Politics Magazine

North Korea Primer

Posted on the 25 May 2013 by Calvinthedog

Repost from the old site.

By now you surely have heard that North Korea has a nuclear bomb and has tested it, although the bomb appears very small, the test did not go well, and it has not yet been put on top of a missile. I am not at all worried about this bomb, though maybe I should be.

I have been studying North Korea for years, and this is the basis for my carefree attitude about their nuclear bomb. They simply are not going to use it in an aggressive manner as it is strictly for defensive purposes.

For those reasons, I actually support North Korea’s getting a bomb, as I figure they will never use it anyway (unless we are so stupid as to attack them) and it is only them having a bomb that keeps us from attacking them.

I think all sane, rational countries being threatened by nuclear powers should have the right to get WMD’s to defend themselves. Most countries in the world qualify as sane, and certainly North Korea does. All the nonsense about “crazy Kim Jong Il” is just US propaganda crap. For an example of an insane, irrational country that should never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, consider the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

I actually dislike the regime intensely, but there are positive notes amidst all the terror of the gulags and the corruption of the elite.

For one, I really feel that Kim Jong Il has been trying his best to feed his people, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of capitalist regimes in the Third World, whose governments do not make the tiniest efforts to feed anyone, as this is seen as the responsibility of the individual.

The World Bank, the IMF and the US government routinely try to attack and even destroy such governments if they try to feed their people. Jean Bertrand Aristide, for example, was overthrown at gunpoint by the US, France and Canada, in part because he was spending large sums to give millions of poor Haitians one free meal (lunch) a day.

The World Bank and the IMF usually demand that these governments scale back or terminate any government feeding programs in order to continue to get loans from these institutions.

My understanding is that the northern part of Korea has never been able to feed its people, even before the Communist regime. I suppose it has always either relied on imports from Southern Korea or China, or else, if that was not forthcoming, it simply lacked enough food. The country is very cold and mountainous with rocky soil and it is hard to get crops to grow there.

Some background on the famine: North Korea had the worst floods in 100 years in 1995 and 1996, followed by the worst drought in 100 years in 1997, which also involved famine. All this happened after the economy collapsed in 1990 with the loss of Soviet economic cooperation.

To give you an example of what was involved in this 1990 collapse, note that the price of oil immediately climbed by 1000% (10 times) in the space of a year. They simply could not purchase enough oil to run their factories and farms so the whole country pretty much shut down.

For those enamored of the theory that Communist states like Cuba and North Korea can only be maintained by massive aid from outside to “keep them afloat”, we should note that from 1946-1960, South Korea received 4 times the aid to South Korea as the Soviet Union was giving to North Korea. For most of the 1950′s, the US provided 50% of the entire budget of South Korea. Which state is the welfare case, anyway?

The US has been deliberately trying to destroy their economy from Day One so we should talk about their economic problems. Right now, we are trying to cut off the regime from the entire world banking system. This means that factories that make consumer goods have been unable to import the materials necessary to make those products.

During the starvation crisis of the 90′s, my perception is that the world did not exactly step up to the plate for avert the crisis. The US continued embargoing North Korea, as they have since 1950, and as they did during the Great Leap Forward famine of 1959-1962 in which 15 million Chinese died while the US scurried to block all food aid.

The embargo has recently been strengthened in an effort to cut off the North from the world financial system. The US and other nations played politics with the food aid during the famine, a disgusting display of cynical Realpolitik in my opinion.

Regarding the number of deaths in the famine, anti-North Korean polemicists claim that 3-4 million people died. Fine, they can claim that all they want but they need to prove it. The Asian Development Bank says that 500,000 died*. Others put the figure at 600,000.

It was a terrifying, nightmarish time and the horror stories from the era seem for the most part to be true.

It is useful to note that even at the worst of the starvation in the 1990′s, the rate and degree of infant mortality, starvation and malnutrition per 1000 people only began to approach, but did not reach or surpass, the same rate as India experiences day in, day out, every single year, including this one.

So, what happened in North Korea from 1995-1997 has continued to occur on a greater scale and to the same degree every year since then in India. So how come we don’t hear how India starves its people? It should be noted that the regime has not been able to feed its people for the last 10 years and 40% of the youngest generation are stunted from malnutrition.

North Korea has liberated women to a radical degree – there are more college-educated women than men. The regime does an excellent job of taking care of orphans (especially) and children in general.

There are many orphans. – 30% of the population of North Korea was killed in the war, mostly by US carpet bombing, often with napalm, that was frankly terrorist warfare – a devastation comparable in degree to those experienced by Poles, Russians and World Jewry in World War 2.

The US, under Curtis LeMay, destroyed just about every city and town in North Korea, often with blatant napalming of entire cities. When napalm was invented in 1945, no one imagined that it would be used wholesale against entire cities.

As early as 1952, almost every civilian in North Korea was living in either a cave or a tunnel. There are still a huge number of orphans – if you meet North Koreans, you will find that almost everyone lost at least one relative in the war.

North Korea has excellent in the treatment of the handicapped – sending them to the many special schools and programs that are set up for them, finding employment for them and making special efforts to find them marriage partners.

As with the orphans, there are many handicapped, mostly due to the devastating war, and the North Korean people treat the handicapped with a kindness and deference that would surprise most residents of the capitalist dog-eat-dog West.

North Korea has truly free housing and practices preventive medicine on a comparatively high level. Prostitution is a memory and it is impossible to bribe a cop. North Koreans had a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality than South Korea until 1980, and until the tragedies of the 1990′s, North Korea’s rates of these 2 indexes were on a par with advanced industrialized states.

North Korea had higher per capita growth rates than South Korea for decades until the 1980′s. By 1980, visitors riding trains from North Korea to China were shocked at how much better off North Korea seemed to be than China. North Korea’s rural areas were neat and well-built up, with well-maintained farm machinery in ample supply. In contrast, China, both cities and countryside, appeared squalid.

Since then, the system has foundered. It is not so much that the system itself is a completely failed model as capitalist propagandists assert but that it is a limited model. That is, you can get superb economic growth in both agriculture and industry for decades under Communism (the experience of the Soviet Union and Mao’s China are instructive).

But after decades of growth, the system seems to reach a law of diminishing returns and also bogs down into bureaucracy. North Korea has now significantly liberalized their economy to the point where it is not really a totally Communist economy (certainly not a “Stalinist” system – North Korea’s model never really resembled Stalin’s USSR anyway) at all anymore.

A lot of the enterprises are virtually being run by workers themselves and the cities are crowded with farmers markets and stands for small entrepreneurs.

Nevertheless, many of the horror stories you hear about North Korea’s gulags are probably true. Still, there is a problem with these stories. It is now acknowledged that most information from North Korean defectors is pretty much useless. Sometimes they have good information if you can get to them before South Korean intelligence does. After that, they are about useless.

Defectors’ stories are most valuable for telling us what life is like in their immediate surroundings. Few top-level defectors have left North Korea over the lifespan of the regime, so our understanding of the inner workings of the regime is limited.

The notion that North Korea would give their nuclear weapon to terrorists, or God forbid Al Qaeda, regularly heard in the US media, nearly qualifies as a paranoid delusion. The whole notion of “giving a nuke to terrorists” which Americans have been hammered with nonstop since 9-11 is sort of silly and fantastical anyway.

To look into this requires a brief primer on nuclear weapons. I am not an expert, but here goes.

For starters, let us look at the nonsense about the suitcase nukes. A modern nuclear weapon, as I understand it, is about as big as a very small car – say a Volkswagen beetle or an electric car. If you put it in your living room, it takes up a good part of the room. You can put it in a large truck, but a suitcase!? Come on.

Furthermore, most modern-day nuclear weapons are either launched from a missile of dropped from a bomber. A common misconception is that a nuke is detonated on impact. You could put a nuke in a truck and drive it into a building 100 mph, drop it from a plane, shoot it on a missile, set it on fire, or even attack it with another nuclear weapon, and none of that will detonate it.

The only way to detonate a nuclear weapon is to fire a detonator at the atomic core inside the nuke. In modern nuclear weapons, the detonator is a very large precision instrument located inside the nuke itself. It must be fired just right, with mathematical precision down to fractions of a second and many other variables lined up perfectly.

This a process that is enormously difficult, and large states with huge budgets and legions of physicists have had a very hard time doing it, with the project often taking years or decades, and many projects ending in failure. The notion that terrorists living in Afghan caves can make one of these weapons, smuggle it into the US and detonate it is hysterical.

It is testament to the ignorance or duplicity of the US media and politicians that such scenarios resonate across our land to terrify a public that is uneducated about these complex matters.

Another notion, constantly parried about on the “Terror Channels” of the US media, is that Kim Jong Il wants to attack South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, or especially the US, with his nasty nukes. I don’t believe this. The relationship between the South and the North is enormously complex, but the South (and especially its US patron) threatens the North as much as vice versa.

I do not think a North Korean goal is an unprovoked attack against South Korea, and certainly not Japan or, ludicrously, Taiwan. Any North Korean attack on an US target, forget the US mainland, would be met with such a devastating response that North Korea would be history. A Northern attack on the South would be similarly suicidal.

The North has not spent 40 years rebuilding its land from the total devastation of the war to blow it all on a suicidal war of aggression. On the contrary, I think that North Korea would eventually would like to reunify the South and the North. The South Korean population seems to agree, as 80% oppose the US’ belligerent stance towards the North.

I am not sure why the US media, which resembles a Halloween haunted house attraction meant to scare your pants off for sheer entertainment, is always trying to keep us terrified of dubious threats. Unless they just want to keep us chronically terrified for other ulterior motives.

If anyone should be afraid of anyone, the North should be afraid of the US. We are still officially at war with them, as we never signed an armistice. The US holds regular war games with the South aimed at North Korea. Plans to attack and wipe out the regime are being constantly updated, the most recent of which is frightening in its attention to trivial detail and baseless optimism about success.

37,000 US troops at 100 installations dot the South Korean landscape. The largest US bombing range in Asia is the scene of bombing practice 5 days a week, year-round. The US stationed nuclear weapons in South Korea for decades, menacing the North. Those are gone, but they have been replaced by nuclear-armed ships and planes that the US surrounds the North with.

On January 8, 2002, three weeks prior to the declaration of the Axis of Evil, George Bush presented a “Nuclear Posture Review” to Congress, ordering the Pentagon to prepare contingency plans for nuclear attack on Iran, Iraq and North Korea, in addition to the non-Axis states of Syria, Libya, Russia and China.

From their point of view, the North is mystified at why we vilify them. They see themselves as opposing the apparently illegal division of their country (engineered by the US) from the start.

They are angered at being blamed for starting a war that they see as a civil war between a minority of collaborators with the Japanese who occupied their land (those Koreans supporting South Korea) and the majority of Koreans (those Koreans supporting North Korea). They are proud that they held off the US and its UN allies during the war.

For these acts, which they see as heroic, they feel they have been unfairly tagged as “hostile nation”.

A couple of new books** have come out in the past couple of years advocating attack on North Korea. The nonsense about the North’s petty nuke that reverberates from the media machine is downright frightening. For those who wish to hear an antidote to the insane drumbeat of warmongering hostility against North Korea, consider this a beginning primer.

References

Meredith Woo-Cummings, The Political Ecology of Famine: The North Korean Catastrophe and Its Lessons, Asian Dev. Bank Inst., Tokyo, 2001

Jasper Becker, Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 300 pp., and Bradley K. Martin, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2004. 868 pp.


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