Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

Click to watch the film Welcome to North Korea

This documentary, filmed in 2001, is a rare look into the world of North Korea.  And while the documentary has some fascinating footage into the lives of North Koreans, it continues to have a distancing gaze at the people.  Rather than looking into how people have such fervent leader worship, and to what effect that such leader worship is ideological, it continues the line that North Koreans have been brainwashed.

The narration states, with no sense of irony, that the North Koreans believe that Kim Il-Song had magic powers.  It seems strange for us to think of a people who believe their leader has supernatural powers.  When he died, the cult of Kim Jong-il was started, equating the son with the father’s abilities.

But is it really so strange for North Koreans to accept this doctrine as believable?  It’s not without precedent.

So to repeat, North Koreans truly believe that their leader had supernatural powers, and when he died he left for them his only son to lead them through to a righteous life.

But is this really such a fanciful idea and should we really be so quick to condemn North Koreans as ignorant?

It seems to me there is another, larger group on this planet who also believes that their leader had supernatural powers and he too left to us his son to lead us into the correct path.

That group, of course, is Christians.

Of course, Christians don’t just believe that the father had supernatural powers.  They’re quite sure that Jesus’ dad was God, the creator of all life.  And Catholics continue to believe that their spiritual leader, the Pope, is God’s representative on earth.

And while 100 million North Koreans must be wrong, are a billion Christians so firm in their own convictions?

My point is, we are quick to judge North Koreans as having been ‘brainwashed’ for their incredulous beliefs, while refusing to recognize the same belief in a spiritual father who has left his only son to guide a people through life, as being along the same lines as most religious belief systems.

Religions must start somewhere, and while I’m not for a second stating that Kim Jhong-il is ‘like Jesus’, I am arguing that we should have a more nuanced and sympathetic approach to North Koreans, for they are afterall, human, and humans are prone to believe in all kinds of crazy things.

The film can be watched online at the Internet Archives




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Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea

Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea

Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, is a man that most have an opinion of.  Yet what is that opinion based on?  How have we come to our conclusions about the sanity/capabilities/health of this man?  He is a man who we really know little about.

Even our supposed ‘knowledge’ of his health is questionable.  He is a secretive man, leader of the most secretive regime on the planet.  His capital, in the centre of a closed country, is not accessible to us decadent westerners, and the few diplomats and journalists who have been granted access to Pyongyang were closely monitored in all reportings, recordings and were given guarded guided tours.  North Korea lays ownership to all knowledge of its state affairs.

Kim pulling strange faces, is a favourite subject in the media

In the media, Kim is lately being depicted as an unstable madman, a vulnerable man, suffering from ill health.  The imagery of him is often of a man pullling strange faces or looking dishevelled, or sporting a ludicrous haircut.  and yet the imagery of him is at the same time ambivalent, often contradicting itself.

In further images of Kim, he is presented as a strategic gamesman, holding the world to hostage or ransom, plotting publicity coups and having the world’s leaders bow to his whim.

A naked Kim, an incompetent madman?

holding the world Hostage

Kim as a dangerous thug, holding the world to ransom

Alternatively, Kim is presented as a strategist, able to get the world’s leaders to bow at his feet.  The fear that North Korea has nuclear capabilities has transformed the image of Kim from being incompetent buffoon, to deadly thug, able to destroy the world.  The knowledge of North Korean nuclear capabilities, coupled with the belief in Kim’s instability has created a mediated figure that is both incompetent and deadly.  He has become a cartoonish supervillain more suited for the pages of marvel comics than for front page news copy.

Kim manipulates democrats

Kim manipulates deomcrats, and has the Clintons (and by association, the Obama administration) at his feet

The symbolism with Clinton is clear, and promotes a Republican belief that democrats (represented by Bill Clinton in this image) and by association, Hillary and the Obama administration, are soft on terror, that they cater to the whims of terrorists and that Kim is a dangerous gamesman, able to manipulate geopolitics.

But how do we know the things we know about North Korea?  What channels of knowledge does this information pass through and get filtered by, until it reaches us?North Korea has one close ally, it is bordered by China, and due to a shared communist history, has some remaining diplomatic ties.  All of our knowledge of North Korea, then, comes from Chinese Intelligence agencies.  These of course, are managed by the Chinese Communist Party.  China often shares its intelligence of North Korea with South Korea, a country that is still in the midst of a cold war with North Korea.  Any intelligence shared by China with South Korea is then tempered by China’s desire to maintain trade and political ties with North Korea.  Consequently, great diplomacy must be exercised by China in its trading of information.  South Korea is a trade and military partner with the United states, and South Korea shares military intelligence with the American government.  That information will be passed by the United States military (after examination, filtering and further censorship) to reporters and journalists.

The end result is that any and all information that is known about North Korea, is not uncovered by investigative journalists (remember the fate of those two women journalists who last year ventured into North Korean teritory?  They were quickly picked up and held for several weeks) but rather is filtered, manipulated and transformed by several stages of censorship at the international level, until we have our end product, an ambivalent gestalt of a man who is both mad and a gamesman, harmless and deadly, vulnerable in a human way, and inhuman in an animalistic manner.

Kim as Cartoonish Nightmare

Kim as cartoonish nightmare

Our image of Kim Jong -Il then becomes nothing more than cartoonish fantasy where we have constructed him as an imbecillic thug, blindly leading his country into famine and disaster or else a genius strategist capable of leading his people into world destruction and conquest (surely those two portraits are incompatible, no?)

Update.  Indeed, so little is known about Kim’s health, that two years after his 2008 stroke, there is still speculation as to the cause and severity of his disease.  According to South Korean political analysts, Kim may (or may not) have chronic kidney failure (it is known he has diabetes), judging by the paleness of his fingernails.  The full article can be accessed at the Times website.

Here’s the link:


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