“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Death of a Dictator, Welcome Relief?

I know he is dead, Kim Jong-il. I have purposely not written about him because most intelligent people know what a cruel, sadistic, schizophrenic person he was, and quite simply I do not want to give much fanfare in his death. Like most dictators, he died of natural cause, and by that, I mean no one put a gun to his head and ended 24 million people's suffering. Now his spawn is set to take over. I wonder if he will be a figurehead like Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
So much secrecy shrouds every aspect of North Korea we can only guess if the son is going to act as the leader of North Korea. North Korea is the only Communist country to pass leadership on from father to son. What started as Confucianism, giving the basis believing the Emperor has a mandate from heaven and his followers are to be loyal and obey unconditionally, eventually led to becoming communist as well; this in deference to Russia and China who established his regime. However, is North Korea a true Communist country? On the other hand, is it more a feudal kingdom using communist terminology?

Go back please to 1259 when the Mongolians defeated Koryo (Korea) after thirty years of fighting. Being incorporated into the Mogul empire was not pleasant for North Koreans. In 1254, 206,000 men were captured, the Koryo princes lived as hostages in Bejing and Koroyo was forced to donate large numbers of virgins to the Mongols. The Mongols used Korea as their base for attacking Japan.

 Then the Ming dynasty began in China in 1368, and twenty years later, the pro-Ming general Yi Song-gye commandeered control of the Korean government and in 1392 rose to the throne.  The Yi dynasty, also known as the Chosun dynasty, lasted until 1910.  Even though it was the longest-lasting dynasty in Asian history, the governments of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il refused to accept it as a worthy precursor because, for much of that period, the Chosun were only vassals of the Chinese. Then in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Japanese and 160,000 soldiers moved in to Korea on the way to invade China. After losing their fleet to Korea's armor plated warships in 1592, the Japanese withdrew in 1598. With the epidemics, famine and peasant revolts they were unprepared and overrun by the Manchus and reduced the Chosun dynasty to a vassal state of the Chinese Ch'ing dynasty. They banned Christianity in 1786 and in 1866, 13,000 Catholics were executed.


The people of North Korea have never known freedom.  After centuries of feudalism, they experienced Japanese colonialism and the Stalinism of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Social control in North Korea may seem silly unless it happens to you. Cellphones were banned because it was believed they could be used to detonate bombs. Radio tuners were rigged so that channels that were not authorized could not be accessed. Impromptu visits were made to insure people were following the rules. In 1970, Kim Il-sung directly sanctioned a program begun in 1958 in which the entire North Korean population was divided into three classes of Loyalty groups. Roughly a quarter of the people called the core class whose families were in the pre-liberation era pre -1945, were soldiers, poor farmers, workers, and office clerks, as well as the ones whose family members were killed in the war. These members of the core class were given priority over all others in housing, food, and medical care.

The wavering classes, half the population, are pre-liberation merchants, farmers, and service workers, as well as immigrants from South Korea, China, Japan, and families whose members left for South Korea, but stayed behind themselves.

 The third group is the hostile class, from families that were pre-liberation wealthy landlords, or merchants, as well as religious teachers and any who uttered discontent, even in private, with the Kim’s and their command.  Members of the hostile class are not permitted to live in Pyongyang.  They accept the worst jobs, the poorest housing, and the least of food rations.  All citizens of North Korea are scrutinized by the Ministry of People’s Security, which positions informers in workplaces and neighborhoods to betray anyone who disparages the regime, even at home.  Among the crimes for which one may be castigated are perfidy to The Great Leader and to The Dear Leader, a crime that comprises permitting pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il to gather dust and allowing pictures of the Kim’s that appear in magazines or newspapers to be torn or folded.

Below the loyalty groups, like untouchables in the Hindu caste system, are the 250,000 people who are held in prison camps.  It is not only people accused of crimes who are sent to these camps, but their families as well.  Following the theory of yongoje, family purge, North Korean officials will gather up and imprison, or at least deport, three generations of the family of an offender, including uncles, aunts, and cousins.  Sometimes punished as well were friends and work colleagues.  One case reported by Human Rights Watch was that of Kim Young.  Kim was an official of the State Security Bureau when they found that as a CIA spy thirty-six years earlier his father was executed. They instantly sent Kim Young to prison, where he met his mother, who since her husband’s execution had been imprisoned.

Brought out by former prisoners, and even escaped guards, accounts of the prison camps, are harrowing. A 2003 report identified thirty-six forced labor camps, one of which is three times larger than Washington, D.C. is.  There are reports of forced abortions, babies being killed, people sent to the “Discipline Department” for laughing or for looking at their reflection in a window, and informers staying awake through the night to report on what prisoners say when they talk in their sleep.  A 1987 at Onsung Prison, there was a riot that led to the killing of 5,000 prisoners.  Up to nineteen hours, a day prisoner’s work and the products made by their forced labor, including clothing, and thought to be “laundered” through China were discovered on shelves in the United States.

 According to one prisoner, working with livestock is a good job because it is possible to steal the animals’ food and to pick through animal dung for undigested grain.  On the prison cell walls are slogans such as “adore the authorities of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il with all your heart”.


·       In honor of Kim Il-sung’s 70th birthday, North Korea built a triumphal arch in Pyongyang that is a copy of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but larger, and a Torch of Juche Idea monument made from 25,550 white granite blocks, one for each day of Kim Il-sung’s life, that is one meter higher than the Washington Monument.

·       Peeved by South Korea’s coup in hosting the 1988 Olympics, Kim Jong-il spent $4.3 billion to prepare for the Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students held in Pyongyang in 1989.  Large apartment buildings were built to house visitors, but without the use of construction elevators, which led to the death of more than 1,000 workers in three years.

·       In 1974, Kim Jong-il decided that North Korean radio was not playing enough music.  He personally listened to thousands of songs and then chose 330 to be played on air.  Three years later, he added another 1,177 songs.

·       Kim Jong-il never gave a major speech or spoke to a large crowd.  Although the government often stages mass rallies, at which up to one million North Koreans will march in columns fifty abreast, Kim’s only known utterance at such an event was at a 1992 military parade, when he called out, “Glory to the heroic Korean People’s Army.”

·       Every room in every building must display photographs of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and they distribute special kits to clean the pictures.

·       Every North Korean must wear a lapel pin with a photo of either Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il.

I cannot imagine a people whose rights have been trampled as long the Korean have. I am sure one of my readers will tell me but for the sake of this article, I am speaking of North Korea. What will happen to these people now that the ring in their noses has loosened some?

With high ranking officials refusing to return from abroad and Pyongyang refusing to let anyone leave, who will fight to give some relief and bring change to this beleaguered country? Will it be the puppet on stage, or the one who holds the strings behind the curtain? Only time will tell.


A. said...

I suspect it will be just more of the same. It's such a secretive country no-one knows for sure what happens there and I don't suppose it will change much in the short term.

Susan said...

So very sad what is happening. Brainwashing at it's best. We know this is one of the worst examples of dictatorship. I really do wish the best for these people who only know what they are told.

Marms said...

I hope the people in NK will realize they have their own rights. Rights that are obviously abused by a person.



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