North KoreaThere is an excellent article running in today’s LA Times about North Korea. It brings to mind two points.
1) The article is very sketchy about this but I’m really interested in how well effective Kim Jong Il is at convincing North Koreans that their misery is not his doing. Those who come back from officia guided tours tend to suggest that he is enormously good. But that does not necessarily prove that he is as effective as he makes it seem. Visitors would come back from Moscow (which was less effectively controlled) not fully aware of what we now know to be the disintegration of Soviet power.
This article suggests that Kim Jong Il may be losing some control:
The prolonged hardship has left North Koreans increasingly disillusioned with leader Kim Jong Il and the ideology of national self-reliance that once held the nation together. People say the regime has less and less control.
With corruption running rampant, the state is no longer solely in charge of commerce. People hustle to sell anything they can — prohibited videos of South Korean soap operas, real estate and official travel documents. In this free-for-all, some people have prospered. Many more are just a step ahead of starvation.
But this again is not definitive. The LA Times interviewed mainly defectors, either begging for food in China or living in South Korea. Such people might exaggerate general dislike or apathy. They might do this because they want to please their audience (particularly the people they interviewed in China who will be heading back into North Korea). Or they might do this because after having lived somewhere much better North Korea seems much worse. At the very least one expects those who leave to be more “free thinkers” than those who stay.
2) This is an easy point to make, but I’ll make it anyway: Kim Jong Il is scum. While his economy stands in ruins, he expends massive resources on weaponry. I understand that he thinks it is necessary for his security. But at this point one must ask: security towards what end?
I will close with a quote from the article that really struck me. Kim Ji Eun described to interviewers the problems of practicing medicine without adequate anesthesia:
North Koreans are tough and used to bearing pain. They’re not like South Koreans who scream and shout about the slightest thing.
I am glad that I haven’t been forced to develop the pain tolerance of the average North Korean.