Tag Archives: NorthKorea

Book Review: Building Bridges: Is there hope for North Korea?

Building Bridges: Is there hope for North Korea? by David Alton and Rob Chidley is a study of North Korea and world. David Alton is a former teacher and a long time British politician, life peer baron, and member of the House of Lords. Originally a member of the Liberal Democrats, he left the party over their pro-choice position. Alton is an outspoken supporter of human rights and has been appointed to two Roman Catholic orders of chivalry. Rob Chidley, also a former teacher, and former wrote for the British office of Habitat for Humanity and has authored the novel The Third Tribe.

North Korea has been receiving more than its fair share of attention lately. The world’s only family communist dynasty is now in its third generation and not slowing down in its rhetoric. Still technically still at war with South Korea, it now has nuclear weapons and the capability to launch them beyond their borders. North Korea has the disastrous mix of one of the world’s largest army and one of the poorest economies. It is the text book example of a rouge nation.

The problem has been how to deal with North Korea. America is not a viable party in peaceful debate. North Korean leadership has indoctrinated the public to believing America is the force of evil. School children attacked and beat effigies of Americans as a popular recess game. South Korea is seen merely as a pawn of America. The authors introduce a new dimension to the mix: Christianity. South Korea has a sizable Christian population, but in the North, Christianity is effectively outlawed. It is seen as a connection to America and South Korea and although freedom of religion is guaranteed in North Korea, Christianity is seen as treason.

Another topic is food. Food cannot be used as a weapon because it only causes the poorest to suffer more and allows the ruling government to blame those imposing the sanctions. Sanctions, often portrayed as a humanitarian option to war, usually always fail. US sanctions in Cuba probably did more to prop up Castro than bring any change. In other countries sanctions had a devastating effect on the people and little effect on those in power. Food should never be used as a weapon; as a weapon it has failed miserably in North Korea, only adding to the deaths.

China needs to be a major player in the the region. Finished with exporting Marxism/Maoism, China finds itself growing in world prestige and power. China however has attached itself to North Korea half a century ago and cannot find a way to break the bond. It has a policy of mandatory deportation for all North Koreans crossing the border. China has this policy to keep itself from being flooded by refugees, but all the deported refugees are sent to prison camps or die before they get there. China no longer unconditionally supports North Korea any more which is further isolating the country.

The authors suggest something like the Helsinki Accords for North Korea. The Helsinki Accords were a declaration between thirty-five European states, the United States, and Canada to reduce tensions between the the West and the Communist Bloc. The authors support this type of thinking for North Korea. South Korea has repeatedly tried to better relations, and some times they were successful. China and the US (under Clinton) have tried also. The problem with a Helsinki-like solution is that when it was tried in 1975 many people in the Eastern Bloc remembered freedom and the pre-Soviet era. Eastern Europe was also bombarded with the Voice of America and even shortwave BBC. The people knew what western life was and many wanted it. In North Korea, no one remembers living in an open society, and very, very few listen into South Korean radio. There is no outside influence to North Korean life; many people believe that they have a higher standard of living than most of the world because that is what they are told. Opening North Korea would expose the regime for what it is and that will not happen under the current government. The people in Eastern Europe knew they lived under tyranny and wanted to end it. There are no visible cracks in the North Korean regime and no popular dissent among the people. A Helsinki type accord would probably only add legitimacy to the regime and human rights abuses.

It is easy to poke holes into other people’s theories and ideas, but what are the options. Invasion is not the answer. No matter how much you think you are liberating a people, they will still see you as invaders as the US found out in Iraq. Aid in exchange for stopping the nuclear program did not work. South Korea’s olive branches usually end up broken. North Korea is something unique; it is a non-rational player in the world. There can be no reasoning with the regime. It is like trying to talk with a delusion paranoid.

Building Bridges does several things right. First, it provides a detailed history of the Korean peninsula, rather than starting at the end of World War II. Secondly, it includes the Christian tradition in the Koreas; something that is usually not thought of in a Far Eastern country without Western colonization. Third, they offer new ideas on the Korean situation. Lastly, and most importantly, they remind the reader that million of innocent people are victims of some of the worst human rights violations. People, particularity Americans, forget that countries are not just governments, but other people– men, women, children, families. Solutions to international problems must also reflect the impact on the people. Starving a country with a blockade or sanctions is generally as well received as an open invasion. I fully support the authors compassion and their Christian ideals. I appreciate the fact they bring new ideas to the table, but unless there is an improbable change in the regimes thinking or equally improbable popular uprising, I fear there will be no meaningful solution the the Korean question for some time. The authors know this is a difficult problem and it is reflected in the title. It is easier to build walls than bridges; the authors chose the more difficult path. Building Bridges offers a refreshing change form the usual solutions of military power and sanctions. I would recommend it to anyone interested in North Korea or current foreign affairs.

The reviewer hold a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX

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Book Review: Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World,1950-1992

Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950-1992

Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950-1992 by Charles K. Armstrong is an attempt to break through the walls of secrecy that is North Korea. Armstrong is a professor of Korean studies at Columbia University. He has an impressive academic record including a Bachelors of Arts degree from Yale, a Masters from the London School of Economics, and a PhD from the University of Chicago. He has written three other books on Korean history and society.

The first part opens with the Korean War and the North’s Blitzkrieg capture of Seoul in three days. It examines the role of the United States, China, and the Soviet Union in the conflict. The destruction in both the North and South changed Korea. The South with aid moved from being a third world economy to the first world and the North which had be prosperous until 1950 began a slide into ruin. The North appears to make a quick recovery after the war, but falters. Most of the initial recovery was due to foreign aid from other communist countries particularity USSR, China, and East Germany. North Korea did not fall in line with other communist countries. It accepted aid, but went its own way, especially after Khrushchev took over the Soviet Union and denounced Stalin: a hero to Kim. North Korea seemed to search for enemies even in its friends.

North Korea played by its own rules. It took aid, but was not a grateful nation for it. Eastern European technicians were treated poorly by North Korean authorities while providing aid. The incident with the USS Pueblo, while openly supported by the USSR, was criticized behind closed doors as excessively confrontational and counterproductive. Pressure from the Chinese stopped North Korea from invading the South in 1975 after the fall of Saigon.

North Korea moved to opening to the world slightly. Moving from first world trading partners to the Third World, North Korea looked to build support in the United Nations. Korea sided with Iran after its revolution, not in any ideological way but rather to support Iran’s anti-American voice. The 1970s bring more change to Korea as its alliances shift from China (now on friendlier terms with the Untied States) to the Soviet Union. North Korea needs urgent help building its economy and help building its nuclear reactor. The late 1980s bring further frustration to North Korea. The Seoul Olympic Games are an embarrassment to North Korea who has no where the economy and standard of living of South Korea. Secondly, South Korea opened trade to communist nations and North Korea saw it closest allies one by one take advantage of the offer. With the fall of the Soviet Union and China opening relations with South Korea, North Korea stood alone.

Tyranny of the Weak covers the rule of Kim Il Sung and shows him as an ineffective leader. He may have had the support of his people, but his policies and actions as a leader did little to benefit the nation. Although Kim Il Jung would not come to power until 1994 he is mentioned in the book as the student who out performed his political economy professors and the person who ordered the kidnapping a South Korean Film director. The young Kim would quickly run up the ranks of power.

This is the best North Korean history I have read so far. Armstrong uses detailed source information including documents from the former Soviet archives. Extensively foot noted and meticulously detailed he not only writes the history but also supports what he writes. He also keeps the book centered on telling a serious historical study of the country rather than concentrating on the Kim’s cult of personality. There was more to North Korea than its leader. If you are going to read one book about North Korea or have any interesting the country, this is the book to read.

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Book Review: The Great Successor

Tae Keung Ha’s The Great Successor attempts to describe the life and person of Kim Jung Un. What makes Ha’s book different from all the other North Korean histories is that it is written in a most fitting form, a comic book. The country’s history would make fine dystopian fiction, if it was not such a tragedy and threat. 

The Great Successor tells the story of the rise of Kim Jung Un. Kim Jung Un it the youngest of three sons of Kim Il Jung. Kim Jung Nam the oldest (and of a different mother) was the early favorite Nam is a reformer and his friends paid the price for that. He falls out of favor after being caught entering Japan with a false passport to go to Disneyland. He is currently in exile in China. Kim Jung Chul fell out of favor after being filmed at an Eric Clapton concert. He was generally seen as weak and a supporter of peace. Kim Jung Un won by default. 

Kim Jung Un seemed to appear as a kid with a bad haircut and not capable of much. In fact, he was behind several plots and quite ruthless. He was behind the Denial of Service attacks against the Untied States and South Korea as well as assassination attempts in South Korea and attacks South Korean naval vessels. He is ruthless and definitely not a flunky. This kid also has nuclear weapons. 

This graphic novel does a good job of describing North Korea without going into several hundred pages of text. It also offers a little hope as people no longer believe in the infallibility of their supreme leader. Cracks are developing in the blind support as hunger and poverty continue into another decade. It is well worth the read as an introduction to North Korea and its newest leader.

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