In light of the recent tensions between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), it seems appropriate to produce a short piece about the little-known country in opposition to the hostility shown it by US-European policymakers.
Common Claims About the DPRK and Contrary Evidence
The following is a list of commonly-believed claims about North Korea which often come up in conversation, and the rebuttals of such claims.
“North Koreans are poor and often don’t have enough to eat”. While it is true that there are, sometimes, food and supply shortages in the DPRK, it is worth keeping in mind that the same is true of most countries in the world. Millions of people in India, Bangladesh, most of Africa, and even some parts of the United States and Europe lack healthy food, hygiene and basic services. The city of Flint, Michigan suffers from a water-supply which is so unclean that it quite literally poisons the people who live there, while slum-dwellers in India, in addition to often not being paid enough to buy food, often have to share such basic things as toilets between several dozen people. We in the west ought to remember that most countries around the world are poor and, unlike most countries, the DPRK is under one of the world’s strictest trade embargoes.
“North Koreans are subjected to constant pro-regime propaganda and lack unbiased information”. It is true that the DPRK media and information services can sometimes be restrictive, but we have to wonder whether our own ‘information services’ are too much better. Most people in our countries rely for their information on news outlets owned and controlled by multi-millionaires which provide partisan and low-quality reporting on both world affairs and our own countries. How many Americans, for example, know that their own government flooded neighbourhoods across the country with hard drugs to quell the political dissent of the Black Panthers, that the CIA effectively installed the Suharto regime in Indonesia which subsequently murdered up to three million people, that the US military sprayed Agent Orange, a lethal chemical weapon, over Vietnam which has left deformed babies being born even half a century after the war, or that it slaughtered upwards of 2 million Koreans during the Korean War? Now, compare the number of Americans who are aware of these documented facts, with the number who sincerely believe that North Koreans believe their leaders were sent from heaven and believe in unicorns, and you might start questioning your own information services before making claims about North Korea’s.
“North Korea is an oppressive dictatorship which imprisons anyone who questions or criticises the regime”. There is no reliable evidence of this whatsoever. First, defectors are not a dependable source of information about life in the country; their testimonies often fall apart with inconsistencies, all defectors are drilled by South Korean intelligence before they are allowed to speak to the press and, remember, there were Iraqi defectors who confirmed Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMDs, which turned out to be bogus. In addition, defectors often praise the United States, which is guilty of all the above-mentioned crimes and more, as a champion of freedom. Secondly, the United States has a habit of spraying peaceful protesters with tear gas, beating and severely injuring or even killing dissidents (such as Fred Hampton), and handing down outrageous sentences for petty crimes. Next time you’re about to claim that North Korea has hundreds of thousands of basically innocent people in prison camps, remember that the United States has two million people in the same situation, and the UK imprisons more people per head of the population than any other country in Europe.
“North Korea is an aggressive and unpredictable country”. Aside from a few minor artillery exchanges, as often as not initiated by South Korea, the DPRK has not attacked or been at war with anyone since the 1953 armistice which ended the Korean War, while the US has attacked around 30 countries in that same time, not including covert operations, and was usually the aggressor which initiated the hostilities.
“Foreign films and culture are not allowed into North Korea”. Frankly, I don’t think the Korean people are losing much because they can’t listen to Katy Perry or Justin Bieber. The DPRK does, however, host an annual International Film Festival.
“North Korea distributes its resources poorly, spending disproportionately on the military while the people suffer shortages”. The DPRK has been the victim of nuclear blackmail by the United States no less than 7 times since the Korean War, and there are 33,000 occupation troops maintained by the United States just across the border, in South Korea. It is often claimed by Western media, news outlets, documentaries and such that North Korea is paranoid to suspect that the United States is hostile towards it and ready to attack, but that is overlooking the fact that the US and South Korean militaries hold yearly military drills which simulate an attack on the DPRK, and that the US was on the verge of attacking the country in 1994 over a nuclear research sight which it has a right to have under international law. It is likely that the DPRK would’ve been attacked by the United States and South Korea in the late 1990s, when it was at its most vulnerable, had it not been for the government’s “military-first policy”. Meanwhile, the United States spent $598.5 billion on the military in the fiscal year 2015, and recently launched a $29 million missile attack on Syria and dropped a $300 million bomb on Afghanistan, but cannot afford meals on wheels and is cutting social programmes across the country.
“There is no democracy in North Korea, the Workers’ Party and the Kims rule with an iron fist”. In addition to the Workers’ Party, the Christian Democrats and the Chondoist Party also sit in the Supreme People’s Assembly, the DPRK’s national legislative body. The Workers’ Party is, however, viewed to be above partisan politics and considered to be the leading force behind the country’s social, political and economic development, identified more with the ‘national spirit’ and the ‘national character’ than with anything else. It is true that the DPRK does not have a parliamentary political structure in the sense of the UK or the US, but to view any non-parliamentary political system as a form of dictatorship is, quite frankly, chauvinistic and racist.
“North Korea is often jealous of South Korea, a democratic country to which many North Koreans defect”. In South Korea, people are imprisoned for voicing left-wing political opinions of any sort, including pro-Trade Union, communist or socialist views, under accusation of “sympathy with the North”. South Korea has barely recovered from dacades-long military dictatorships which were killing between two and five thousand protesters a month by 1980, and remains rife with corruption, inequality and poverty. Furthermore, before the collapse of the Soviet Union the DPRK enjoyed considerably higher living standards than South Korea, which changed only due to the economic turmoil which any country would go through if it abruptly lost its biggest trading partner (imagine the turmoil in Europe if the United States suddenly collapsed as a country).
In conclusion, most of what we in the West know, or think we know, about North Korea is either fallacious or constructed out of a mixture of half-truths and subjective, unverifiable claims from unreliable sources. We must question the social and political nature of our own countries and the actual agendas of our own leaders before we mindlessly parrot falsehoods about any foreign countries, especially the DPRK, the most consistent victim of imperialist hostility and intimidation since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991.
The Current War Drive Against North Korea
Recently the United States, supported by its allies, has stepped up its intimidation of the DPRK. It has, for example, sent warships to the region and threatened a pre-emptive strike against the country if it attempts to exercise its legitimate and legal right to test its defensive nuclear weapons (imagine if China threatened a pre-emptive strike against the US for weapons test, what international outrage there would be over such an affront to American sovereignty!). The recent Tomahawk missile strike against Syria and the dropping of the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US military’s arsenal, MOAB, on Afghanistan, have also been interpreted as ‘shows of force’ aimed at intimidating North Korea and China.
Many liberals and moderate ‘socialists’ have interpreted this as part of the aggressive foreign policy stance of the Trump administration (while other liberals, crying over the ‘violence’ of Black Lives Matter protests, have cheered Trump as finally acting in a presidential manner with these actions), but in fact it represents nothing more than an increase in the intensity of the long-standing US policy of maintaining its effective economic stranglehold and political domination over much of the world, whereby the planet’s poorest countries pay to keep the United States on its throne as the richest country in the world, by any means necessary, including military aggression. The very fact that a country which puts its own national interests ahead of those of the US/European bloc exists is considered intolerable by US policymakers, so imagine the fury caused by the mere existence of a country as fiercely and proudly independent as the DPRK. War against this country benefits no-one but the military contractors who tend to profit from sending young soldiers into the meat-grinder; the Korean people, especially, cannot be bombed, shelled and blasted into American ‘freedom’. Anyone committed to peace, democracy and human rights, instead of whining over false or at least unverified claims about life inside North Korea, should contribute their whole effort towards militant opposition to the aggressive, imperialist war-drive, opposition by any means necessary.