Much of the media coverage of the place focuses on how amusing it is to have a strongman leader, legions of soldiers goose-stepping, and now how it is a bit of joke that he threatens to attack the United States. Yet the DPRK isn't that funny for those living there.
Virtually nobody has internet access, access to foreign television broadcasts or even foreign radio broadcasts… There is no free speech. It is illegal to write anything that is critical of the state, party, military or the Kim family in any way. There is no independent media or press of any kind… [E]very workplace has a political cadre and teenagers and other young people may be affiliated with the various Red Guard movements. They can report you to the various secret police, and you can be taken away, questioned, interrogated and tortured.
[Y]our life is not private, at all. There is no private home or land ownership. So you don't have the right to not have anyone enter "your" home, or to not be bugged. There is almost no private sphere…
Of course the real horror, besides day to day living in a country where the state constantly lies to you, where you can't leave, you live in a home that isn't legally yours in any meaningful way and can't say what you want, is what happens if you are found guilty of a political crime.
You go to a gulag. A gulag modelled on Stalin's gulags…. At worst, you become target practice for soldiers, or used for medical experiments, or experiments for new weapons. If you're a woman, you may be raped, repeatedly.
This is a country that is the dictionary definition of totalitarian. A shit hole. A political and social horror. An economic basket case so poor it’s has fewer lights on all year than Al Gore has on Earth Day, where its people have to resort to boiling up stones to make soup. An authoritarian state with few, if any, genuine-strength nuclear weapons (the strongest of their three test was less than a third the strength of that dropped on Nagasaki, and none were beyond what could be achieved with TNT)—“without even the ability to miniaturize and mount one on a missile, no less deliver it accurately,” nor a missile reliably capable of reaching Guam, let alone Hawaii or Washington.
It also happens to be a desperate country, one possibly without enough fuel to fly a modern air force, whose people, on average, are inches shorter than their southern neighbours thanks to decades of intermittent famine and malnutrition, and who are ruled by a bizarre three-generational family cult.
So what’s it doing threatening this half of the world with nuclear war?
One: because even a citizenry this cowed needs to be propagandised back into submission occasionally, and the manufacturing of a non-existent foreign threat fits the bill perfectly.
And two: because every time North Korea has threatened death and destruction before, it got back foreign aid.
It’s just like when you give a dog a biscuit. Do it once, and he’ll reliably repeat whatever he just did to try to get it again.
It would be funny. If it wasn’t at all.
Because even a below-strength ill-formed mis-directed nuclear rocket can kill.
[Pic: New York Times]