the forefront is the flap over the hacking of entertainment giant Sony's internal data. After the bottom-feeding media squeezed all the scandal and gossip from the now-public data, a wave of indignation swept through the US. Through a tenuous link with another stupid, vulgar movie about to be released by Sony, officials and opinion-makers pointed an angry finger at the DPRK. They hacked Sony, President Obama proclaimed, and the government had the evidence.

Leading internet security companies, normally beholden to a prominent customer like the US government, insisted that the US government was mistaken. They cited many discrepancies that not only made it unlikely that the DPRK was involved, but that it could not have been the perpetrator. An inside job was indicated.

With its usual flippancy, the government countered that they knew differently, but they could not reveal how they knew without jeopardizing national security.

Later, government officials claimed that they had penetrated the DPRK's internet some time ago and to such an extent that the evidence was irrefutable. Oddly, the penetration was not sufficient to warn Sony in advance.

In a fit of pique worthy of a school-yard bully, the US government shut down the DPRK internet for a day or two, while refusing to admit or deny their action. Other sanctions ensued.

By contrast, DPRK officials, often charged with irrational bellicosity, calmly suggested that the two countries establish a joint commission to explore the DPRK's alleged role in the Sony hack. The suggestion was ignored.

An idiotic Sony film, The Interview, was pushed center stage in this dust up. Sony adroitly retired the film which depicts the gory assassination of Kim Jong-un supposedly out of fear that the DPRK would retaliate. Sony executives who travel in the same fantasy-movie world as former President Ronald Reagan sought to gin up the hysterical xenophobic madness of Hollywood's earlier Red Scare abominations: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Red Dawn 1, and Red Dawn 2. In fact, you would have to reference Red Dawn 2 to conjure even the remotest idea of an improbable DPRK retaliation. Following the script of Red Dawn 2, Sony's bosses undoubtedly foresaw fanatical paratroopers descending upon their studios to punish them for the virtual assassination.

Media mavens swallowed the Sony bait. A campaign emerged to release the vulgar, inane movie and urge attendance as an act of defiance against the DPRK. It was as though we were being asked to tell fart jokes to demonstrate our devotion to freedom of speech.

Everyone involved in this travesty should be embarrassed.

Demeaning the DPRK is a diplomatic obsession. But the DPRK does not take slights or insults lightly. Nonetheless, they have offered to unconditionally repatriate US citizens charged or imprisoned for various illegal acts (Evangelical proselytizers are a frequent violator, determined to bring Christianity to the heathens. Like the missionaries of earlier empires, they serve both masters-- God and imperialism-- to tame the heathens). They have only asked in the past that the US send high ranking officials to facilitate the repatriation. To anyone attuned to diplomatic niceties, this is a gesture designed to bring parties together without either party suffering the appearance of submissiveness. Clearly, the DPRK sought to open conversation or negotiation. In every case, the US has used the occasion to ignore or rebuff the offer. Sometimes a powerless public figure would attend the repatriation. Other times, they would send a lowly government figure.

In November of last tear, the DPRK sought to release the last two remaining US citizens-- a provocateur and a religious zealot. They again asked for a cabinet-level official to receive the prisoners. Instead, the US sent James Clapper, the US national intelligence director. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Clapper made clear that the DPRK officials wanted to discuss serious matters: “The North Koreans seemed disappointed when he arrived without a broader peace overture in hand, he said. At the same time, they didn’t ask for anything specific in return for the prisoners’ release.” But Clapper had nothing. In his words: “They were expecting some big breakthrough. I was going to offer some big deal, I don’t know, a recognition, a peace treaty, whatever. Of course, I wasn’t there to do that, so they were disappointed, I’ll put it that way.”

After a three-hour dinner that followed his arrival, Mr. Clapper presented the officials with a curt letter from the US President written in English greeting the release of the prisoners as “a positive gesture.” “Gen. Kim Young Chol appeared to be taken aback when handed the letter, Mr. Clapper said.”

Is it any surprise that DPRK officials struggle to understand US motives? Are US administrators blunderers or unalterably committed to overthrowing the DRPK government? Decades of hostility would suggest the later.

Zoltan Zigedy


For three very good recent articles on the DPRK, please see:

(on The Interview)

and Framing the DPRK: the US Still Cannot be Rational, forthcoming in Marxism-Leninism Today

(on the DPRK economy)