Friday, February 5, 2010

Towards A More Productive And Useful Understanding Of North Korea

Christopher Hitchens reviews B.R. Myers' The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters.

Visiting North Korea some years ago, I was lucky to have a fairly genial "minder" whom I'll call Mr. Chae. He guided me patiently around the ruined and starving country, explaining things away by means of a sort of denial mechanism and never seeming to lose interest in the gargantuan monuments to the world's most hysterical and operatic leader-cult. One evening, as we tried to dine on some gristly bits of duck, he mentioned yet another reason why the day should not long be postponed when the whole peninsula was united under the beaming rule of the Dear Leader. The people of South Korea, he pointed out, were becoming mongrelized. They wedded foreigners—even black American soldiers, or so he'd heard to his evident disgust—and were losing their purity and distinction. Not for Mr. Chae the charm of the ethnic mosaic, but rather a rigid and unpolluted uniformity.

I was struck at the time by how matter-of-factly he said this, as if he took it for granted that I would find it uncontroversial. And I did briefly wonder whether this form of totalitarianism, too (because nothing is more "total" than racist nationalism), was part of the pitch made to its subjects by the North Korean state.

When Christopher Hitchens is good, he is very good. His review of B.R. Myers' book, flavored with his own personal in person observations of North Korea, make it clear that the oft ignored and shunned little crazy kingdom of North Korea may be far too dangerous to just ignore and shun.

I think I will head on over to the bookstore this weekend.

Hat Tip To FinallyFree at Correspondence Committee

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