The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters
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Understanding North Korea through its propaganda
What do the North Koreans really believe? How do they see themselves and the world around them?
Here B.R. Myers, a North Korea analyst and a contributing editor of The Atlantic, presents the first full-length study of the North Korean worldview. Drawing on extensive research into the regime’s domestic propaganda, including films, romance novels and other artifacts of the personality cult, Myers analyzes each of the country’s official myths in turn—from the notion of Koreans’ unique moral purity, to the myth of an America quaking in terror of “the Iron General.” In a concise but groundbreaking historical section, Myers also traces the origins of this official culture back to the Japanese fascist thought in which North Korea’s first ideologues were schooled.
What emerges is a regime completely unlike the West’s perception of it. This is neither a bastion of Stalinism nor a Confucian patriarchy, but a paranoid nationalist, “military-first” state on the far right of the ideological spectrum.
Since popular support for the North Korean regime now derives almost exclusively from pride in North Korean military might, Pyongyang can neither be cajoled nor bullied into giving up its nuclear program. The implications for US foreign policy—which has hitherto treated North Korea as the last outpost of the Cold War—are as obvious as they are troubling. With North Korea now calling for a “blood reckoning” with the “Yankee jackals,” Myers’s unprecedented analysis could not be more timely.
improvement in inter-Korean relations since 2000, there was no sign of it. The summit ended in another declaration averring both sides’ determination to work towards unification, but the damage had been done. The South Korean electorate’s disaffection with the Sunshine Policy played an important role in helping the conservative candidate win in November. Had the Kim regime been misled by the sheer vociferousness and visibility of South Korea’s anti-American left into doubting pollsters’
distinct races, the Korean race. While still evolving from Early Korean to Modern Korean Man the Koreans settled the whole peninsula and much of northeast Asia. All they lacked was a strong leader. At last, in the third millennium BE, a great emperor named Tan’gun united Koreans into a state named Chosǒn, taking Pyongyang as his capital. Koreans were thus the first Asians to achieve nationhood, a crucial first stage of civilization. Though Old Chosǒn shared the peninsula with other, smaller
maintain public stability without a ubiquitous police presence or a fortified northern border. Sensationalist American accounts of the “underground railroad” helping North Korean “refugees” make it through China to the free world gloss over the fact that about half of these economic migrants—for that is what most of them are—voluntarily return to their homeland. The rest remain fervent admirers of Kim Il Sung if not of his son. Though we must never forget the men, women and children languishing
that name) on other factors. Typical is Pak Il-myŏng’s “Transition,” which appeared in June 1999.12 This is one of many short stories in which everything the Leader thinks, does and says is meant to be understood as a product of the writer’s imagination, yet true to the essence of the great man. “Transition” opens with the Leader seated behind a desk in an undisclosed location. The Kim Jong Il regime has always enjoyed a higher degree of uncoerced mass support than the outside world is willing
December 2006, 9. Widaehan suryŏng Kim Il-lsŏng tongji ŭi pulmyŏl ŭi hyŏngmyŏng ŏpchŏk 18: haewoe kyop’o munje ŭi pit’nanŭn haegyŏl. Pyongyang, 1999. “Wihŏmhan pul changnan.” Ch’ ŏllima, June 1998, 59. Wiseman, Paul. “North Koreans Savor Taste of Open Marketplace.” USA Today, February 19, 2009. Yang, Key P., Chee, Chang-boh. “The North Korean Educational System: 1945 to Present.” North Korea Today. Edited by Robert A. Scalapino. New York. 1963. 125-140. Yi Ch’un-jin. Anna. In Koji ŭi