A totalitarian state splits a nation
Lately, the ironically named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, an insult to even the worst euphemisms, has been in the news over the row about the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview (see page 7) and the Sony hack. The whole case is shrouded in mystery, but one thing that struck me about the whole ordeal was how people view Kim Jong-un and his tyrannical dictatorship in North Korea.
North Korea is not taken seriously enough. The country just doesn’t seem to have the same fear inspiring quality as the USSR or other dictatorships did in the past. In fact, the baby-faced and boyish dictator is made fun of quite often, fodder for the Internet and late night comedians like Conan O’Brien, who once quipped, amongst many other jokes, something along the lines of ‘America used to have really fearsome enemies, like Saddam Hussein and Stalin, and now we have Kim Jong-un, he’s not scary at all!’
There is always truth in jest. The evidently less fearsome enemy and his country doesn’t hold the same political, regional and international sway that Stalinist Russia or the Iraq of Saddam Hussein did, perhaps accounting for its less than fearsome reputation. Yet, he is in fact fearsome, and should be taken more seriously. North Korea is after all categorically the worst dictatorship known to human history. What North Korea lacks in regional and international influence it makes up in a total, crushing domination of its people that is completely unprecedented and a totalitarianism the likes of Stalin and Hussein could only dream of. No single population has ever been as oppressed as North Korea’s has. It is the crazy waking dream of tyrants everywhere to have such a submissive people. Although he may be made fun of by Seth Rogen, the dear leader can take solace in the fact that there will never be an uprising by his people. Even in the USSR there were dissidents that were able to make a change (think Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn amongst countless others we’ll never know the name of). This seems impossible in North Korea, where Kim Jong-un has the disease of kings, gout, in a land of unspeakable famine. The only hope comes from those fortunate enough to escape.
Besides perhaps basketball ambassador extraordinaire Dennis Rodman, not many foreign eyes witness North Korea. The late author, journalist and well-traveled polemicist Christopher Hitchens, not a friend of the dear leader like Rodman, was one of the few to be able to enter the country, and he observed that in North Korea “the life of the human being… is completely pointless. The concept of liberty, or humour, or irony, or happiness, or love, doesn’t exist. You are there simply as a prop for the state. Though it used to be, as with any slave system, that they would feed you in return for your services, that compact broke down a couple of decades ago. Now they don’t feed you either.”
He also explained, having seen it from both sides, that the so-called ‘demilitarized’ zone is the most militarized zone in the world today. The border skirmishes with South Korea are the ghosts of a war that split a nation in half, dooming one side to the worst dictatorship ever, and the other to losing their friends, family, and fellow Koreans.
Along with everything else tragic with the not-taken-seriously dictatorship, I don’t think it’ll ever be possible for the North and South to reunify. The two countries splitting one nation are now worlds apart. To truly imagine the impossibility of reunification, think of the economic situation of former East Germans as compared to their Western counterpart today. Now add a completely indoctrinated, starving people with no access to the outside world.
North Korea is a tragedy that all those who don’t take the dictatorship seriously need to heed. After all, according to an April 2014 Al-Jazeera article, the Chief UN investigator of North Korean human rights abuses, Michael Kirby, called North Korea a “Holocaust-type phenomenon,” with no exaggeration.