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10/08/2021

North Korea as a touchstone for understanding the United States

North Korea as a touchstone for understanding the United States

The most misunderstood country on Earth

The territory of North Korea, officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), encompasses about half of the relatively small Korean Peninsula. It is one of the few countries on Earth that has never invaded another nation, and yet the DPRK’s very existence has been threatened with economic sanctions, military invasion, and even nuclear annihilation from the year of its foundation in 1948 to the present day.

Although the country has built a strong military and nuclear program for self-defense over the years, its leaders have nearly always sought peaceful reconciliation with their enemies. Pyongyang’s signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Pact in 1985, and willingness to even give up its nuclear weapon ambitions by signing the 1994 Agreed Framework with the Clinton Administration, are two of many testaments to the DPRK’s desire to function as a peaceful member of the international community.

However, Washington and the US mainstream media have managed to convince the American people that the DPRK is, in fact, the aggressor. As the politicians criticize Pyongyang’s latest nuclear missile test, they fail to inform their audience of the annual US-led joint invasion simulations that, for decades, have kept the DPRK believing a war could break out at any moment. As the so-called “experts” and handsomely-paid defectors showcase their vague Google Maps images and disturbing drawings, claiming the North Koreans have violated every human right on record, they simultaneously assert that the mysterious “hermit kingdom” is one of the most difficult places on which to find reliable information. As the talking heads ridicule the DPRK state media’s (KCTV) bombastic reports surrounding the country’s leaders, they set the scene for Washington’s political circus, passionately and unconditionally defending the policies of one of the two ruling center-right parties as if every passing day was a decisive battle of good against evil.

TheRevolutionReport YouTube channel has a miniseries on the DPRK exploring these US policy double standards in detail and provides historical context invaluable in understanding how the current situation on the Korean Peninsula arrived at where it is today. But before dedicating time and effort towards understanding a society entirely different from our own, it is important to understand why.

Korea certainly has a fascinating history, a rich culture, and a unique language, all of which have enthralled history buffs, linguists, and Juche enthusiasts. These niche interests, however, are unlikely to ever gain mainstream appeal and, in isolation, lack relevance to the primary reason why anyone hoping to change their American homeland for the better should explore the topic of North Korea: understanding the DPRK helps us understand the United States more objectively, free from the delusion of American exceptionalism.

Taking a look in the mirror

In June 2018, The Daily Show premiered a skit satirizing selections of Fox News coverage pertaining to the then-President Donald Trump. Following clips of the anchors’ overwhelming praise for Trump’s apparently unprecedented presidential accomplishments or their display of the utmost respect for his supposedly outstanding courage, appeared snippets from KCTV reports giving nearly identical praise to Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong Un. Of course, the liberal “comedy” show’s intent was to portray Trump’s media supporters, and perhaps Trump supporters in general, as equally as fanatical and brainwashed as North Koreans apparently are. But could not the same comparison be made about the liberal media and, thereby, all of mainstream American media as well?

At around the same time that The Daily Show was ridiculing conservatives for their likeness to North Koreans, Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show on the unapologetically liberal mainstream media outlet MSNBC, was shedding cringe-worthy crocodile tears on live television for immigrant children being locked up in cages. To say nothing of the hypocrisy of liberals like Maddow turning a blind eye to those very same draconian immigration policies under Barack Obama’s, and now Joe Biden’s, administration, this publicity stunt came just several years after the entirety of American mainstream media had looked upon KCTV’s primary news anchor and millions of other North Koreans, hysterically crying over the death of their former leader Kim Jong Il, with condescension and critical disbelief.

Interestingly enough, cognitive dissonance is not only an affliction of America’s media – its presence can be felt in nearly every institution of the US political establishment. In many American schools, children are taught that the first President George Washington, often called “Father of his country”, not unlike Kim Il Sung in the DPRK, was incapable of telling lies. Apart from this claim obviously being false, there is even no evidence that the story connected to this myth, Washington saying, “I can’t tell a lie” after damaging his father’s cherry tree with a hatchet, took place. Nevertheless, the people who grew up in this very education system, are encouraged by their country’s political and media institutions to join in the mockery of ridiculous claims like archeologists discovering a “unicorn lair” or the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il never having to defecate, that KCTV apparently makes. More absurd is the fact that there is not even evidence, aside from the hearsay of defectors, that its state media actually made those outlandish assertions.

North Koreans have erected magnificent statues to honor their highly revered leaders – Americans have carved the faces of their most noteworthy Presidents into the side of Mount Rushmore. In the DPRK, portraits of the country’s leaders can be found in every home and in public places; in the US, the stars and stripes exert their omnipotent presence upon nearly every street. North Korea and the United States are both intensely patriotic countries. In many aspects, it is hard to believe that Americans find their country to be SO different from that of the DPRK.

Psycho-Political projection

On the other hand, the biggest differences between the two countries can be found hiding in plain sight – as Washington’s most cliche threats and criticisms directed at the DPRK, more aptly describe their author than anything else. The US political establishment’s fear mongering about a potential North Korean nuclear strike on the American homeland is nothing new. We constantly hear about alleged threats made by Pyongyang to reduce the Western world to a smoldering ruin, and are consequently encouraged to hate North Korea. Except, the United States has threatened the DPRK with nuclear annihilation since the beginning of the Korean War up until the latter developed nuclear weapons.

Hand in hand with Washington’s glaring nuclear double standard is the overused trope that North Korea spends all its money on its military while ordinary people starve. There was indeed a historical period called the Arduous March, when millions of North Koreans died of starvation as a result of devastating famines caused by natural disasters and trade difficulties – but that time has passed. On the part of the United States, neither creating the most powerful and well-funded military on Earth nor establishing military bases across the globe have managed to feed its own people. According to a 2011 New York Times report, the United States ranks the worst in terms of food security out of the entire developed world. At the same time, the prevalence of food insecurity for US households nearly doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Children are especially vulnerable, with 12 million American children in food-insecure homes according to nokidhungry.org.

Another example of this psycho-political projection concerns the prison systems of both countries. Almost as often as Americans hear stories of tomorrow’s nuclear tipped North Korean missile launch, DPRK defectors gruesomely illustrate the horrors of their homeland’s alleged concentration camps – the existence for which they have never presented evidence.

Here’s what we do have evidence for:

  1. The United States has both the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate in the world.
               
  2. The United States has engaged in torture in the past, tortures its prisoners today, and will likely engage in torture in the future – most cases taking place under the guise of protecting national security.
               
  3. American corporations make enormous profit by exploiting both private and public prison labor in the United States.
               
  4. Washington has no problem with arbitrarily arresting or demanding the incarceration of journalists – PressTV’s Marzieh Hashemi and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange being two examples.

North Korea achieves what the US could not

Still, the most embarrassing aspect for Washington, concerning its treatment of the DPRK, centers around the fact that it has, as a consequence of its belligerent foreign policy, created a country which has not only successfully defended its sovereignty, but has achieved what the US could not. Despite facing crippling economic sanctions and persistent military threats, the DPRK has managed to build a formidable education system. The country’s many universities, primary schools, and secondary institutions have managed to educate the entire nation’s youth for free – even with a GDP comparable to lower income countries like Swaziland. A generation of North Korean scientists has emerged that designed and launched the DPRK’s own Kwangmyongsong satellite into orbit, on its Unha-2 rocket system. More recently, that same generation of scientists successfully test launched Hwaseong-8 – the DPRK’s first hypersonic missile. These achievements have come only half a century after the country had a mostly illiterate population.

Thanks to DPRK’s education system, the country, moreover, has enough doctors to operate the hospitals and clinics which constitute its free socialized medical system. While it is no doubt plagued by deficits of medical equipment resulting from the above-mentioned sanctions, its focus on preventative medicine has succeeded in establishing a relatively high life expectancy of 72 years of age for its people. In fact, North Korea has accomplished so much of what the developed world now takes for granted in the field of medicine, that the World Health Organization described the DPRK’s medical system as, “the envy of the developing world” in 2010.

On the other hand, America’s healthcare system remains simultaneously the most expensive on Earth and one of the lowest quality in the developed world. Its for-profit education system creates debt slaves just as often as it produces educated professionals, with student debt amounting to 10% of the US national debt and what many politicians have described as a crisis. The brightest of America’s youth are entering an economy with few to no prospects of serious professional development – and the media tells us only to continue fearing North Korea. Perhaps, Washington should take a long look in the mirror before it markets itself as what the world’s freedom loving people should strive for.

Donald Courter
Journalist, Political Reporter, Expert in Foreign Relations (USA)

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