MUST READ: ‘Why everyone gets North Korea dangerously wrong’

If you haven’t read it yet, do check out B.R. Myers’ piece “Planet Pyongyang” in Newsweek. Here’s just a sample:

How much longer will we refuse to face facts? North Korea calls itself military-first, and behaves accordingly. It is frank enough in the espousal of race thinking to have won the admiration of German neo-Nazis. It does not even pay lip service to communism. For all this, America goes on stubbornly regarding it as one of two communist stragglers from the Cold War—much better armed than Cuba, but no less doomed an anachronism. Just as this fallacy has assuaged neo-con qualms about not standing up to the country, so does it make liberals feel less ridiculous when calling, after every broken deal, for still more dialogue. But I have learned that no one defends North Korea quite as furiously against aspersions of far-rightness than the NGO community. If donors are to believe that agricultural and other “outreach” projects will build trust with the state—as opposed to just minimizing its expenses—it must always be passed off as far left. This was how the New York Philharmonic managed to return from Pyongyang in 2008 with a peacemaker’s halo, like Elton John back from the U.S.S.R., when it had really just done a Queen at apartheid-era Sun City.

(HT to somebody on Facebook)

  • chrisinsouthkorea

    Can someone smarter than me distill what he’s trying to say we should do with North Korea? Because in three pages, the only thing he seems to suggest is in the final paragraph: “I cannot pretend to know how America can best deal with its first far-right nuclear adversary, but ceasing to pin vain, Cold War–inspired hopes on economic change would be a start.”

    In other words, one of the foremost experts on North Korea has no idea what to do? Over a thousand words full of meandering sentences does not a Newsweek article make.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Everyone knows what should be done. A massive first strike on NK, taking out its artillery and its command centers, and dealing with the missiles as well as possible if they get launched – hit them on the ground, knock them down if in the air. But no one wants to really say it and no one will do it. Only a massive destructive attack on NK can change the situation.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    #1 – at least he’s being honest.

    #2 – they can’t hit everything all at once, and several thousand NK agents wreaking havoc here is something we really don’t want.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    They could get most of it in the first attack and take out the rest soon after. The missiles are the same scuds that were taken out by patriots in the first Iraq war. The agents are mostly not going to do anything. Most sleepers here for a long time have probably drifted away from NK’s ideology. You can deal with those who do. Just eliminate that weed.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    4, “Official assessments of the number of Scuds destroyed by the Patriot missile system in the war have fallen from 100 percent during the war, to 96 percent in testimony to Congress after the war, to 80 percent, 70 percent and, currently, the Army believes that as many as 52 percent of the Scuds were destroyed overall but it only has high confidence that the Patriot destroyed 25 percent of the Scud warheads it targeted.

    “Independent review of the evidence in support of the Army claims reveals that, using the Army’s own methodology and evidence, a strong case can be made that Patriots hit only 9 percent of the Scud warheads engaged, and there are serious questions about these few hits. It is possible that the Patriots hit more than 9 percent, however, the evidence supporting these claims is even weaker.”

    As for the agents, NK has around 70 submarines of various sizes capable of carrying a lot of frogmen. A few of them might see Family Mart and decide they’ll limit their activities to shoplifting, but most will be ideologically loyal at first.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    That was 20 years ago, scuds have not changed much, patriot missile technology has.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    And please, let’s not use the word men to describe NK soldiers. They arent even half-men

  • Yu Bum Suk

    6, I’m sure that’s what Raytheon was saying in 1991. No doubt they have improved, but hitting an object returning from the atmosphere at speed isn’t the easiest thing to do. And if those objects are filled with biochemical agents, blowing them up at altitude might only help to disperse them better.

  • feld_dog

    Yes, Meyers’ prose is usually pretty tight, but the editing on this one was kind of lax. As for lacking solutions, not every op-ed piece has to save the world. But if you really want a step-by-step solution to the conundrum, Joshua at the onefreekorea blog has been down this road often.

  • slim

    A lot of people at this point agree with Meyers, so he’s using a straw man here saying that everybody still thinks in 1960s terms about the regime.

    I must say I’m disappointed that our intelligence agencies didn’t find ways to mysteriously kill off all of the offspring of Kim Jong-il when they were studying or living abroad. We saw this coming and humanity would have benefited immensely from the deliberate termination of that family line.

  • madar

    Surprisingly, I actually agree with Salaryman. It’s something that should be done, will not be clean, and no one has the stomach for. Future generations will be asking themselves why everyone let such a weak regime continue with their oppressive state, complete with torturous concentration camps that belong in the time of Stalin and Hitler, while washing their hands, and even offering continued support for the regime.

  • DLBarch

    Putting aside Myers’ penchant for describing a problem without offering a solution (something he is hardly alone in doing), it might be useful to remind anyone who hasn’t noticed that over the last several weeks, the Obama administration (and its junior partner, uShin2) has in fact stared down the Little Marshal up north, and hasn’t so much as blinked in the process.

    The North Korean playbook is thin and Washington and Seoul know every play in it. What we now have in the alliance is a willingness to call Pyongyang’s bluff.

    Myers’ essay isn’t so much wrong as out of time with current policy. Concerts in 2008? Really? It describes a policy approach that may still show a few signs of life in the NGO community but that no one in official circles is actually taking.


  • keith

    DLB, spot on.

    The slightly more aggressive verbal garbage coming from the north recently hasn’t really phased anyone (except newbs) in SK. It is not going to kick off big time here, as people have said ‘it would be suicide’ for the so called elite to start a war.

    The North Korean government are desperate for attention. If they attempt a rocket launch the best option would be sending in SBS or Seals to do some sabotage on the rockets. If they had the right plan, it would be hilariously embarrassing for Kim’s club.

  • Arghaeri

    I must say I’m disappointed that our intelligence agencies didn’t find ways to mysteriously kill off all of the offspring of Kim Jong-il when they were studying or living abroad

    Hmm, I think they would have stopped sending them pretty quick, and then we would have lost the opportunity to inculcate western ideology and belief that they are basketball stars, and lost the opportunity to infiltrate Japanese chefs into NK to spy on them.

  • mitchel-murray

    Nice article from Myers, good to see him adding his valuable perspective — although I think he ought to consider shifting out of ‘Readers Manifesto’ stylistic mode when writing in Newsweek for us mouth-breathers. Have less fun with the prose, keep it simple and educate.

    I agree with many who mention that this administration may have a better understanding of NK than Myers seems to indicate. Take this recent quote from Obama, for example:

    “This is the same kind of pattern that we saw his father engage in and his grandfather before that,” [Obama] said, referring to the two previous North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. “Since I came into office, the one thing I was clear about was, we’re not going to reward this kind of provocative behavior. You don’t get to bang your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way.”

    I think Myers would agree with this.

  • jefferyhodges

    Despite the dire threats, the North, as Keith (#13) points out, “hasn’t really phased anyone.” I think this means that — contrary to their grandiose claims — the North is not yet a phaser state. Everyone can thus remain unfazed.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • Pingback: B.R. Myers Explains What North Korea Really Is In Newsweek | ROK Drop()

  • madar

    Thank God they aren’t a phaser state. If they were they would just beam over to the US and win a war in seconds!

  • sanshinseon

    I have long privately said that NK regime is fascist not communist, and am glad that this is finally emerging as MSM consensus.

    And i agree that Obama & Park handled this round of the same-old quite well — from the B-2 flight to dismissive rhetoric to sending Sec Kerry to NK’s daddy to talk about it on the global stage (that, instead of sending an envoy to Pyeongyang, is further deserved-humiliation for KJU).

  • ziffel

    While Myers makes a number of insightful points, the underlying theme of his article (particularly the first half) appears to be “Why everyone gets North Korea dangerously wrong. Except Me.”

    He begins by attacking non-existent “naive op-ed pieces…that would have ensued” before moving on to other straw men. (Slim, above, is correct.)

    And, of course, no Myers piece would be complete without a haughty, self-congratulatory inference along the lines of “The average North Korea expert quoted in our media cannot read the Rodong Sinmun, the Workers’ Party daily.” (Though I actually liked that sentence if for no other reason than it didn’t suffer from the tortured, overwrought syntax of many others.)

    But that’s mere quibbling. More to the purported point of the article, the case is not made as to why “everyone getting NK wrong” is so dangerous. Even allowing for the possibility that “Americans stuck in Cold War thinking” are actually driving decisionmaking on NK in 2013 (a Slim possibility, as it were), why is that “dangerous”? That is not really explained, and given the choice of sub-title, should have been clearly explained.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Its a boring article, i just clicked on the porn actress article and then onto Ryan Lochte’s interview

  • eujin

    Putting aside Myers’ penchant for describing a problem without offering a solution (something he is hardly alone in doing), it might be useful to remind anyone who hasn’t noticed that over the last several weeks, the Obama administration (and its junior partner, uShin2) has in fact stared down the Little Marshal up north, and hasn’t so much as blinked in the process.

    The North Korean playbook is thin and Washington and Seoul know every play in it. What we now have in the alliance is a willingness to call Pyongyang’s bluff.

    The danger is that Kerry, for whatever reason and in whatever context, mentions the word “talks”, the North Koreans initially rebuff him, leading Marmot to breathe a sigh of relief, but then think better of it and offer conditions for talks. Conditions that perhaps don’t seem unreasonable to the rest of the world, and suddenly the Americans are painted as the ones “preventing dialogue”.

    It’s right there on page one of their playbook, “29 blitz stunt Musudan” I think they call it. The thing about the best plays is they work even if the opponent knows what is coming.

  • numberoneoppa

    I agree with @1 chrisinsouthkorea, I have no idea what the author is actually trying to convey. :/

  • The Sanity Inspector

    If the Nork regime is indeed right-wing, then Western proggs ought to be eager to oppose it. The only reason they don’t is that to do so would put them on the same side as the U.S.

  • RolyPoly

    Kerry got it right.

    It is all “China”. F***ing Chinese are enslaving NKs for its own pleasure.

    As I wrote so many times, China can open up NK tomorrow if it wants. However, these Ch***s want to mess up Korea.

  • RolyPoly

    Kerry should run again for president. He got Korean situation right.

    Very smart man.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    He did run, and he lost

  • dokdoforever

    North Korean ideology may diverge from Communism with its emphasis on ethnic purity over the rule of the proletariat and its focus on the god like ability of the leader rather than the superiority of rational scientific planning. On the other hand, other elements are clearly more communist than fascist. The economic system for instance. There is state ownership of the means of production and workers receive uniform wages. I heard that all North Korean workers in the Kumkang Resort all received the same hourly wage, regardless of position. Fascist states in pre war Germany, Italy, Spain all had powerful private industrialists who cooperated closely with the state. They had systems of private property, where the market set wages and prices. There was heavy state influence, but its different from a centrally planned economy. North Korea has a black market on the periphery, but there are no large private industrialists and the state sets wage levels.

    Let’s assume that Myers is right – that North Korea survived the collapse of Communism because of an ideology stressing its own racial superiority. The best way to undermine that type of ideology would be for South Korea to become an example of cosmopolitan success. That’s what I expect to happen in the next 50 years. South Korean has embraced trade, high techonology, and has connected with the rest of the world. South Korea can compete on the world stage – North Korea cannot. An ideology of race-based superiority will keep North Korea back in the 1950s while the rest of the world continues to advance and develop.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Fascism is purely an economic term, and North Korea does not come close to fascism, not remotely. If you want to see a fascist state today, see Sweden. Fascism is not in and of itself racist or ethnocentric, it is purely an economic arrangement. One would have to qualify fascism to specify that it is also racially oriented. But North Korea aint fascist.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I must conclude that Myers is an uneducated, economically illiterate fool. Why do people like this get platforms from which they preach their ignorance?

  • gmm

    yes, Salaryman, that’s exactly the conclusion you would reach. That’s why he’s managed to obtain considerable renown in at least three very disparate areas (literature, The Reader’s Manifesto; animal rights; a thorough thrashing of Michael Pollan; NK) and is a regular contributor to the Atlantic and you are a ranting imbecile in the comments section of the Hole. You’re a fucking internet cliche.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Animal rights? What the fuck is that? Oh, he is a contributor to the Atlantic, now I’m impressed. Look, he writes for a living, I do not. That does not change the fact that he is building an argument “NK is fascist” while totally misunderstanding the term “fascist.” If that’s not a mark of stupidity, I don’t know what is. Besides, the fact that editors at Newsweek did not catch this mistake also tells me the people in charge of these establishment rags are lacking grey matter themselves

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I would challenge “professor” Myers to respond, I’m sure he reads this blog, working in Korea. I want to know how one makes such serious mistakes and yet still gets published. Is it the fact that he is a “professor” at Dongseo and hence by mere fact of geography is perceived as a Korean expert that he gets to publish this sort of low level work in large publications?

  • feld_dog

    Fascism a “purely economic term”? North Korea does not come remotely close to fascism?
    From wikipedia: “fascist movements share certain common features, including the veneration of the state, a devotion to a strong leader, and an emphasis on ultranationalism, ethnocentrism, and militarism.”
    Nope, that doesn’t describe North Korea at all. Not even remotely.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Dogs have 4 legs, so do alligators, they both share large teeth and 2 eyes. Are dogs alligators?

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Fascism is purely an economic term. As #27 described it, it is no surprise that a state with a strong government involvement in the economy will also be militaristic and nationalistic and it is not a surprise that it will also have a strong leader. But these are not necessary conditions, they are just things that tend to follow from such a set up. Then again, they need not as Sweden illustrates. Sweden, in my opinion, is a fascist state that lacks many of the qualities described in this wikipedia hackjob. Nevertheless, it is a fascist state with strong corporatism, very low economic freedoms despite what is claimed about Sweden having high economic freedoms, and while it does not have the prototypical Mussolini at the helm, it has the State and its experts and bureaucrats taking that role.

  • feld_dog

    Okay–granted there are various definitions of fascism. But every one I’ve seen defines it as a type of political philosophy, movement, or regime. Socialism is a purely economic term. Fascism is definitely not. You can draw some interesting economic parallels between Sweden and history’s classic fascist regimes. But in your own words, dogs have 4 legs, so do alligators etc.

  • slim

    There is little support anywhere for the notion that fascism is primarily an economic term, much less that Sweden is fascist. But then again, are we surprised that salaryman is so off-base again?

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I never said it is primarily an economic term, I said it is purely, EXCLUSIVELY an economic term. Now, fascism being an extreme form of statism, shares many other features with other extreme forms of statism, such as communism. There is plenty of overlap, which is why you see many of the same features in NK’s version of communism as you would in Mussolini’s Italy. But it is in no way a fascist state. In no way. It is some weird form of mutation of communism, but not fascism.

    As far as Sweden read
    Listen, I realize the wish to have Sweden be some kind of democratic utopia which at the same time proves that extreme government involvement in the economy and in the minutest details of people’s lives can work and can secure freedom. But Sweden is very much a fascist state.

    I will add again. B.R. Myers is ignorant.