Most people just think North Koreans are nuts or faking their devotion to their Dear Leader so they won’t be thrown in a concentration camp. They further think Dear Leader is bluffing when he says he will nuke US allies (and the US itself) in order to get more concessions and foreign aid. This is yet another example of projecting our own worldview where it doesn’t fit.
But there’s more going on here than meets the Western eye and it is both fascinating and potentially tragic. According to B.R. Myers “The Cleanest Race” North Koreans are not Stalinist or even communist in any Marxist sense, they are not a Confucian patriarchy and they are not obsessed with self-reliance. They ditched communism some time ago, they place much emphasis on the maternal qualities of Dear Leader and they have relied on foreign aid all along.
Then what’s going on? According to Myers, it can be summed up in one sentence: “The Korean people are too pure-blooded, and therefore too virtuous to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader.” Their basic worldview is racist/nationalist and that toxic combination drove both the Japanese and the Germans (people we don’t think are “just nuts”) to great atrocities before and during WWII. Korea was a colony of Japan and was encouraged to believe in their racial superiority. The world moved on and racial superiority, while it definitely still exists and does its evil work, is no longer cool.
North Korea was flattened by American carpet bombing during the Korean War. They don’t talk about that (that looks like Dear Leader couldn’t protect them) but they do constantly rehash horror stories of American GIs raping and ripping Koreans (especially women and little girls) to pieces just for fun. Americans and most of the world are not able to do otherwise-they lack the racial moral superiority of the North Koreans. There can be no compromise with the devil.
The current Dear Leader is chubby and soft-not the western ideal of a general. But he fits the North Korean ideal of a mother-figure, upon whose ample bosom tired soldiers can rest their weary heads. While this just seems crazy to the patriarchal west, the image of a loving and protective mother is pretty powerful emotional fuel. Will you fight to protect the Motherland? Do you love your Mom? Won’t she sacrifice to make sure you stay alive and have a good life? Sarah Palin used the phrase “mama grizzly”. Papa grizzly is formidable but mama grizzly will risk her life to shred you into meat chunks to protect her cubs. Powerful stuff.
A government is supposed to, at bare minimum-protect its citizens from foreign invaders. It arguably should also protect its citizens from famine and disasters. If it fails in these tasks, it is not a legitimate government. Constant war-readiness and saber-rattling makes Dear Leader look good. Would he actually launch a war? Would the people follow him? The Japanese and German people did so, with devastating consequences both for the world and for them selves.
We act on what we believe. Threatening North Korea plays into the whole mythology. They cannot be bought off with foreign aid or promises of lucrative trade agreements. They don’t WANT to be like the evil outside world. They are so much better than that. China doesn’t want them to collapse because it doesn’t want the headache of a big failed state (or American troops) on its border, yet this would likely be the best ending to the whole mess (minus the American troops.) The worst ending is pretty bad for everyone-including the North Koreans.