We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Kim Jong-il looking at not very much fruit

NickM has a nice piece up today at Cats about a website called Kim Jong-il looking at things. He picks out a picture of Kim looking at some fruit:

What fascinates me about that image in particular is that whilst the side of the fruit stand facing Kim is laden with produce the side facing us looks a bit sparse. The Russians might have had Potemkin villages but it takes the true Juche lunacy of North Korea to have created the Potemkin fruit stand.

What fascinates me about these pictures is what often fascinates me about Potemkinity of all kinds, which is how it so often achieves the opposite of the desired effect. It presents what its presenters, now themselves probably living quite close to starvation (never mind all the regular people of this wretched country), imagine to be a miracle. But when the rest of us, out here in non-Kim world, look at their sad little picture, we merely shrug and note that capitalism of the most feeble and emaciated sort can do that with one arm tied behind its back, on a wet Thursday morning in an economically depressed inner suburb of a city that has been in relative decline for a century. We look at it, and we say: is that the best you can do?

For me, the obvious thing about Kim’s faked up fruit stand is that there is so very little fruit on it, compared to what there is room for. My local market, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road from me, is a cornucopia by comparison.

Crisis in Korea…

So when Hilary Clinton states that maintaining stability on the peninsula was “critical”, surely a solution seems to be staring everyone in the face.

  1. Keeping tens of thousand of US troops in South Korea is expensive for the hapless US taxpayer
  2. China would rather not have US forces stationed anywhere in Korea
  3. North Korea will soon be capable of actually delivering nuclear weapons
  4. North Korea has an antiquated military and a busted economy and therefore no ability to fight a long war
  5. North Korea is clearly lead by deranged madmen prone to attack South Korea (i.e. torpedo their ships) for no good reason
  6. South Korea has a formidable and modern military

So…

Bite the bullet, so to speak. Give South Korea a nudge and whatever backing it needs to blow the living shit out of the North and reunify the country. They have the wherewithal to do most of the heavy lifting themselves and the casus belli is a legal slam dunk.

Result? Short term death and misery, for sure… but long term geopolitical stability for the region because:

  1. The most repressive regime on the entire planet will be history
  2. No longer any justification for stationing significant US forces on China’s doorstep

The backroom deal is obvious: China throws North Korea to the wolves and US promises to get out of the post-unification Korean peninsula.

This has the making of a win-win-win-win for China, the hapless occupants of that open air prison called North Korea, nuclear threatened South Korea and the ever burdened US taxpayer. Extra added ‘win’ can also be added to the scenario if the leadership in Pyongyang end up on meat hooks (but eating a laser guided 500 kg bomb also works).

The human machinery of North Korean fantasy

I recommend this short illustrated talk given by an American academic (no: businessman – see comment) who taught at Beijing University and who went with his family on a trip to North Korea. Here is part of what he says:

This is a woman that was directing traffic with great resolve and military precision outside the front door of our hotel. We watched her for at least ten minutes, as she moved and rotated with complete control of her little domain, and we didn’t see a single car go by. [Laughter] I mean, you do have to wonder what they think. …

He then sees one of those giant stadium displays, done with thousands of big hand-held squares which keep changing.

This big display, which sat opposite most of the people is just a huge communist video monitor, one person per pixel. The resolution of this screen was about seventy by four hundred. The frame rate was one to two hertz, and you could get up to two frames a second, before muscle fatigue set in.

And then we see this screen in action. It is actually rather impressive, especially when you consider how much the poor bastards doing it probably get to eat each day. And they’re the lucky ones.

It often happens that people who report not on “the situation” in wherever it is, but simply on what they happen themselves to see, can supply an extraordinarily vivid feeling of what it must be like there. They don’t tell the whole story. But then again, they don’t pretend to.

Meanwhile, the latest “news” from North Korea, is that they are building a huge underground fighter runway, right near the border with the hated South, Thunderbirds style. It is supposed to be invulnerable to military attack. Fat chance. I wonder how many people will die while making it.

Korean military ‘assistance’? No thanks

By caving into the demands by the Taliban to get their troops out of Afghanistan in return for the return of South Korean hostages, the Korean government simply entourages more of the same tactic. Clearly the US seriously erred accepting military ‘assistance’ from Korea given that the South Korean government are not just utterly craven, they seem to have no concept of cause and effect. The only way to demotivate hostage taking is to respond in the opposite manner to what is being demanded.

If I was the US government I would be making a simultaneous complete withdrawal of US forces from South Korea, timed to coincide with the departure of Koreans forces from Afghanistan. Quite why a wealthy nation like South Korea requires US forces to keep its psychopathic neighbour at bay is unclear anyway. Perhaps this incident will shake loose any residual attachment to the value of subsidising South Korea’s defences in the minds of US taxpayers and politicians. There are parts of the world that it may well suit the US to defend but surely South Korea is more that wealthy enough to look after itself given how primitive North Korea is.

“America” is Hell, but the DPRK is Paradise

By strange twist of browsing, I came across this North Korean propaganda video. The producers probably went to the same Stalinist school as Soviet and East European communists, so it seemed eerily familiar. There is also a strange propensity of propaganda writers to write paragraph long-sentences full of rousing adjectives (check out the text next to the video on YouTube). Hm, reminds me of corporate speak… But I digress.

This documentary movie objectively shows the fondamental difference between the criminal capitalist system of “USA” that is at odds with human rights and the genuinely benevolent Juche-based man-centered Korean-style socialist system of the Democratic people’s Republic of Korea blessed with the flawless Songun leadership of Dear Leader Comrade Generalissimo Kim Jong Il the Heaven-born great brilliant Mt. Paektu type general born on the Sacred Mountain.

This would be hilarious if not for the fact that it comes from an evil place where there is no regard for the truth and human life. That this is still possible makes me think that nothing ever changes and people never learn from the past.

It is enough to make you turn communist

The satirical Songun blog has dug up a North Korean propaganda movie shot in the 1980s that is worth a look. Songun has made Always Working Together For The People available on YouTube, split into seven segments (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7). Combined, there Is about an hour of video. I am a little weird – I watched it all.

However, I find this sort of thing quite fascinating; lots of interesting tidbits to be found. For example, part three sees Kim Jong-il being exhorted for easing all the Great Leader’s concerns about the people’s welfare (a common theme), in this instance in the field of “traffic problem”. What bloody traffic problem?? There Is nary a car to be seen motoring down the wide boulevards and highways shown. (Fair enough, those ridiculously broad motorways were designed to serve more than one purpose.) In part four, the two Kims are seen pouring over an architectural mock-up of Pyongyang in a manner most reminiscent of those Speer/Hitler snaps showing them admiring a model of the Berlin they were going to create after they won the war. Hopefully, the latter day town planners meet a similar fate as their similarly megalomaniacal forebears.

This propaganda piece is clearly a past effort to position Kim Jong-il as Crown Prince by welding him on to his father’s cult of personality. His leadership abilities are constantly lauded and he is portrayed as an indispensable part of Kim Il-sung’s revolution. The succession issue is explicitly mentioned at the end of segment six. Still, in spite of all the adulation, it is difficult not to laugh at the rather miserable figure Kim Jong-il cuts throughout the programme. Part 5 shows Kim Jong-il and daddy making a trip to the Dear Leader’s fabled birthplace, Mount Paektu. The glowing exaltations to the younger Kim pair most incongruously with his stature and bearing – unless ‘mountain spirit’ is a North Korean euphemism for ‘ample paunch’. Really, how can you not laugh at the spectacle of this malignant little gnome. As was said last week – and in great anticipation of a repeat performance – sic semper tyrannis.

North Korea’s uniquely funny propaganda

Despite it being a highly sinister state, one of the most notable aspects of the façade North Korea presents to the rest of the world can be found in the unintentionally rich comedic value sincerely dished out by Pyongyang’s global network of propagandists. Exhibit A would have to be the depiction of the country’s kooky leader, Kim Jong il, who was famously and brilliantly lampooned in the movie Team America: World Police. Further evidence can be found in Samizdata postings on earlier oddball giggles courtesy of North Korea’s propaganda machine – review these here and here.

But wait, there’s more. A brief glance at recently-discovered Songun blog (looking through the comments threads there, it is quite remarkable how many people do not realise the site is satirical – hint, hint) prompts further amusement at the cack-handedness of the North Korean P.R. people. Did you know that North Korea is planning to host an international rock festival in early-mid 2007? It’s true. According to the North Korean English language website, Voice of Korea, ROCK FOR PEACE

will be the 2007 version of Woodstock rock festival in 1969 but in a different location and with a different goal.

Riiiight. And like crazy ol’ spontaneous and unregulated Woodstock of 1969, Rock For Peace promises

few restrictions and conditions on participation but any band will be considered even though you are from USA. The lyrics should not contain admirations on war, sex, violence, murder, drug, rape, non-governmental society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK, and anti-socialism. There are few restrictions and conditions on participation but any band will be considered even though you are from USA. The lyrics should not contain admirations on war, sex, violence, murder, drug, rape, non-governmental society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK, and anti-socialism.

I am not sure there are any American acts who would satisfy the criteria. Perhaps the Brits could send Rolf Harris, preferably on a one-way passage.

There are, however, indications that the North Korean propaganda machine is starting to come to terms with the concept of producing convincing copy. Displayed at the bottom of the Voice of Korea website is a photo of a few hot and bothered middle-aged Euros posing with a group of male teenage soccer players. Songun (and this Guardian article) quotes the caption of the picture in question as reading

HEY, AMERICANS, YOU SHOULD LEARN A LOT FROM OUR NORWEGIAN FRIENDS WHO ARE HAVING REALLY GOOD TIME WITH NORTH KOREAN YOUNG SCHOOL BOYS.

No doubt to the Norwegians’ immense chagrin, a really good time with the boys is no longer being had over at Voice of Korea. They’re learning – one step at a time.

Would North Korea attack?

In a recent DOD press release, General Peter Pace is quoted on the North Korean threat:

“What is not knowable is the intent of the leadership in North Korea to use or not use that power at any given time, And applying Western logic to the leadership in Korea is not something that I would personally want to bet my future on.”

Things get interesting on the Korean peninsula

For several days now, there has been speculation that North Korea is about to test one of the nuclear devices it claims to possess. This Guardian article states that

satellites have tracked a special North Korean train, the usual form of transport for Mr Kim, entering Chinese territory.

It does not surprise me at all that China would expeditiously summon Kim in such circumstances; China has the most to lose if North Korea tests a nuclear device.

In many ways, China has profited handsomely from its enduring ‘special relationship’ with North Korea; Beijing’s rapprochement with the West meant it was an ideal conduit between the US and the so-called Hermit Kingdom. Consequently, China has acquired a fair slice of diplomatic prestige from its mediating role in such a critical conflict. However, this cachet is predicated on the assumption that China has a powerful hand in North Korea’s internal affairs – a reasonable assumption, considering North Korea’s reliance on Chinese energy.

However, if Kim Jong-il goes against the express wishes of his Chinese patrons and conducts a nuclear weapons trial, Chinese diplomatic credibility will take a severe blow. This would be bad enough for a leadership obsessed with symbolism. For Chinese planners, an even more serious consequence of North Korea exploding an atomic device would be the reaction of its neighbours.

A probable response to such a grave threat would be to increase military spending markedly. If the threat of a conventional arms race in the region is enough to keep Chinese strategists awake at night, consider the most distasteful consequence of such noisy bellicosity; both Japan and South Korea operate a number of nuclear power stations. They too might decide to go nuclear. Certainly Japan has the materials and technical know-how to assemble a nuclear weapon quickly. It may even possess such devices now, on the (very) quiet. China would be aghast at any new declared nuclear states in the region – such entities would dilute China’s hard-power influence in the region considerably. To say that it is in China’s interest that her technically capable neighbours do not reach their full military potential is extreme understatement.

In light of the way the situation is unfolding over the longer term, it looks as though the American effort to involve China so deeply in the conflict resolution process on the Korean peninsula was a masterstroke. Pyongyang can sabre-rattle all it likes; Chinese interests are the best insurance against Kim Jong-il’s rash impulses becoming outright belligerence. Even if Chinese influence in Pyongyang proves to be less convincing than widely thought, the probable result of this will be Western allies in the region growing militarily stronger to deter a North Korean attack. From an American perspective, this has two attractive benefits. Firstly, it can afford to militarily disengage from the region somewhat, as its allies take up the slack. Secondly, these allies will grow militarily stronger relative to Chinese military power. The latter consequence becomes a useful hedge if China develops into a strategic rival in the future. Chinese involvement in this affair is increasingly looking like a win-any-which-way for the Americans, regardless of the outcome – barring North Korea actually bombing someone, that is.

Putting down the tarbaby

After nearly sixty years it looks like the US is finally slipping free of Korea.

The U.S. military will stay on, perhaps in reduced numbers, and play a supporting role, officials say. South Korea wants to take back the authority for wartime combat by 2012. The Pentagon says South Korea can have the authority back by 2009.

Roh said Wednesday that anytime in between those dates would be fine; indeed, he said, Seoul could take it back “even now.”

I have long felt the South Koreans quite capable of defending themselves so long as the US keeps them under its nuclear umbrella.

Interesting little shifts

History has shown us that communist nations are frequently obsessed with symbolism. Even the most mundane alterations to edifices physical, ideological, political – you name it – can signify profound shifts within the hidden inner workings of such regimes. North Korea provides a timely example.

The dead communist arsehole sadly departed Kim Il Sung is infamously referred to as the Great Leader by brainwashed communist apparatchiks adoring and grateful beneficiaries of the socialist Juche revolution. Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung’s repugnant spawn son is now also termed “Great Leader” at the official North Korean website, the Korean Friendship Association. Interesting. Kim Jong Il used to be known as “Dear Leader”.

(See http://www.korea-dpr.com/pmenu.htm for further details – the KFA bounces all embedded links to its precious virtual domain)

UPDATE:

His grandmother, Kang Pan Sok, his grandfather’s younger brother.

A “that explains something” moment regarding Kim Jong Il’s lineage, gleaned from his “brief” 160 page history fielded by the ever-admiring KFA. Found here (pdf).

How capitalism is starving North Korea

Paragraph one of this BBC story goes thus:

North Korea is in urgent need of more food aid, the UN has warned.

And the most chilling quote concerns what the South Koreans think of the North Korean nuclear bomb programme.

Our correspondent says that Seoul believes Pyongyang is raising nuclear tensions to extract a better aid offer.

In other words, this is a hostage situation, the hostages being the people of North Korea, and the hostage takers being the government of North Korea.

The usual way to end hostage situations is to storm the place and capture or kill the hostage takers. Although, come to think of it, giving the hostage takers a free, escorted trip to the nearest airport and then plane tickets to the alternative scumbag country of their choice, in exchange for the lives of the surviving hostages, would also be a good way to end this thing. Either scenario would be a big improvement.

My favourite bit of the story comes right at the end.

How come the people of North Korea are being so cruelly treated? Communism perchance? Actually, not:

Market reforms introduced in North Korea in recent years mean most people only get about half the food they need through the state and have to buy the rest themselves.

But rampant inflation inside North Korea is making it increasingly difficult for people to make up that shortfall.

Japan, the US and South Korea are key contributors to the WFP programme, but Mr Ragan says donations have slowed in the last two years.

Blame capitalism! Capitalist reforms are causing people to starve, and the capitalists are refusing to pick up the tab. The North Korean government should be more communist, in order to feed the people of North Korea properly, and the rest of the world should become more communist, in order to feed the people of North Korea properly.

Well, if the way to get someone to sort this mess out is for them to be allowed to announce that they are rescuing North Korea from the ravages of freedom and the free market, then I say: make the announcement, and get on with it.