I saw an interesting documentary on life inside of North Korea. I watched it on Netflix, which rocks by the way. I have been thinking about what might happen if the north and the south were to come to arms again against each other. The documentary was made in 2006 with Lisa Ling and a National Geographic crew that got permission to enter North Korea with a Nepalese eye surgeon and remove cataracts from 1000 people in ten days. Apparently their cataracts are partially a result of the systemic failure to provide the most basic humanitarian, or medical assistance to this poor country.
Pyongyang is a showcase capital, a city where you will see no cars and almost no people out and about. It is big and fairly impressive. Kim Song Il, the father, apparently built this vainglorious architectural Albert Speer-like super city. It is well appointed and the only people who are allowed to live in Pyongyang and the extreme party loyalists. So an apartment in Pyongyang is pretty nice, and might as well be the Taj Mahal in comparison to how the rest of the population lives. It is an exercise in extreme paranoia, extreme brainwashing, extreme control, and the ultimate 1984 ultra police state. Minders follow guests everywhere. Several singular things spoke to me in particular about the country. The first is this: the people live in abject fear. They have a code of behavior that could best described as a ubiquitous fear of breaking rules that would then be punished with extreme severity. This means that a person might commit a crime, or do something to offend the sensibilities of Dear Leader, and this would result in imprisonment, torture and perhaps the same for the guiltys’ entire family. This means that your brother could fail to bow down to a statue of Dear Leader at the right moment and this could result into you being sent to a work camp where you are slowly starved to death. Dear Leader is worshipped just like a God. So everything that happens is framed in terms of the state or Dear Leader. The next is that the entire country is a sort of psychotic cult of personality based on the Kim family, beginning with Kim Song Il, the Communist revolutionary, and now Kim Jong Il the current tyrant king, and soon Kim Song Un, the heir apparent of this Communist dynasty. The third is a deep seated and deeply taught anger at the all foreigners and especially the Americans.
Obviously the people in the film that were chosen by the authorities were not typical countryside North Koreans. However the worship of Dear Leader is pathological. Imagine that everyone in town is so in love with Dear Leader, that they only have pictures of him on the walls, and that these pictures are so perfect and so holy, that photographing a picture of Dear Leader on someone’s kitchen wall must be done with perfect intent. The minders had all kinds of rules regarding how one looks at a statue of Dear Leader. There was a public park bench in a park that looked devoid of people, and the bench was under glass. When asked why the bench was preserved under glass, the Minder made the case that the People of North Korea wanted the bench preserved because in the fifties, Kim Song Il sat in it.
In the film, many of the people who had cataract operations were sitting in a room that looked like the interior of a Sunday country church, waiting for the doctor to pull off their bandages and find out if they could now see. Now the doctor who performed the surgery was allowed in at the behest of Dear Leader as a favor to the people of North Korea. So no doctors were thanked when the bandages came off and the people who were blind for years now had sight. No. No Gods were thanks and no doctors. However, each one of them ran to the front of the room and performed a sort of an emotional ritual blandishment facing the picture of Dear Leader on the wall. The assembly looked like a Holy Roller convention. Instead of a cross at the dais there were the pictures of the Kim family. Instead of glossolalia, it was Korean that was spoken. But the congregation raised their hands and yelled sweet sobriquets in unison with two hands in the air in ecstatic glee all thanking the Dear Leader for their gift of sight. It was a strange thing to watch, to see an entire country almost as if it were in its own trance state. Imagine a country so psychologically traumatized that they would watch 3 million of their own population slowly starve than oppose the government that lets if happen.
I am sure that Celebration USA is the closest thing we have to Pyongyang. There is a strange sort of ritualized military formality that exists on the 2.5 mile thick 155 mile long wide DMZ. It contains over a million land mines, and is surrounded with electrified barbed wire. It is manned by thousands of the million-man army of North Korea, and perhaps underground there are skeins of as many as 16 invasion tunnels that would put North Korean soldiers behind South Korean troops in minutes. The guard post is manned by South and North Korean troops who share only a formalized border compound. They have a 1962 Soviet style crank telephone between the outposts and apparently it is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
Here is an email sent to Business Insider in May of 2010, and while I cannot confirm that this is in fact true, I think it’s an interesting POV:
“@jim: I served in the USAF and was assigned to Kunsan AFB. (The “Wolf Pack” 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron with F16c*) I will tell you the with full authority the NKs will last all of about 15 minutes (long) considering what’s pointed at them. Between the strategic air assets and the overwhelming offshore cruise missile capability amassed (think 300-400 cruise missiles with a 3-5 minute launch time) the NKs have no idea the massive ass kicking they will take. A smoking hole ass kicking…
On Kunsan there is an aircraft hanger. Inside this hanger on the ceiling are a bunch of wire strands hanging from the supports. There are stains on the ceiling and supports. These were left up as a reminder after the base was a reminder after the base was over run by the North Koreans. Those that weren’t fortunate to escape when the base were over run by the NKs were tortured and then hung here. When the base was recaptured they were found. It won’t ever happen again.
There is a US Army artillery battery on the highest point on the base. There is a 1 mile range (some say further) called “no mans land” No personnel are allowed to reside or spend time inside this perimeter. It starts right outside the front gate. Why? Because if war with NK starts, the batteries open up and lay down destructive fire patterns ribboned across this area destroying everything in a matrix. You don’t want to be in there — you’re toast…
The NKs will get maybe five shots off from their artillery batteries before it’s check mate. Game over.”
No one knows if the North Korean artillery tubes aimed at Seoul some 35 miles south are capable of turning Seoul into a modern day Dresden. The thing that really scares me is that a country that can convince most of their population that their leader is immortal might be able to convince that whole nation to start a bloody war for nothing. There is no doubt in my mind that if the Koreas were to go to war, there would be vicious fighting, and frankly no winners.