Kim Jong-Il has died. It was a big story for the few days before Christmas, but I’m just getting around to posting about it. Viral videos have shown North Korean citizens mourning in the streets, most definitely having been put to the task by the government of the late dictator. Everyone’s learning more about the “Dear Leader” but little to nothing is known about the government he headed.
The man lived one of the most lavish and fairy tale like lives of any world leader while most North Korean people lived off of one third the daily caloric intake a human requires. He imported more than $700,000 worth of Hennessy each year. His people believed he and his father created the world and controlled the weather. His biography says he doesn’t defecate or urinate like other people. And he reportedly shot a 38 under par with 11 holes-in-one for his first game of golf.
He and his party cohorts lived lavish lives, ate healthy, and made the city of Pyongyang into a “working” socialist society. All the time, his people in the countryside were starving. The famine that took place in North Korea from 1995 to 1998 was one of the worst government sanctioned actions of the post-Cold War period, with some accounts bringing the death toll to two million. Stalin’s famine in Ukraine and Mao’s Great Leap Forward were two other instances where famine has taken place in partially industrialized countries during peacetime. Governments, just like North Korea’s, instituted both famines. This famine killed off the poorer North Koreans in Pyongyang, “cleaning up” the streets as Mr. Kim wanted them. It also killed off many North Koreans in the countryside, a place few foreigners have ever been.
North Korea is most likely in peril, not that anyone outside of the country can verify this. But it’s been in peril for the entirety of his term and is most likely worse now. The international community could do something about this new wave of turmoil that has most likely been created by Kin Jong-Il’s death. But would international intervention really help? I have no first hand knowledge, much like the overwhelming majority of theorists and strategists in the West, but from first hand accounts the people truly believe he is a god. The official status to the people is that Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il Sung created the earth and control the weather. When a western doctor cured a North Korean of blindness, he immediately went over to a picture of the “Dear Leader” and thanked him, never thanking the doctor.
If a foreign force you never believed existed comes in and tries to “help” you by taking down your god, you would be shaken and most likely not accept the foreigners. This is why I am convinced that intervertion would fail. What can the international community do? Push diplomatically. Use soft power to attempt to change the government and culture in North Korea. It will be a hard and irksome task, but it has been done before.
Dictatorships have been toppled before. Kings with heavenly mandates have been deposed and replaced with democratic governments, but the force to bring this about must truly come from within. If the North Koreans are completely brainwashed, which is unlikely in my mind, then it will never happen. But I think there have to be North Koreans who know that life can get better or at least have an idea that it can. All we need is to do something, some propaganda or outreach of our own perhaps, to help those people realize that there is the potential for a better life for this country. One challenge we encounter is the fact that the North Korean language no longer is the same as the South Korean language. This will make the clear communication of the ideas of democracy or freedom difficult to communicate. It may also make any realistic hopes of reunification almost unattainable. However, a free or at least a freer North Korea is not impossible to achieve either and now may be the time to renew our efforts to reach out to the country’s people. This task could be rather difficult.