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Editor’s note: Since 1995, Anthony C. LoBaido has made 11 trips to the Korean peninsula. Working in Korea as a university teacher and TV actor helped LoBaido learn Korean and come to understand its culture.
North Korea is back in the news amid nuclear bluster as theater-wide and intercontinental missiles interrupted our recent Fourth of July celebrations. Formulating an intelligent response to the Hermit Kingdom and its “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il is no easy task.
Most of what Americans know about Korea was explained to them via the hit TV show “M*A*S*H.” Yet “M*A*S*H” can’t explain why more people today live under Stalinism than live in the entire UK, about 50 million. Beyond North Korea there’s Belarus, Laos and Cuba as a few archetype examples, not to mention Saddam’s Iraq.
North Korea is a very serious threat to the United States. The North has a standing army of more than 1 million soldiers. (South Korea has over 600,000 soldiers, and like Israel and apartheid South Africa, all males are required to serve in the army.) North Korea also features nuclear weapons and no less than 14 kinds of biological weapons, the latter based near Shinje.
During the Clinton administration, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il was called “a teddy bear” who “changed his image” via a “giant makeover.” In a truly bizarre twist, Roger Clinton – the president’s brother – traveled to North Korea to play with his band in a special concert. Out of the blue, South Korean men started wearing their hair like Kim.
Promises were made to help North Korea build a non-military nuclear reactor. There were also promises of oil shipments. These bribes only enabled North Korea to bide its time and continue its not-so-clandestine nuclear program.
What do we really know about Kim? He reportedly swills cognac, sleeps with Swedish prostitutes and watches CNN and Daffy Duck cartoons. Yet Madeleine Albright, who met the dictator in Pyongyang, went on record saying he “knows what’s going on.”
Kim (the family names comes first in Korean) is a lot smarter than people might think. He was trained as a fighter pilot in East Germany in the 1960s, and he knows how to make a buck. For example, the dictator is deeply involved in the transnational drug trade via the Burmese junta, among other unsavory characters. He launders his billion-dollar fortune through Gold Star Bank in Austria. He’s courted China and Russia as powerful friends to back him up on the international stage.
We must remember that North Koreans have faced hardship since the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the peninsula in 1909. War, famine and self-sacrifice aren’t a departure for North Koreans. North Korea may have over a million of its citizens housed in concentration camps as reported by the CIA through “60 Minutes.” Eating roots and tree bark, even cannibalism, is not uncommon. They’re ready for war in a way South Korea and the U.S. is not.
Christianity is officially outlawed from the halls of power in Pyongyang. (Ironically, 10 of the 20 largest Christian congregations in the world are housed in Seoul). “Juche” or “self-reliance” is the only religion permitted inside the Hermit Kingdom. North Korea is a pariah on the scale of Serbia and apartheid South Africa in part because “juche” does not fit in with the architecture of the emerging world government and interdependency of nations.
Some believe North Korea wants to be left alone, but the world isn’t going to allow that to happen. The Council on Foreign Relations and the Emery archetypes running the U.S. State Department understand that if North and South Korea were to reunite, they would instantly become a major military superpower with almost 2 million well-trained soldiers along with nuclear and biological WMD. Both South and North Korea hate Japan because of Japanese war crimes during World War II. Women were turned into prostitutes or “comfort women,” and almost every tree was cut down. (The Japanese
ecological devastation has been accelerated in North Korea, while the South has mostly healed itself. Koreans are known to be excellent gardeners.)
Not to be forgotten is the fact that North Korea is considered to be the
world’s leading counterfeiter of U.S. currency in terms of both quality and
And make no mistake, North Korea does have it’s own foreign policy. Consider exploits like digging for uranium in the Congo (the CIA kicked them out) and sending mercenaries to Zimbabwe to help Robert Mugabe carry out the horrendous Matabele massacre (Around 20,000 to 30,000 were slaughtered.)
North Korea’s computer hacking program has been led by the mysterious “Kuji.” According to USA Today, Kuji recruited a British teenager named “Data Stream Cowboy” to hack into the Rome Air Force Base in Upstate New York. Kuji was looking for missile codes to launch American weapons. While the Data Stream Cowboy was caught and arrested by Scotland Yard, Kuji remains at large.
North Korea also planned an Aum Shin Rikyo-style attack on the massive Seoul subway system, which was averted at the 11th hour thanks to a tip from a North Korean defector. North Korea also tried to build a massive and not-so-secret tunnel under the DMZ to invade the South.
No true understanding of North Korea is possible without considering several vital issues. First, as mentioned, is the raw, almost inhuman hatred of Japan. Second (surprisingly) is abortion, and third, cultural and linguistic ties to mainland China held by both North and South Korea.
Few know that because of the gendercide in South Korea of females, one day South Korean boys may have to marry North Korean girls to save their race.
South Korean men want sons to carry on their family name. This gendercide has become an auto-genocide of sorts. Although clinical abortions (“Nok-tay” in Hangul) are illegal in Seoul, they are legion. In Seoul’s kindergartens, you would notice the ever-growing disparity between the number of boys and girls. South Korea has the lowest birthrate in the entire world. In 2005 it was 1.08. It is accepted that 2.2 is the replacement birthrate.
Second, the Chinese colonized Korea for centuries and even today Korean students are required to study the Chinese language. This is done in an effort to fully understand Korea’s own culture. For example, Korean names like “Mi Song” meaning “Beautiful Star” (a common name for baby girls), is not a Korean name but is in fact Chinese. Koreans look up to China as a worldly grandfather.
Along those same lines is the issue of cultural hegemony. Many Koreans have similar family names like “Lee,” “Shin” and, yes, “Kim.” These refer to the various dynasties that long ruled the peninsula. Almost all Koreans call strangers “Aju-ma” or “Ajo-shi” meaning “Aunt” or “Uncle.” This is because they all believe they are more or less related to one another through the dynasties.
As such, South and North Koreans share strong family ties, and this is a major force behind the reunification effort by Korean idealists. After all, they feel it was the U.S., Russia and China who have kept North and South apart for more than half a century.
In the final analysis, President Bush and all thinking Americans must understand that Russia and China lean toward North Korea, and that Japan and North Korea will never be friends. Considering the affinity South and North Koreans feel for one another and for mainland China, one can only wonder if the “Kings of the East” are unifying and even rising amid their newly reborn Asian cultural identity.
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