North Korea

Voices from North Korea

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The National Post describes what sounds like a very interesting book:

Barbara Demick, while spending five years in Seoul as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, discovered during six trips to the north that the government thugs escorting her wouldn't let her exchange even one word with a private citizen. So, back in South Korea, she began to study refugees from the north.

The result, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, recently won the Johnson Prize for the best non-fiction book published in Britain. It turns out to be a marvellous journalistic performance, the first account I've read that delivers an intimate sense of North Korean life. Demick braids the stories of six Koreans and their families into the history of a state dedicated to isolating and oppressing its citizens.

She leads us carefully and thoughtfully through desperate lives. A kindergarten teacher reports that the hardest part of her job was watching her pupils die of starvation. A pediatrician says much the same about her patients.

Yet most of these survivors acknowledge that for a long time they believed what the regime told them. They were persuaded, for instance, that South Korea was suffering terrible deprivation—one reason children sang a song beginning, "We have nothing to envy in the world."

And just in case you've forgotten how bizarre the Korean flavor of totalitarianism can be, there's this:

Refugees described Public Standards Police who would often visit private homes to be sure that the mandatory glass-framed portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were kept clean.

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  1. “Refugees described Public Standards Police who would often visit private homes to be sure that the mandatory glass-framed portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were kept clean.”

    Mr. Kim I must say I like the cut of your jib.

    1. And outside North Korea we have the WHO to defend Dear Leader.

      That’s “World Health Organization”, not Pete Townsend et. al.

      1. If we killed a fifth of our population, then that would roughly equate to the number of uninsured. Apparently this is permissable under WHO guidelines.

        Trivia: how much did the US give to the WHO in 2008-09?

        ~675M.

    2. Since when does North Korea have “private” homes?

  2. Creating Hell on Earth has always been the passion of evil men.

    1. I think you mean, “…the evil of passionate men.” Thus the old saw that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

  3. Public Standards Police; we need that.

    1. The book also mentions the Social Order Brigade of the Socialist Youth Union. Their function is to make sure everyone is wearing their Kim Il Sung & Kim Jong Il badges.

  4. The book is really well researched and written.

    The most shocking thing to me is that after these refugees get to South Korea and get over their amazement and full bellies, (one refugee found that dogs in China literally ate more white rice than humans in North Korea), they kind of conclude that freedom sucks.

    1. I forget the exact species of animal, but if you keep an animal in a cage long enough, it will not venture outside the boundaries of that cage even if you remove the cage completely. You can induce some pretty horrific behaviors in people if you start early and reinforce constantly.

      It’s one of the reasons I tend to be dismal about the long-term prospects of liberty. Liberty is a learned response. It’s hard work to make decisions and live with the consequences, and most people don’t want to bother.

      1. You can induce some pretty horrific behaviors in people if you start early and reinforce constantly.

        Religion anyone?

        1. Once you get in the business of convincing people that they through their actions can create a perfect world you go off the rails. You can know the good for yourself and to other individuals. But once you start trying to create a good beyond that you start creating evil. You can’t help yourself. You don’t know what the good is. Millions have died for ideas that could not be more noble, whether it be Christianity or communism.

          The difference is of course that on an individual level religion does a lot of good. Secular statism by definition cannot exist on an individual level. It can only act over a collective. And thus can only do evil.

          1. Once you get in the business of convincing people that they through their actions can create a perfect world you go off the rails.

            Sounds like a fairly accurate description of the message that Jesus guy was putting out.

            You can know the good for yourself and to other individuals.

            The difference is of course that on an individual level religion does a lot of good.

            Anecdotal at best. On balance the requirement of having “faith in things unseen” does more harm in so many ways, and not just individually.

            1. “Sounds like a fairly accurate description of the message that Jesus guy was putting out.”

              No it doesn’t at all. Render unto Ceaser. Jesus, despite the lamentations of his followers never started a political movement. Christianity has always been about the soul and next world not this one. It goes off the rails when it becomes about this one or anything beyond saving the individual soul. Go read Augustine sometime. The point is not to create the city of man. It is to live this life so that you can live in the city of God after you die. Christianity has never claimed to want to create heaven on earth through human action. In fact it claims just the opposite. No matter what you do the world belongs to the devil until God returns and does something about it.

              It every atheist ignorant of actual religion?

              1. It every atheist ignorant of actual religion?

                I can’t speak for “every atheist” but I was completely immersed in religion for the first 16 years of my life. It wasn’t until I started studying physics that I came to my own, independent understanding that there are answers to questions that don’t require invisible, unprovable beings. Until I went to college I had never met another atheist.

                The practice of religion bears little resemblance to the we’re only interested in heaven picture you painted.

                1. I don’t write religious books, I just read them. And you have to be profoundly ignorant to think that Christianity is trying to create heaven on earth or is about this world rather than the next. Maybe you were raised by Joel Orstein or something. But I have a hard time believing that you were “immersed in religion” and learned anything yet still think that. I call shenanigans.

                  Not only do most atheists know nothing about actual religions, they always have some bullshit sob story about how horrible it was being an atheist kid. I am sorry but I don’t buy it. I grew up a very non religious person in a town full of evangelicals. And no one ever said word one to me about it beyond always trying to get me to go their youth meetings every Wednesday which I politely declined.

                  1. Sorry that story made you sob but I really don’t give a shit if you buy it. Maybe you should read some non-religious books too.

                    1. Why would you say I don’t read non religious books? Does my knowledge of religions (and shockingly enough I read about other religions to not just Christianity) prevent me from reading or understanding anything else?

                    2. From your other posts here I actually think you’re pretty well read. I just couldn’t figure out why you brought reading religious books up at all.

              2. No.

                Having actually read the tome, I dare say I know more about what’s in the Bible than most self-professed Christians. I know who St Augustine was and his importance to the early Christian church, I’m familiar with Martin Luther’s writings (far too much for me to read in their entirety, I understand the arcane debates about the nature of the trinity, transubstantiation, the role of women in the church, etc.

                I am just convinced that there is no credible evidnce of the existence of a supreme being.

            2. “You can know the good for yourself and to other individuals.

              The difference is of course that on an individual level religion does a lot of good.

              Anecdotal at best. On balance the requirement of having “faith in things unseen” does more harm in so many ways, and not just individually.”

              Atheism has killed hundreds of millions in the last century. All of it was done under the pretense of “science”. Marxism always claimed to be a science.

              Blood is on the hands of every human. That is the nature of our fallen state. But no human, least of all a scientific atheist, has the right to smugly believe that their beliefs are somehow immune from being corrupted and used as an excuse for murder.

              1. Atheism has killed hundreds of millions in the last century.

                Was it the atheism that killed people? Really? How does that work exactly?

                Blood is on the hands of every human.
                Where the hell do you get this? No blood on my hands.

                But no human, least of all a scientific atheist, has the right to smugly believe that their beliefs are somehow immune from being corrupted and used as an excuse for murder.

                I’m not actually trying to convince you that I’m right and you should be an atheist. You should come to your own (hopefully) independent conclusion. I’ve had my fill of people trying to convince me not to be an atheist, however. When I actually take the time (rarely these days) to talk to them about why they believe what they believe it invariably comes back to the indoctrination of whatever religion they’re in. That was the point of my original comment.

                1. “Was it the atheism that killed people? Really? How does that work exactly?”

                  It was atheism in every sense that it was “religion” that killed people in religious wars. The point is that any idea no matter how noble will end in murder once it is projected on a large scale. In fact the more noble the idea the more murder usually results because the more noble the end the worse the means that are justified to attain it.

                  I am always curious how pissed off and angry atheists are. I have been around some of the craziest Christians you can imagine. And they are always willing to engage in a reasonable conversation even if their views are anything but reasonable.

                  And I can’t convince you of anything. I wish I could. But you seem to be really unhappy. All I would say is that you should think about humility. No ideal, no matter how noble is immune from being used for evil.

                  1. John, while angry, chip on the shoulder atheists certainly do exist, I think that most atheists are not too concerned about religion and probably don’t even self-identify as atheists unless pressed. Not believing in gods is not any different from not believing in the Easter bunny. I do think about it from time to time, but it is not a major part of my world view any more than my lack of belief in other things that don’t exist is.

                    1. How can your view of metaphysics not be a major part of your world view? Not believing in God is a choice that has a thousand consequences about how you view what you can know and what power you have over the world. Not saying it is a bad choice. But it sure as hell is a choice with consequences.

                    2. I am always curious how pissed off and angry atheists are.

                      Every single one of them? How is this any different than saying “I am always curious at how miserable and guilt-ridden obervant Christians are”?

                      I’m not pissed off and angry as a general rule – and on those occasions when I am, it’s not related to my lack of believe in a supreme magickal deity dude.

                      I have been around some of the craziest Christians you can imagine. And they are always willing to engage in a reasonable conversation even if their views are anything but reasonable.

                      Anecdotal at best. I’ve had conversations with fire and brimstone evangelical types that started getting scary. Again, this is gross generalization – thus far, we’ve got “atheists are pissed off and unhappy” and “Christians – even those with wacky beliefs – are reasonable.”

                      And I can’t convince you of anything. I wish I could.

                      Why? He’s got his belief, you’ve got yours. I’ve never met an atheist who tried to convert me or hammer me about what I should believe, but I’ve sure met my share of evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses who do.

                      John, while angry, chip on the shoulder atheists certainly do exist, I think that most atheists are not too concerned about religion and probably don’t even self-identify as atheists unless pressed. Not believing in gods is not any different from not believing in the Easter bunny. I do think about it from time to time, but it is not a major part of my world view any more than my lack of belief in other things that don’t exist is.

                      This.

                      How can your view of metaphysics not be a major part of your world view? Not believing in God is a choice that has a thousand consequences about how you view what you can know and what power you have over the world. Not saying it is a bad choice. But it sure as hell is a choice with consequences.

                      Indeed – I find I have a lot more spare time on Sundays.

                    3. “Anecdotal at best. I’ve had conversations with fire and brimstone evangelical types that started getting scary.”

                      I hear that all the time from Atheists yet despite my best efforts I have never once met such a person.

                      “Indeed – I find I have a lot more spare time on Sundays.”

                      I guess denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. No hit and run atheist can ever have a discussion without some quipy put down of religion. The defensiveness is epic.

                    4. “Why? He’s got his belief, you’ve got yours. I’ve never met an atheist who tried to convert me or hammer me about what I should believe, but I’ve sure met my share of evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses who do.”

                      I have never seen a Jehovah witness beyond one who came to my door once and politely accepted my decline of his invitation not to listen to his pitch. What planet do you live on? And further Jehovah Witnesses are a tiny minority of Christians letalone believers in general. They hardly count as typical.

                      And you don’t try to convince someone to be an atheist? No you just pithy and insulting comments about theism. You are right, atheists don’t want to convince anyone. They just want to be assholes.

                    5. John, I don’t think Zeb’s trying to be an asshole. He’s just expressing his opinion.

                      Though I will say that kilroy’s original comment that started this whole thing – Religion anyone? – was completely unprovoked.

                      I just don’t appreciate being lumped in with the Pat Robertson brand of christianity and I think the majority of commentors on this forum are intelligent enough to make the distinction, but some aren’t really willing to put the effort into not generalizing.

                    6. Whether or not there is a god is no more part of my metaphysics than whether or not the world is balanced on top of an infinite pile of turtles.

                    7. and probably don’t even self-identify as atheists unless pressed.

                      I have a friend who tells people he’s a “non-practicing atheist”

                  2. That’s a healthy attitude towards religion, John. I agree with most everything.

                    Also, kilroy, no one understands shit at the age of 16. Science is great and has a lot of uses, but when your parents, siblings, and close friends die you don’t seek out Principia Mathematica, The Republic, or other great works of science or philosophy for consolation.

                    There’s a place for religion as well, and as John said, on a personal level religion has done a lot of good.

                    1. Wow, you’ve determined that no one is capable of analytical thinking at 16. Bravo! Any other universal proclamations you’d like to put out there?

                      When someone close to me dies I reflect on what they meant to me while they were here. I share my experiences and the feelings I had for them with others (both atheists and not). I do not envision them burning for eternity or watching from above in a land with gold streets.

                      You are welcome to whatever belief system you want/need and if you keep it personal to you I have no problem with it. Don’t project your need to commune with the supernatural in times of sorrow on others.

                    2. Wow, you’ve determined that no one is capable of analytical thinking at 16. Bravo! Any other universal proclamations you’d like to put out there?

                      Even at the age of 22, I admit that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did at the age of 16. And you’ve just determined that one’s worldview on everything is set in stone at the age 16. I didn’t realize that your extensive experience in middle school and two years of high school was so comprehensive as to allow you form concrete opinions that you will adhere to for the rest of your life.

                      I wasn’t trying to project anything on you or anyone else, merely attempting to explain that there are things in this world that are immaterial and will likely never be fully explained by science or anything else.

                    3. And you’ve just determined that one’s worldview on everything is set in stone at the age 16.

                      No. I determined that my view on religion switched from Christianity to Atheism at 16. Just for me. I have had ample opportunities to switch to something else in the subsequent 26 years since I made my realization, I have not.

                      there are things in this world that are immaterial and will likely never be fully explained by science or anything else

                      … in your opinion. I disagree.

                    4. No. I determined that my view on religion switched from Christianity to Atheism at 16.

                      I was simply commenting that at 16 the average person hasn’t experienced much except the world of their parents, being sheltered in a school system, and what they see on MTV. Technically, I became a Christian at the age of 8. Do I think I was in any position to make that kind of decision at that age? Heck no. I’m not sure the age of 16 is much different. I was merely asserting that no one knows nearly as much as they think they do at 16.

                      If you’ve reconsidered in the past 26 years, that’s different.

                      … in your opinion. I disagree.

                      The problem I found is that if you reduce everything down to an atom, molecule, quark, whatever – then it becomes exponentially more difficult to justify the existence of free will. You’re left with a deterministic universe in which everyone is simply the sum of reactions between quantum particles – dancing to the tune of our DNA as Dawkins puts it.

                      My theism isn’t so much grounded in my experience that there IS a deity, but that the implications of a deity not existing doesn’t equate with my experience of reality thus far.

                      That’s probably more than you care to know…

                  3. I’m still unclear about how the non-belief in a deity kills people.

                    Wow, John. What about my conversation was unreasonable (is that a drink? a double?)? I’m actually not the least bit unhappy, thanks for your concern.

                2. “Was it the atheism that killed people? Really? How does that work exactly?”

                  It probably helps — atheism is a metaphysical proposition, but it doesn’t address or reduce the inherent personality traits that allow religion to thrive.

                  The problem is when people with a zealot’s mindset don’t believe in god, they see this as a deficiency of the universe and try to create one, and most such gods (generally, authoritarian states) make the Old Testament God look like Ghandi. They’re also not shy about making with the “miracles”, like turning a thousand loaves of bread into 2, or raining fire from the sky, or what have you.

              2. Two people being atheists says nothing about any beliefs that they may share, only that there is one belief that neither partakes of. Atheism has not killed anyone. Marxism/communism are atheistic, but they are not atheism, nor are they a natural or logical consequence of atheism. While many supposed Christians have done horrible things in the name of God, no atheist does anything simply because of atheism.

                1. That is only true if the Atheism is some innocent bystander and had nothing to do with their world view. Communists also wore red. And we wouldn’t say wearing red is associated with murder. The red was incidental. They could have wore blue and it would have been the same.

                  I think atheism is like wearing red. It was a integral part of their belief system and thus at least partially the cause for what they did.

                  1. I would say that the Communists elevated the state and their ideology to the position of God. So I suppose in a sense this could mean that their atheism did lead to evil deeds. But to me, that sort of belief is not really different in kind to belief in a god. It is flawed and irrational for exactly the same reasons.

                    1. The problem is not atheism or religion. The problem is the belief that you can create good on a wide scale through your action. You can do just as much damage trying to create heaven on earth for God as you can for the state.

                    2. The argument is that atheism, and nihilism, ALLOWS for any action, no matter how horrible, to be justified.

                      Any totalitarian regime, except maybe a theocracy, will be anti-religion because religion allows for there to be a law higher than the regime’s.

                      While atheism doesn’t lead to Marxism/communism, Marxist and Communist regimes have used the tools that atheism can give them – depending on your interpretation of atheism.

                    3. The argument is that atheism, and nihilism, ALLOWS for any action, no matter how horrible, to be justified.

                      Of course, atheists also have a moral code, but people have used extreme interpretations of atheism, and Christianity, for very horrible things.

                      Speaking in generalities usually gets you – and me – in trouble, generally…

                    4. “Of course, atheists also have a moral code, but people have used extreme interpretations of atheism, and Christianity, for very horrible things.”

                      Exactly. And the atheists on here want to have it both ways. They want to blame every extreme interpretation of religion on religious belief as a whole but at the same time claim that mainstream atheism is in no way responsible for the horrors on its extreme.

                    5. Well, I think that the massacres that occur in the name of both religion and atheism are almost always *politically* motivated and religion or atheism is just a tool that’s used.

                      I don’t want to say that atheism is responsible for all the genocide we’ve seen in the 20th Century because then I’d be guilty of the same logical fallacy that atheists claiming the Christianity is responsible for X number of atrocities are guilty of.

                    6. I agree. Atheism is not responsible anymore than Christianity. It is the people who committed the act, not he ism they used to justify it who are responsible.

        2. Don’t confuse the message with the messengers.

        3. Religion is just one aspect of a set of behaviors hardwired into human beings. Depending on your perspective this is either a bug or a feature.

          People who imagine they aren’t vulnerable to these habits of thought because they don’t practice “religion” are just lying to themselves. And, sadly, they often make foolish mistakes because they are unable to recognize pseudo-religious zealotry in their own behavior.

          1. +1. And the worst kinds of religious zealotry over the last couple hundred years, at least since 1789, have come dressed in the garb of humanism and science.

          2. +666
            You don’t need a supernatural belief system — or a supernatural being — to get people killing and robbing and bossing each other constantly, or to accept and believe data-averse lunacies. That’s something humans do ordinarily; religion, anti-religion, prejudices, “rational” principles, all just validate it when that nuisancey conscience starts bleeping occasionally.

        4. You brought religion into the discussion of a Communist, secular state. in fact, if you read the book, you’ll find that Christian missionaries are pretty much the only people risking their lives (from china and NK authorities) to help North Korean refugees.

      2. That’s pretty much most of them.

        1. Except for Jesus, Gandhi, Pope John Paul II, and Mother Theresa, and most of the Priests I’ve met.

          1. Martin Luther King Jr, the Dalai Lama..

          2. It would be a joke to compare the death and destruction in the 20th century of secularists to religious people. But somehow this “religion = murder” thing keeps getting repeated.

            1. It’s the 20th Century caveat that makes The Blood Libel so effective.

              1. What century do you have in mind?

                The problem is that there wasn’t a clear distinction between religion and government for most of history. So the question gets too complicated if you are referring to the 12th century. But even then, wars were fought for land and wealth, religion was just the sales pitch.

                1. But even then, wars were fought for land and wealth, religion was just the sales pitch.

                  But atheism is the proximate cause of communist murders, right? All done in the name of the Atheist Pope and his Atheist Priesthood sworn to uphold the murderous demands of the Atheist Bible.

                  Is there some sort of Journolist where Christian bigots coordinate their talking points?

                  1. “But atheism is the proximate cause of communist murders, right?”

                    Yes and no. The murders done in the name of communism really were done in the name of an ideal. The people doing the killing honestly believed they were doing it to usher in a new world. Same with the killing that went on the French Revolution. Was it atheism alone? No. But certainly atheism combined the idea that man and man alone could create paradise is what caused it.

                    1. John, stop being a fucking asshole. All that 99.9999999% of atheists want are to be left alone. That you want to wed atheism and communism into a single belief system is bigoted idiocy easily disproved by the high percentage of atheist libertarians on this every board.

                    2. But it is totally okay to lump Christianity in with every sin that has been committed in its name. Every religious person owes themselves a serious look into why it is their religion has been used to do evil. In the same way every atheists owes themselves that same examination into why so many explicitly atheists movements have resulted in creating such hell on earth.

                    3. All that 99.9999999% of atheists want are to be left alone.

                      QFTMFT

                  2. Atheist Pope = Stalin; Mao; Kim Il Sung
                    Priesthood = Party
                    Bible = Communist Manifesto; Red Book, etc.

                    Not that these analogies are the central explanation of atheists behaving badly, but they kinda work. Nor does one need to be a Christian bigot to realize that human carnage in the name of a Greater Principle doesn’t require blessings or baptism to go forward.

                    1. No, they don’t kinda work. As should be evident in the number of atheist libertarians involved in this discussion. You are just conflating Communism and atheism.

                  3. You misunderstand my point. (take a deep breath)

                    Where did I imply that Atheism is the cause of communist murders?

                    I am simply challenging the oft-repeated notion that religion causes war. I am NOT making any claims about Atheist thought whatsoever (and haven’t even mentioned it up until this post).

                    1. correction: That religion is the biggest cause of war. There obviously have been SOME religous wars in history.

                    2. You brought up secularism in a thread about atheism being a necessary component to communist killing sprees, Wolf.

                    3. Can we at least agree that there are more differences within groups than between groups?

            2. “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”
              G.K. Chesterton

              1. Whatever the empirical failings of transubstantiation and other mysticism, the Christianity meme was an incredibly transformative one that did the world an immense amount of good. The Enlightenment that atheists rightly hold dear couldn’t have happened without the millennia of Christianity in between, and was largely the product of a new understanding of Jesus’ message that included a new tolerance. No other religion ever gave birth to a intellectual Renaissance like the one humanists unleashed in Europe.

      3. It’s “un-liberty” that’s a learned response, not liberty.

    2. It is called Stockholm syndrome I think. Or as Red in The Shawshank Redemption called it, “I am an institutional man now”. Places like North Korea destroy your soul.

    3. Some do this, not all. It is partly longing for the familiar and partly the fact that people tend to put on rose-colored glasses when looking at the past, like the French anti-GMO protesters in the previous article.

  5. Public Standards Police; we need that.

    Yeah, so they can make sure that the mandatory glass framed picture of Barack Obama is kept clean shat upon.

  6. Where would you rather live? North Korea or North Pole?

    1. Well, North Korea has free health care, and Kim Jong Il is more magical than Santa, so North Korea it is!

      1. the North Pole has free health care, just no doctors… And free social security… (ice flows are free and environmentally safe) and the only crazy person one has to deal with is oneself

  7. A Trek Honor

    1. Hooker rant

  8. Refugees described Public Standards Police who would often visit private homes to be sure that the mandatory glass-framed portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were kept clean.

    In Hedrick Smith’s The Russians he describes an incident where British students studying at Moscow University were talking about the portraits of Brezhnev in every apartment. The Russian students visiting them challenged the Brits, pointing to a portrait of the Queen on the wall of the Brits’ apartment. To illustrate the difference, the Brits took the portrait out of the frame and tore it in half, too the shock of their Russian guests.

    Later, the British students were summoned to the office of some bureaucrat (someone had reported the incident) and given a warning not to do that again.

    1. Later, the British students were summoned to the office of some bureaucrat (someone had reported the incident) and given a warning not to do that again.

      Their response (hopefully): Get Stuffed.

      1. Remember that they were foreigners in a totalitarian state at the time. Just being summoned in that way would have been scary.

        At the very least, I expect that a “Get stuffed” response would have got them deported.

        1. Sry, for some reason i was thinking they were summoned to a british bureaucrat.

          Why did the russian spooks care about The Queen being disrespected though?

          1. My guess is that the Russian spooks cared about British students tearing up a picture of their “Leader” in front of Russian students because they thought it could give the Russian students uppity ideas about what you can do with pictures of leaders.

            Tearing up pictures of leaders, harumph, next they’ll be listening to Rock and Roll.

            1. I’d agree with IB on this. As a friend of mine who has studied Islam closely says, “Muhammad knew what had happened to his predecessor Jesus, and didn’t emphasize it because he didn’t want to give anybody ideas about what to do with a prophet.”

    2. I call bullshit. There were no Brezhnev portraits in Soviet apartments. Moreover, I’ve never seen a single Brezhnev portrait in any apartment. I was very young when Brezhnev died but I have a very good memory.

      1. +1

        I was born in the USSR back in 1971, so I was eleven when Brezhnev died in Nov 1982, and I haven’t seen any portraits of him in any apartment either.

        There could be some portraits in universities though. (There were some portraits of Gorbachev even in 1989)

  9. Superb book and a real page-turner — she introduces you to a bunch of characters and follows them both in North Korea and afterwards.

    Also, it won a prestigious award from the BBC:
    http://hanopolis.com/?articleN…..Nonfiction

  10. It’s the feel-good book of the year.

  11. My painting is on velvet, clean, under glass, framed in gold, and has a dark light on it 24/7 365.

    I await the picture police.

    1. Why does that painting make the song “Dream Police” play in my head….

      1. I get porn music in my head.

        And then…

  12. Too bad the book has a built in excuse for Norkos: The people who defected are portraying the North inaccurately. They are traitors brainwashed by South Korea.

    I can’t seem to find it, but didn’t one East German “intellectual” say the people going over the wall were only doing it out of selfishness and laziness?

    1. I thought it was the fault of the libertarians.

      1. Sadly we didn’t have the internet back in 1989. If we had, the lamentations of the posters on places like KOS and the New Republic would have been wonderful.

        Don’t ever let them fool you. Despite their attempts to rewrite history, the Left in this country spent the post Vietnam cold war telling the world how the Eastern Block was at worst no different than the West and at best a better system than only turned oppressive in response to Western aggression.

        So, yeah, it is in their minds at least the fault of the Libertarians.

        1. Were you reading The New Republic in 1989, John? It was very anti-Communist and hawkish. Not at all like The Nation.

          1. You are right. I was thinking of The Nation. Good catch.

          2. This is very true. I recall checking in The Nation throughout the ’70s and ’80s, and one staple feature was the article on how the Yugoslavs had it all figured out, what with worker self-management and multicultural respect and people marrying across the religious divides.

            Good times.

          3. Was it still left? Sort of a Scoop Jackson mag?

            1. If you’re asking about the New Republic, yeah, Scoop Jackson was a bit of a hero of theirs.

              I recently let my subscription lapse after about 25 years. Bastages haven’t even tried to lure me back with a discount.

        2. We still have that today, just read some lefty discussions on Cuba.

    2. One of my favorite photos is Conrad Schumann jumping the barbed wire in to West Berlin.

  13. Liberty is a learned response.

    Has anyone ever learned it? I don’t think so. It seems to be natural, but rare. Circus-freak rare.

    Sometimes it can be temporarily imposed by some freaks on the standard-issue types around them, and many of those can adapt to it, but eventually they’ll find a way to weasel (or get weaseled) out of it.

    Historically, the liberty-minded have fled. Now there’s nowhere left to go, geographically or socially.

    Boned.

    1. Liberty is a natural right for me, but not for thee.

    2. I think the advent of agriculture and settled society has more to do with children not learning liberty and adults not appreciating it than anything else. Can’t change that though.

      1. Bah. We should have never left the trees, where we had the freedom to throw poop at those who displeased us. Once we left the trees and poop-flinging became taboo, liberty has been on a downhill slide.

  14. A kindergarten teacher reports that the hardest part of her job was watching her pupils die of starvation.

    I’m not usually the type to get teary eyed when I hear about the various attrocities in the world, but the image of a 5-year-old being nothing but skin and bones and falling over dead in her desk while other starving 5-year-olds look on just sunk my heart.

    1. Same here, and the fact that these poor people are so brainwashed that they don’t know it’s abnormal is perhaps even worse. They should be hoisting the black flag and slitting the throats of every government official.

      1. From what I have read, even the North Koreans are not that brainwashed. You can convince people of almost anything if you control every facet of their existence, but it’s still really hard to get them to accept that starving to death in the “greatest country in the world” is the normal state of affairs. At long last, a certain innate sense of things has to say, “that’s not right…”

    2. Sweet Jeebus!!

      I didn’t know it was that bad in NK.

      Now that I have a kid of my own, it brings a tear to my eyes also.

  15. At least they’re not obese!

  16. In my country, we have conquered obesity! But I am still ronery.

    1. “Everyone in here besides us is secret police. If you don’t act excited then you’re not going to get your visa. So we got drunk and jumped up onstage and sang songs with the girls. The next day we got our visas. A lot of people we had gone with didn’t get theirs.”

      THIS is news you can use.

    2. Those guys are fucking crazy. Between this and the guide to Liberia, it’s a wonder they’re still alive.

    3. That is fucked up. Beyond the risk, there is also the moral issue. When you go to a place like North Korea anyone you talk to could end up in a Gulag for saying the wrong thing. A while back there was a National Geographic film that was secretly made while this group was touring North Korea providing medical care. It was really cool. But the problem is you know once that film got released, every one of the crew’s North Korean guides and probably every one who was on the film were arrested. I would feel pretty bad having that on my conscience.

      1. Eh, they were bound to get themselves arrested anyway. Portrait not polished enough, or hording edible grasses and barks.

        1. True. But by that logic, there is nothing wrong with denouncing them outright. I mean they were going to jail anyway right?

          You are right. If those people were arrested that is the evil North Korean government’s act, not the film crew. But, reality is what it is. And for that reason I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near the place.

        2. And the folks they talked to all seemed to be working for the regime in some capacity.

          1. Of course they were. But you don’t think that kept them from being arrested do you?

            1. No. I saying I have less sympathy for them than I would for some “ordinary” North Korean starving on the street.

              1. Someone once said that when you live in a place like Cuba or North Korea your choice every day is to have unimaginable courage or be completely immoral. Those people are failing to live up to an ideal that you or I thank God have never had to live up to. I have a hard time condemning all but the very top and the most sadistic.

                1. I’m not condemning them. Just saying they made their choice, they knew the possible consequences…

                2. True, which explains the paradox of why regime change is most difficult in the most improvished socities. Joining the oppressive government provides a meal ticket equivalent to gold. In turn, the government is ensured an ample supply of obedient supporters easily able to prevent a popular uprising by the hungry masses.

                  Being provided with enough food to live through next week is sufficent to ensure obedience to dear leader and a willingness to carry out his commands. The enticement is that much more powerful when the rewards are enough for a family.

    4. I saw that the last time you posted it. Surreal. It’s worth watching just to see that dude singing “Anarchy in the UK” at the karaoke bar. Man, that had to feel good after days of Orwellian theater.

  17. Gaza, thank you.

  18. So, there have been some news articles about Iran having at least some kind of resistance to oppressive government.

    I haven’t heard of anything like that coming out of North Korea. Is NK just that isolated? Surely, there has to be a group of people resisting.

    1. According to the book, there was some passive resistance during the height of the famine. A lot of the government control is that they will pull your ration card if you don’t play ball. When there were no rations, there were no more threats. Still, there was little open criticism, and the only subversive activities were things like prostituion for food, buying and selling on the black market, etc.

      Recently, when Jong Il devalued the currency, reducing everyone’s life savings to something like 10% of what it was before, there was some talk that people engaged in public protests, but it’s hard to confirm.

    2. This light map of North and South Korea is telling…

      http://urbanneighbourhood.com/…..grikf0.jpg

  19. A very good book, well written, terribly sad. I think often, whenever one of the trolls/sincere liberal commenters on this site mockingly posts “markets are magic” of the black market food sold in NK during the worst of the famine as described in the book, and can only conclude, “Yes, markets really are magic. They kept a lot more North Koreans from dying from idiotic central planning.”

  20. Plus, too, the whole thing about the North Koreans overthrowing the government – who do you enlist in your conspiracy? Everyone is a potential snitch, the first to act will get a bullet to the head. There’s a reason the military, the officers, at least, are so well cared for. As long as they are loyal, no rebellion can succeed. Mass media is operated by the government, and though in the book they describe how some people bypassed the blocks on changing the channel and tuned in S Korean media, the S Korean govt doesn’t seem to want to rock the boat and encourage uprisings (I often wonder if the S Korean govt doesn’t consider having a somewhat crazy but well armed mass of Koreans bordering them preferable to having a well armed mass of Chinese bordering them. Kind of like having a dog that’s part wolf. Sure, it could bite you, but an invader would get savaged.)

    1. I obviously have no experience surviving under that kind of regime, but I feel as though I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I was doing something subversive.

      Of course, it’s easier said than done.

  21. The South Koreans have learned from the West Germans that reuniting with an impoverished Communist nation is a giant pain in the ass.

    1. Bets on when Ostalgie will start waning and the former Ossies will stop whining about how great it was back in the day? Fifty years? A hundred?

    2. It is worse than that. Large parts of the South Korean government has been collaborating with the NORKS and help prop them up so they don’t have to foot the bill for unification. Meanwhile millions of Koreans have been starving and dying horrible deaths.

      Think about the national guilt that South Korea is going to have to deal with when North Korea finally falls apart and all of the dirty laundry comes out. The would rather the regime stay in power so they can forget it exists.

  22. North Korea must be the perfect place for the socialists/communist/extreme planned economics proponents. Here, all economics (the science of production, distribution, and consumption of goods) is controlled by the state, so all luxuries and lifestyles are controlled by it. Now, one can argue for mixed economy (which I still look mostly with suspicion), but North Korea is the case of what happens when Marxism is used. And now, Venezuela is raiding private citizens’ warehouses because he needs to hide the hole his nation is in. Hope his Poor Communes can hold up half the population.

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