Korea


"In the prevailing American stereotype, North Korea is a failing Stalinist dictatorship held together only by the rughless repression of a mad ruler who dreams of firing nuclear weapons at Los Angeles...

"...reasons why Pyong-yang is demonized in Administration policy. North Korea challenges two American articles of faith: that the United States is entitled to be treated with deference as the "only superpower," and that Western-style democracy, together with economic globalization based on market principles, is now the natural, universal order of things...

"Rarely does a journalist go beyond what is spoon-fed at State Department or White House briefings to examine the assumptions underlying U.S. policy or make a serious effort to present the North Korean side of the story...

"...much of the literature on North Korea has until recently reinforced simplistic, negative stereotypes...

"...North Korea: Another Country, by Bruce Cumings, and The North Korean Revolution: 1945-1950, by Charles K. Armstrong, make powerfully clear why the Kim regime is not on the verge of collapse.

"...why the Kim regime is not on the verge of collapse... the nationalistic ethos that gives North Korea its political cohesion and staying power...

"The North... endured three years of heavy U.S. bombing in addition to the Yalu offensive... left a deeply rooted siege mentality in the North that persists today...

"..North Korean leaders point to the many reminders that the Korean War is not yet over: the maintenance of most of the economic sanctions imposed during the war; the presence of U.S. forces in the South, still operating under the same U.N. command structure used during the war; and above all, the legal reality that the armistice has not been transformed into a peace treaty...

"Cumings shos that Kim did in fact earn legitimacy as "a classic Robin Hood figure" who helped poor Korean farmers in the Kapsan area bordering Manchuria during the Japanese colonial period and as a fervent nationalist who led guerrilla attacks against Japanese forces in southern and southeastern Manchuria from 1933 to 1940... a "Korean hero" in the struggle against Japan...

Kim Il Sung built a "powerful support base... among the poor and marginal elements of [Korean] society," especially the poor peasant majority, workers and women... Kim Il Sung pushed through sweeping land reforms that gave the Workers Party its strong rural foundations...

"...Communism in Korea was soon "absorbed and transformed" by the hierarchical structure and Confucian social values that had characterized Korea over the centuries... North Korea became "a new Confucian society or family-state that is well integrated as an extension of filial piety, expressed through strong loyalty to its leader"...

"Although only 14 percent of North Korea's mountainous terrain is arable, the government has made matters worse with collective farming; the floods of 1995 and 1996 led to near-famine conditions in many provinces... "The best metaphor for North Korea is the medieval church. Much of the population consists of genuine believers, and no one pays enormous atttention to the minority of heretics who are tortured and killed, the way witches or Christians of a dissident sect were killed during the Middle Ages...

"Cumings... writes in a lively, readable, argumentative, often delightfully irreverent style. His book should be read by anyone seriously interested in an authoritative antidote to the bias and superficiality in most of what is written about North Korea...

"Far from building a coalition to isolate North Korea, Bush's policy of 'hawk engagement' is damaging America's relations with its allies... 'hawk engagement' is increasingly damaging U.S. relations with China, Russia, South Korea and Japan, all of whom, to varying degrees, put much of the blame for the impasse with Pyongyang on U.S. rigidity... they recognize that such muscle-flexing could trigger a chain reaction of escalation, leading to another Korean war" (Selig. S. Harrison. "The North Korean Conundrum." The Nation, June 7, 2004: 23-29).


"China has opposed Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the UN security council, saying it is unfit for such leadership until it faces up to its past. In addition old animosities were rekindled after Japan's education ministry approved textbooks that critics say whitewash the history of Japanese aggression in the region...

"...anti-Japanese sentiment has soard in China and in South Korea...

"In March tensions between Tokyo and Seoul grew after Japan restated an old territorial claim to a group of small islands occupied by South Korea. The claim stoked bad feelings connected with Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945" (Anthony Faiola. "Japan suffers bombardment from cyberspace." Guardian Weekly, May 26, 2005: 22).


Colby Glass, MLIS