The Kingdom of the Kim:
North Korea is an interesting place especially for a kid that grew up at the end of the cold war. The first one anyway the second might be coming but I have already touched on that issue in a previous post. So a lot of interesting information has been coming out about Kim Jong-il* in the last couple days and I figured with my extensive knowledge about the little Kimies and North Korea I thought I would go over some of the interesting developments and rumors as well as some of the history of the Hermit Kingdom. OK my “extensive Knowledge” on the subject has been reading several books, my obsession with reading the news especially when it comes to international politics and my thing for Asian and political history. Really I have to know more about the subject then someone out there. Now mind you I have never been to North Korea it’s not really what I would call a good tourist destination. I have been to South Korea and found it to be a place where they have turned reckless driving to an art form. South Korea has Beautiful woman, excellent cinema, very good food and very crappy beer. Now before the population of South Korea gets angry about the beer comment come on people Hite sucks and you know it**. However nice South Korea can be we have another Korea. Separated by the DMZ a place 150 miles long and 4 miles wide and in stark contrast to one of Asia’s “Tiger Economies” we have North Korea. For a culinary example of the differences between the two Koreas I give you a recipe for a traditional North Korean soup:
Step 1: Boil Water.
Step 2: Add Grass.
Step 3: Simmer for several minutes.
Step 4: Remove from heat and serve.
OK it might not be “traditional” North Korean dish but if the country stays the way it is for any longer it might as well be along with WFP rice and flour but the latter are usually sent to the military or sold back to foreigners in the restaurants and hotels that cater to the few people that go there to visit. So if you are some college kid living off ramen noodles thinking communism is a good idea you might want to think again.
People Joking about Koreans eating dog is to an extent true. However South Koreans do not usually eat dog and they don’t steal the neighbors pet to do so. Dog meat is eaten by some people and the dogs that are used are raised for this but it isn’t very common. You do not go to the pet store to get dinner. Now you might find this distasteful but I do have to tell you that it does taste good and the only reason most people who are not vegan find this distasteful is because they look at a dog and see a pet and look at a cow and see dinner. I however can look at both animals and see either dinner or a pet depending on the situation. Think about it like this millions of healthy dogs are put to death in the states simply because they are unwanted and millions of people are starving all over the world. I look at it this way I have no reason to kill and eat your pet Fido but I would have no problem picking up some border collie for dinner if it was next to the lamb chops and ground beef in the local grocery store. In North Korea however they will eat anything they can find since the country has a tendency to be in an almost constant state of famine. In more then one community cannibalism is even practiced on the dead out of necessity at times. Interestingly enough the meat is often called dog meat since telling yourself or your unsuspecting family members that it is Beef is not very believable (Long Pig). Now I don’t say this to say that North Korea is a nation of cannibals since this is a rarity and just an example of some of the worst of North Korean life. Now to refer to the government of North Korea a cannibals would however be metaphorically appropriate.
One of the reasons for some of the famine is the practice of trying to hide cropland in mountain to hide it from confiscation from the government since the government takes the whole yield other then the one little garden a family is allowed to have in front of their house for private use that can’t possibly feed the whole family. Since the farmers can’t terrace the fields since if would bring to much attention to their illegal actions, the deforestation on the mountain and other problems with this type of farming causes mud slides that have a tendency to wipe out both the hidden plot and the legal farming operations below. Now even if you do not have a mud slide to wipe out the sanctioned farming and even with the illegal farms the average North Korean crop yield has never been enough to feed the entire country properly. Granted North Korea does have enough Open land that can be used for farming and could feed the entire country well if the government’s policies where to change and if the proper technology was put in place to do so. However until the Government changes their own actions and policies this is just a pipe dream. No really it will all work out all we need is another Five Year Plan it will work eventually…
What little money the Government does have is taken by the government and either used for military purposes, to keep the ruling elite in luxury and to build monuments to their “god” Kim Il-sung or now Kim Jong-il. The National currency of North Korea is the Won however the real currency used in North Korea is color TV’s, Chinese Cigarettes and counterfeit U.S. dollars. I am however only half joking but trust me foreign currency and cigarettes are worth more in North Korea then the Won, something that even in North Korea is almost worthless, not as worthless as the Zimbabwe Dollar since to get to the Zimbabwe level of useless money takes almost an inhuman amount of effort, but they do have a larger GDP than North Korea, but I guess you need to make at least a little money when it takes 6 million Zimbabwe Dollars to buy a loaf of bread (well it was that much when I wrote this but it doubles every other day). That’s not to say that North Korea never tried to destroy it’s currency it’s just that unlike Zimbabwe it’s currency never had value in the first place, that and Communism has a tendency to half ass everything other then say mass murder, running slave labor camps or gulags, starvation and giving collage professors and middle class white kids hard-ons.
While the country is a Communist dictatorship there are some differences in their own little brand of oppression then the usual form it takes in most other Communist countries historical or otherwise. This is the concept of the Juche Idea or Juche Sasang. It is usually just known as Juche however. Juche is a mix of the idea of National self reliance under what is basically a communistic system and the hero worship of if not almost a religious worship of Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il. It differs from normal Marxism in that it uses the military in the place of the proletariat and the already mentioned religious undertones used in referring to the “Dear Leader”. However it doesn’t in practice differ much from Stalinism it’s just changed to work better for Kim’s ideal for the Korean people. And no Juche is not an actual religion even though it does have some similarities with certain aspects of a cult. One of the big differences is that it is the only communist country where the Leader groomed up his own son to replace him after he relinquished his power such as in a monarchy. Most Communist countries the leader usually took charge and upon his death successors usually fought it out in a power struggle to gain control or people in the higher positions in the party overthrew the leader and took charge. Even in Cuba where Castro’s brother took charge was not quite the same since Raul took over at the request of his brother during an illness and then Fidel just let him keep it but never went through the long and intentional process of grooming him for the position openly such as what happened in what could be rightly called “The Bad Korea”. Interestingly enough it seams that the Younger Kim has failed to do this for any of his children – or anyone else for that matter – as his father did for him. The younger Kim is slacking but he might already be dead so it could be a little late to start now.
The mind of the Kim:
Leaving aside some of the rumors about whether or not the younger Kim has found his way to his well deserved after life in hell, unlike some lucky North Koreans who have tendency to find their way to the earthly version called Yodok, and pray for the sweet release of death, what do we know about the Kim’s? Well First up is they are or where both Stalinistic despots that survived off a combination of overt military control and personality cults. The elder Kim came to power at the end of WWII he had spent much of his time during the war with Japan either as a guerilla fighting mostly in Manchuria and hiding in Soviet occupied territory. Since he had a bit of a name for himself and was of the same ideological bent as Stalin he was picked up to be Stalin’s little puppet in Korea. At the time The Soviets where not planning on keeping the two countries separate into the North and South as Germany but wanted to help use Kim’s name recognition and his hero status from fighting the Japanese occupation to help try to get him to take over all of Korea so they would have another friendly country. Unfortunately this didn’t happen the U.S. forces in the souther part found their own people and the two Korea’s ended up separate just as had happened in Germany. Kim while on good terms with the Soviets was not going to play the role of the puppet. He was Kim Il-sung damn it! Now Kim had other ideas one of them was to reunite the two Korea’s something both the North and the South wanted they just had different Ideas on the type of government that would make up the whole Korea and who would be running it. Now Kim thought to himself that he was the best candidate and that Communism was the best type of government for it. This is where you get into one of the interesting things about Korean war history. There are two versions of what happened on that little day of June 25, 1950; the North Korean version and the truth. In the North Korean version called Joguk Haebang Jeonjaeng or Fatherland Liberation War, The United States Army along with their puppet Syngman Rhee attacked and attempted to take over the whole of the Korean peninsula to make it a colony of Imperialistic and Capitalistic America forcing the poor North Korean freedom fighters and revolutionaries to counter this aggression for the sake of all Korea to save it from the evilness of the U.S. Yes this is what they teach in North Korean schools.
OK here is the real version. On June 25 the North Korean Army attached the South in an attempt to take reunify whole peninsula of Korea by force. Due to A large amount of Soviet tanks and other weapons, a lack of any significant U.S. forces left in the country due to a post WWII demobilization and an ill equipped South Korean Army they easily took over 90% of the Korean Peninsula. However The U.S. still had a substantial force left in Japan and quickly came to the aide of the South Koreans along with UN forces (every now and then they are good for something). I am not going to go into the whole history of the Korean war since that could take up a whole other post if not an entire book. Long story short it ended with a stalemate at the 38th parallel and the DMZ was born.
Now since Kim could not subjugate the entire Korean Peninsula he had to just settle for being a complete bastard to the poor souls trapped above the 38th parallel. One nice thing about Kim’s Korea is that they have a tendency to believe in punishing three generations for the crime of a single person. For example a young child Kang Chol-Hwan’s grandfather made the mistake of pissing off Kim’s little government. The Grandfather had some problems with some locals who turned him in to the police for treason compounded with the fact that Kang’s grandfather had moved to North Korea from Japan years earlier put more suspicion on him. His grandfather had moved to North Korea at the behest of Kang’s Grandmother who was a hard core communist ideologue and a member of the Chongryon a Korean group in Japan that was very pro-North Korea. It didn’t matter they where still from Japan and therefore suspect. Kang ended up in the Yodok concentration camp at the age or nine with his younger sister Mi-ho at the age of seven. Kang lived in Yodok with his family for ten years while his grandfather however was never heard from again (I’m sure he’s fine). Eventually after some time and a very interesting escape through China (read his book if you want to know) he ended up in South Korea only to learn that everything he had ever been taught at school was a lie. But enough for now about Pyongyang’s Aquarium it’s not quite the sexy story like the “Happy Corps”.
The Happy Corps or The Mansion Special Volunteer Corps is something every despotic asshole with a god complex needs. Hell I’m not even an psychotic dictator and I kind of want one until I remember that my moral compass points more ways then just south. Now what is this mysterious and tempting “Happy Corps”? Sex. Degenerate sex and enslavement of young, really young girls. No I don’t want one and no person on the planet should have one for that matter. This is how it works the Corps was set up into three different sections Kippeunjo or Happy Corps worked primarily in entertainment such as acting singing and such and on occasion slept with the elder and younger Kim. Then there was the Manjokjo or Satisfaction Corps who’s only responsibility was screwing the two perverts. Lastly there was the Haengbukjo or Felicity Corps that was a mix of cleaning staff, body guards and the Manjokjo. This whole thing together totaled thousands of girls. These girls start their training (singing, dancing, sex) early at about twelve or thirteen years old however they do not or are not supposed to end up in the Kim’s bed until they are usually fifteen. Once a girl is in her early twenties (about 22) she is retired and married off to some party member or taken care of in some way by the state. Now one of the more interesting things about this is the Kim’s love of a thing called the “Human Bed”. Apparently it is made up of about ten young woman who are to lay down in a certain way in order for Kim to sleep on top of them. Mind you they claim it is comfortable for all parties involved. I don’t know if it is but it doesn’t sound like it, but really who the hell is going to complain to the guy that can have your whole family sent off to die in less then a second if you piss him off? When it all comes down to it both the Kim’s had a predilection to underage girls and deviant sex but hey if the populace fears and worships you who the hell is going to say no when you come looking for their daughters since daddy doesn’t have a shotgun to say no with. Sometimes this idea of taking woman spills over into the rest of the world such as the case with Many young Japanese Girls and the South Korean Actress Choi Eun-hee***.
It’s no secret that Kim Jong-il has a thing for cinema. As a young man he was the Deputy Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department in the parties Central Committee this let him get highly involved in the countries film industry. Now Mr. Kim felt that the countries film industry was not quite up to snuff and decided he needed a great director to help him bring up the North Korean film industry and who better the South Korea’s own Shin Sang-ok known as The Prince of Korean Cinema. To futher his ends the tiny tyrant Kim would use Choi Eun-hee. She was the Ex-wife of Shin and a prominent South Korean Actress. While the Couple had separated they where still friends. Kim Jong-il decided to use Choi as bait in order to get Shin to come to the North to help him with the countries film industry. While traveling in Hong Kong in 1978 Kim had men kidnap Choi and even went so far as meeting her at the dock upon her landing in North Korea and putting her up in a luxury penthouse. Shin although remarried by this point found out about the disappearance of his ex and went off to look for her. Six months latter while in Hong Kong trying to find Choi Shin was also captured by North Korean agents and brought to Kim’s little playground. For several years Shin was kept in prison for trying to escape never knowing what happened to Choi. Choi while kept in better conditions was never told why she had been kidnaped. After several years in prison and several other escape attempts Shin was finally pardoned by Kim and released. The two former lovers were then reunited at a dinner party hosted by Kim Jong-il in 1983to find out the truth about what had happened. Kim ever the insane despot set the two to work helping the North Korean film industry. Kim even went so far as to convince the two to remarry even though Shin still had a wife back in the South****. Finally after eight years in the North the couple was able to escape while in Vienna in 1986 where they fled to the U.S. where they requested asylum to keep them safe from Kim and possible political problems from the Military rule of General Chun Doo-hwan South Korea’s last dictator before the reforms that started after 1987 that eventually turned South Korea into a functioning Democracy.
The death of the Kim:
Kim Jong-il was born on February 16th 1941 in the village of Vyatskoye part of Khabarovsk Krai, at the time part of the Soviet Union, now part of Russia. Granted that’s not what the North Koreans are taught in what passes for schooling in that country. In North Korea the Official story is that Kim was born one year later on Baekdu Mountain. Baekdu is a volcanic mountain with a lake at the top called Chonji or Heaven Lake. Mount Baekdu was, and to a point, still is considered sacred to the Koreans since it is the supposed place of their ancestral origin and the legendary founding of Korea. What better place to be born then on a sacred mountain who wouldn’t want to lie about that when you are a despot running on a giant Personality Cult? I would however have added unicorns into the story to make the stuff North Korea puts out more believable. We however are here to discus Kim’s death and not his birth.
Is Kim Jong-il dead? I can’t say it could have happened to a better person but I don’t think so. He might be we can always hope for a change. Professor Shigemura Toshimitsu from Waseda University in Tokyo and is considered a Japanese expert on North Korea claimed in his book “The True Character of Kim Jong-il” that Kim died in 2003 and was replaced by a double. Kim supposedly fearing assassination had four people a doubles who would appear in his place. These doubles went through plastic surgery to make them look exactly like him or at least enough to fool most people. It is even speculated that some of the doubles have stood in for Kim during international summits or diplomatic meetings. Some of Kim’s speeches have been called into question on if it was really him due to voiceprint matching that well didn’t match. OK I am not going to go into all of Professor Shigemura’s points however his basic premise is believable just for the fact it wasn’t written in The New York Times.
Why would North Korea let an imposer claim to be Kim Jong-il and take over the government or at least pretend to be running it? Well first lets remember how Kim Jong-il came to power in the first place. Kim Il-sung spent years raising up Jong-il to be his successor from altering history to helping his son for his own personality cult and mythology and putting him in positions of power were he could excel. As I have mentioned earlier most communist countries the change of power is usually violent power struggle by spending years building up his son Kim Il-sung was able to make the transition of power smooth and simple. Kim Jong-il however has failed to do this with any of his children or even people in the inner circles of the Party. With the lack of the foresight displayed by his father Kim Jong-il has made the country open to the kind of violent power struggles that come from the death of the Party leader in a dictatorship. Since Kim Jong-il’s almost godlike status in North Korea make replacing him difficult without a long transition period if he were to suddenly die what would the other party leaders do to keep control without ending up killing each other? They would get one of Kim’s fakes to pretend Kim was still alive for at least a couple years until they can come up with a better idea to maintain stability. It makes sense keep his death a secret and either work together or at least pretend to work together and keep the power struggle hidden until you have enough of the upper hand to take control. If you are in the inner party and the country collapses it’s your head that is going to roll. These are the people that are living in mansions and have access to some of the Happy Corps girls. They live fat off the blood and slavery of the common Korean. If North Korea falls these people are screwed. Even if one of these guys can overthrow the others and take power he not have the kind of backing that the Kim’s have had or the same cult status. He could never get accepted by the Korean people as Kim Jong-il was able to because of his father. Kim’s own children don’t even have the same cult status as their father. While one of them may be able to rule more or less effectively They would still only seem like a shadow against the mythological legacy of their father and grandfather. If might take years to build that. Now if the Party heads where smart they would have the double pose as Kim until one of Kim’s kids could be built up to take his place. At this time though it does not look like this is what they are doing. I would say that if Kim is really dead right now the Inner Party are doing nothing more then gasping for air trying to survive hoping they can come up with an effective plan for a power change. Granted this is all conjecture and Kim might be alive.
The sickness of the Kim:
Kim Jong-il might still be alive but he is in bad shape. It has been reported that he has suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery recently. While he is still alive he is at least for now unable to preform his duties in conjunction with the leadership of North Korea. Kim is not currently believed to be able to function fully yet and did not even attend the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of North Korea. Different sources give conflicting details from Kim being almost incapacitated to him while functioning still suffering problems and spasms due to the recent stroke. Some South Korean sources report that Kim is on his way to recovery and will be able to take back full control over the government while Some American and Chinese sources are worried that he is in much worse shape then that and may not be able to fully recover any time soon if at all. One poster on the Free Korea Web site posted this about Kim’s illness:
“Hey, a well-timed illness can be just the thing if you need to stall your way out of a promise to a lame-duck president.”
Now it does make sense since the six party talks have stalled and Kim might be buying time till after the next presidential election in the hopes of getting a better deal from the next PONTUS. The problem is that North Korea is a very closed and secretive nation and getting any truthful information out of North Korea is almost impossible. Most of the information we get is from defectors and until a high ranking defector gets out and tells us the truth we will never know the real situation with Kim Jong-il is. However even defector information is not always accurate and North Korea does have spies trained in giving out false information to the rest of the world.
One of the things you have to look at is the fact that the Chinese are worried. If the Chinese are worried and not trying to hide a problem but coming out for secret meetings with the U.S. then you know something is up. If there is a possibility that Kim’s leadership collapses that North Korea will collapse and the repercussions from this could be very bad for the region. Now I don’t particularly want the Kim regime to stick around but if you are looking at a country that could end up a wars zone over this from different factions fighting each other it will be bad for regional stability. Furthermore the bastard that takes over after Kim could be even worse.
Even if the North Korea transformed into a democracy the transition would not be smooth and it would cause a lot of economic problems in the region. The transition would have to be slow and paced so as not to create chaos and possible violence. Now if North Korea does not transition to a nicer form of government it would still have to find a way to transition smoothly so as to not cause once again chaos and violence. Whatever happens it is in the interest of the regional powers to do what they can to maintain some sort of stability. I would assume that China is hoping that if there is a change in North Korea that it will take more of the form of their own change. A gradual opening up of the country and the economy while the government is still controlled by the Communist Party as more of a collective rather then a one man despotism. You know the “we make a lot of money selling tainted food political prisoners organs while killing monks and journalists kind of change” (but maybe there is hope with this change). This transition will take time and there is no guarantee that it will go well. North Koreans have spent years closed off from the world and fed lies and propaganda and might not react very well when they find out that half of what they have been taught in school by the government is a lie and the other half is bullshit. They might revolt I would. It could get messy to say the least. Like when someone turns off Obama’s teleprompter kind of messy.
Both North and South Korea have harbored a longing for reunification under different systems of government but the ideal is there. South Korea couldn’t possible take control of North Korea very easily due to the vast differences in the two countries. It would take years and billions of dollars to bring them anywhere close. Granted Germany was able to do it but it was hard and the differences where not quite as big. Now the people in the circles of power in the North would not want to be run by the South Koreans and helped by the Americans and Japanese who would have to help out for security, diplomatic and economic reasons. Further more South Korea wouldn’t want to keep many of these people in power since they are the ones that have helped to create all of the Norths problems. One idea would be if they could pay these guys off and send them into exile into some place like China. That’s if China would be willing to take them and since trying them all for crimes against humanity while appropriate might not be the best option.
Even if Kim Jong-il recovers fully the Kim Dynasty cannot last forever and the propaganda of him and his fathers rule will be shown false (they should have used the unicorn). Eventually North Korea will have to change. All I know for now is that good or bad in the next couple of years this will get interesting. I just hope the teleprompter is working.
UPDATE: I am confident that the little bastard is still alive, so my theories are wrong for now, we will have to wait till he really does die to see if I’m right.
* All Korean and Japanese names are written here last name first as is common in those countries when speaking or writing.
** Hite beer is like South Korea’s version of Budweiser in that they are both very popular crap. On the driving comment if you ever get a chance to visit South Korea hand the cab driver an extra 20$ and tell him to get you to your destination as fast as possible. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
***Also spelled He, Hi or Hui depending on the source. If you see a different spelling for any of the names or some of the Korean words here it is because of the different ways to Romanize Hangeul the Korean writing system. Another example would be Mount Paektu vs. Mount Baekdu. It’s the same situation when Romanizing Chinese since people either used different methods such as Wade-Giles, Latinxua Sin Wenz or the Pinyin and others. It can get confusing although Pinyin is considered the standard now older books could use other methods so you have to watch for it and try to stick with only one system. I cannot say I can do this with Hangeul properly so please cut me a little slack if I use a less common spelling.
**** Shin’s second wife died in a traffic accident while Shin was in the North however.
I will state that I did not bother to site references in this due to my own laziness and the fact that this was not originally going to be several thousand words long and it is mostly commentary on known facts anyway. The whole thing started off from the North Korean Soup joke and went downhill from there. I have however in no way reproduced any portion of any article or book without siting the source (that one time). Most information I have used here came from from personal knowledge, books I have read and several different sources such as the web sites for Fox News (US), The Times Online (UK), The Telegraph (UK) , The Korean Herald (ROK), The JoongAng Daily (ROK), and Wikipedia (it’s not all lies).
I also used information I obtained from these books that I strongly suggest you read for yourself:
“Nuclear Showdown” By Gordon G. Chang
“The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag” by Kang Chol-hwon
“Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty” by Bradley K. Martin