What a comforting and peaceful time we live in. Barely a day has gone by in the past six weeks without news breaking of growing tensions between the United States of America and North Korea in relation to increasing concern about the latter’s nuclear capabilities. Threats made by the DPRK to launch missiles towards Japan and the US territory of Guam have hardly helped the situation.
This is a war of words and manoeuvring contested between the world’s most significant superpower in one corner, and flag bearers for the ideology of the long dead Cold War in the other. However, with nuclear tensions now at the highest they have ever been since the end of the US – Soviet stalemate, you have to wonder if another Cold War could be just around the corner. Despite being virtually isolated in modern day international relations after seeing allied regimes crumble all around them, the stubbornness of the North Korean leadership is proving to be one of the biggest thorns in the side of the US’s international authority, and is showing no signs of letting up 70 years later.
In some ways, there is some room for admiration of the DPRK in the fact that they are one of the few nations on earth to resist the USA’s international influence and neo-imperialist grip on world politics. However, the admiration stops there. This is a nation that enslaves its people on a level comparable to any of the most brutal regimes in history, and dehumanises its people on a level comparable to some of the worst genocides. Regardless of self proclamations of being ‘democratic’ or ‘socialist’, there is no sugar coating or rose-tinted glasses to hide what North Korea really is: a fascist state, and a deeply entrenched one at that.
Yet, what if one day, by whatever means necessary, the Kim dynasty falls. His highest officers are brought to justice. His people are finally given the basic rights that they’ve endlessly been deprived of. Would this mean the end of the troubles in North Korea? Absolutely not. Will it mean ‘westernisation’ of the state in a manner similar to their southern neighbours? Perhaps, but this could be a source of trouble in itself.
The North Korean governing machine has utilised media propaganda so well that should any remnants of the old regime remain, you can be certain that decades of state-orchestrated brainwashing will result in a fight against any perceived ‘westernisation’ of the country, regardless of who is in power. Even basic steps such as incorporating human rights into law could be spun as dangerous western ideals being injected into what is currently a one-dimensional national psyche.
However, the single biggest argument for continued trouble in North Korea, regardless of the future of the Kim dynasty, is the continued dominance of the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong Un (pictured below). The national portrayal of the leader as being a god-like figure is the most dominating aspect of all parts of North Korean life, and is part of the reason why the regime has managed to suppress its people for so long. Even if the Kim dynasty were to be brought down, erasing the cult of personality is an infinitely harder job.
After 25 years of iron rule in the Soviet Union, removing Stalin’s cult of personality was a nightmarish task for all his future successors at the head of Soviet government. In this case however, the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family as a whole has been in place for almost 70 years. Teaching an entire nation to unlearn such a deeply entrenched, lifelong perception of a single leader is near impossible regardless of whatever regime may be in power, and therefore represents a monumental stumbling block to the liberation of North Korea and its people.
Can North Korea and its citizens ever be liberated from the grip of a tyrannical leader and an essentially fascist regime? Possibly, regardless of how unlikely that may appear at present with the ever-escalating nuclear tensions. However, this examination of the psyche of the nation itself demonstrates how the complexity of this completely unique issue in international affairs is more tangled and problematic than anyone could see on the surface. Therefore, those calling for war or a first strike against North Korea may want to think twice before encouraging such a radical decision.
We don’t know what the future holds for the powder keg of East Asia, but even if the Kim dynasty were to miraculously fall or be forced from power, the long road to liberation could actually intensify, rather than ease up, the deeply volatile and entrenched psyche of North Korea.