Alternative Insight

Comprehending North Korea
Bring in the Clowns

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.

Mid-air is the place where one can find United States policy toward North Korea (DPRK).

Send in the clowns.

Or the U.S. State Department could resend Dennis Rodman, the new world ambassador, who is no clown, but recognizes the world is but a stage and he is one of its players. Dennis, a defensive basketball player, who grabbed the rebounds so that Michael Jordan or one of the other members of the champion Chicago Bulls teams, could obtain the ball and put it between the hoops, scored a diplomatic victory by meeting and getting to know North Korean supreme leader, Kim Jong-un.

Upon returning home, Dennis asked.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.

The answer came from the U.S. State Department, who ignored Rodman's trip.

Where are the clowns?

George Stephanopolous on Sunday's television program, ABC This Week, interviewed the former Chicago Bull's star.

Send in the clowns.

Instead of asking why Rodman considered Kim Jong-un a friend for life, the ABC commentator confronted the former hoops player with "Don't you know of North Korea's abysmal human rights record and the dictator's use of prison camps?"
Dennis, being a defensive player, behaved defensively. He could have mentioned that compared to North Korea's estimated (not verified) 200,000 prisoners, the United States jails contain 2,300,000 prisoners. The U.S. prisoners are not considered political, but why does the richest nation in the world have the most prisoners? And why does the prison population grow monotonically, doubling in the last two decades to 2.3 million? If these questions cannot be answered, how can a foreigner comprehend the DPRK's incarceration policies?
Stephanopolous recited inaccurate portrayals of the present Korean leader, who cannot claim responsibility for the actions of his predecessors nor reverse them with ease. Besides, although the Hermit Kingdom undoubtedly contains a substantial number of political prisoners, the exact number (200,000 is often used) has not been verified and the camps have not been well identified. Most information is glossed from dissidents and escapees who relate elements of truth and have a tendency to cater to the sensational and a propensity to exaggerate their past. Typical examples are described in the following.
From Free Korea (

Survivor Lee Jun Ha had given a very detailed set of directions to Camp Number 12, where he'd been imprisoned: The No. 12 Reeducation Camp can be found about four kilometers east along the mountain slopes from a small rural town called "Jeongeo-ri,"� which is itself about 12 kilometers from Hoiryeong in the direction of the big east coast port of Chongjin. Travelling to Chongjin by bus, you can see Jeongeo-ri on the left side and Poongsan-ri on the right. Heading off for Jeongeo-ri from the main street, you pass under a railway bridge. There lies the entrance to Jeongeo-ri.

Understand that? Then comes the clarification.

I should clarify that Lee was no political prisoner - he admits that he was in Camp 12 for killing his alcoholic uncle by bashing his head into a wall during a fight. Lee claims that he didn't intend to kill him. The most recent date he mentions in his diary is 2003, meaning that the reorganization of Camp 12 for repatriated defectors is probably more recent than Lee's time there.

Lee Juan Ha was getting a reeducation, but not because of any political reasons.

From RTE News (

Mr Stanton's blog carries satellite images from Google Earth and analysis of the features of six political prisoner camps - three of which he is credited with playing a role in confirming or identifying.
The blogger identifies images of gates and guard houses, and in some cases coal mines and crude burial grounds - corroborated through the work of experts and interviews with defectors from North Korea who lived or worked in the camps.
"The largest of the camps, if you don't know what you're looking at, look like towns or villages, and I suspect they are designed that way to fit into the countryside," said Stanton, whose readers trade tips on the camps and their landmarks.

Go to Mr. Stanton's blog and find a Google satellite photo of "Previously Unidentified Prison, south of Sinuiju, Not Confirmed by Witnesses."

Just when I'd stopped
Opening doors,
Finally knowing
The one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again
With my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

The lines in the description of this photograph of a "labor camp" are specious, and assuredly nobody is there.

1) The yellow arrows in the photograph point to black areas, which are labeled as Guard Towers. Viewing the image on a high definition 40" monitor reveals that the black lines are only shadows; all the black areas are shadows. There are no Guard Towers.
2) Only partially enclosing walls are apparent in the compound.
3) From their relative size, the buildings in the complex cannot contain more than several hundred persons.
4) The number of houses, when compared to the possible number of prisoners, are too many to house the personnel for the prison. The combination of many homes, which extend beyond the scene, and several obvious roads indicate this is a village.
5) The land does not have agricultural characteristics. Either there are mines in the area and/or the complex is a factory where the villagers work.

By being speculative and not accurate, the Free Korea campaign creates doubts to its other assertions of North Korean labor camps. Other images of "labor camps" have similar discrepancies. We need more reliable evidence.

Don't you love farce?
My fault, I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want -
Sorry, my dear.

Dennis Rodman loves farce. George Stephanopolous supplied it and followed his previous attack with this conversation:

GS: It sounds like you're apologizing for him.
DR: No, I'm not apologizing for him. I think the fact that- he's a good guy to me. He's my friend. I don't condone what he does, but as a person-to-person, he's my friend.
GS: Someone who hypothetically is a murderer whose your friend is still a murderer.

Undoubtedly, before Kim Jong-an assumed office, murders occurred. However, whom do we know that has been murdered by the present North Korean leader?

Again Rodman could have mentioned that during the last fifty years, U.S. administrations have engaged in several questionable high level wars (Viet Nam, Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan) and low level wars (Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Dominica, Panama, Nicaragua) in which about two million people have been killed, most of them civilians. Plenty of murders and war crimes in those ventures. And the American administrations accuse North Korean leaders of adventurism, dangerous moves and unstable minds.

But where are the clowns?

The consistent U.S. foreign policy toward the DPRK has included confrontation, sanctions, threats and isolation, all of which have punished the North Korean people, entrenched its leadership and resulted in no diplomatic success; just the opposite - still an armistice and now a partially equipped nuclear armed nation.

There ought to be clowns.

The U.S. assisted North Korea to become a nuclear armed nation by reneging, in a tit-for tat manner, on agreements to supply the Hermit Kingdom with two nuclear reactors, temporary fuel and food in trade for the North halting its nuclear program. By signing the 1994 Agreed Framework, the United States agreed to "provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S." From the north's perspective, the hostile nature of Uncle Sam's rhetoric does not ""provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S."

Evidently, the United States had suspicions that the North did not intend to halt its nuclear activities after receiving the agreed food and fuel. Evidently North Korea felt that the United States was stalling in supplying its part of the bargain and so it decided to go ahead until the U.S. fulfilled its commitments. Infantile behavior from the two nations. Did it matter if the deprived DPRK population received needed food and fuel, even if their country's leaders violated the agreements? Testing the leadership's veracity would have settled the issue. If the North Koreans received the goods and continued in their nuclear preparations, then the U.S. could act upon a moral high ground, with definite evidence of North Korea's duplicity, and be more able to conduct a retaliatory policy. However, the U.S. stalled and continually antagonized the Kims, forcing them to pursue the nuclear option. In addition, the dispatching to oblivion of two dictators who had retreated from developing nuclear weapons - Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi - sent a clear indication to Kim Jong-un that if he halted his nuclear developments he would assuredly suffer a similar ignominious fate.

Quick, send in the clowns.

The U.S. State Department lacks comprehension of what motivates the other side. The U.S. position is that if they are not like us, then something is wrong with them, and we must make them be like us.

What a surprise.
Who could foresee
I'd come to feel about you
What you'd felt about me?

North Korea is distinctly different than the rest - and, despite its offensive and dictatorial regime, has some meritorious qualities.

1) Unlike its southern brother, the DPRK uses little of the world's resources; maybe not entirely by design. It might be naive, but North Korea gives an impression that even if it were a prosperous nation, it would be a nation of conservation, living without excessive material means.
2) Despite its seemingly oppressive operations, it is a united nation, a people who consider themselves attached in a singular effort. If this is due to a conditioning, that is not unique. Aren't Americans conditioned? If not, why do they send their children to kill and be killed or maimed in senseless wars?
3) Its sports regimens have created world class gymnastic athletes, engaged the entire nation in athletic games and provided the most beautiful cheer leaders in the world. The latter have been sensations at World Soccer cup and other international games. See them at
4) Its juche political philosophy of self-reliance, more accurately explained by Grace Lee, in Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Volume 3 | Number 1 | Spring 2003, P.105 as,

...being the master of revolution and reconstruction in one's own country. This means holding fast to an independent position, rejecting dependence on others, using one's own brains, believing in one's own strength, displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance, and thus solving one's own problems for oneself on one's own responsibility under all circumstances,

may not appeal to western nations, but shows courage, character, and personal responsibility. Whether it is a genuine ideology or only a political maneuver is debatable. Dae-Ho Byun, North Korea's Foreign Policy (Seoul, R.O.K: Research Center for Peace and Unification of Korea, 1991), 71-2, offers a viewpoint supported by some scholars.

...implementing and executing policies based on juche effectively consolidated Kim Il Sung's absolute political power and indirectly provided ideological justification for his dictatorship in North Korea.

Grace Lee, on page 108 of her article, presents a contrary explanation and on P. 109 an opinion that juche is more than a Korean concept.

The scholars in this second camp argue that juche is a reflection of a centuries-old tradition of independence from foreign powers. Strategically located at a peninsular tip of the East Asian continent, Korea has long been a pawn of contention between its two powerful neighbors, China and Japan. From the earliest recorded history, the Korean people have fought fiercely to maintain their independence in the face of multiple invasions by Mongols, Manchurians, Han Chinese and Japanese pirates and samurais.

The juche idea is a Weltanschauung, or world view, that affirms the penultimate value of man's interests. According to juche ideology, man has ultimate control over the world and of his own destiny because he alone has chajusong, or creativity and consciousness. Adherents to the juche philosophy claim that this viewpoint of man as dominating and reshaping the world is a unique contribution of juche ideology to the body of philosophical knowledge.

Juche can be observed as either a controlling philosophy or a goal to attain. Assuredly, North Korea has not attained juche and has been forced to rely on others for food, economic development and military hardware.

Why only now when I see
That you'd drifted away?
What a surprise.
What a cliche.

Comprehending North Korea's patterns of behavior, and realizing that the western approach only alienates it and prevents any conciliation, will start a process toward softening North Korea's aggressive posture. Why does the United States, which does not border on North Korea, interfere in the North's domestic affairs and threaten its survival, while the nations of China and Russia who share its borders, aren't agitated or perplexed?

Start by sending Dennis Rodman to soothe the anxieties and diminish the conflict. President Obama might learn that all North Korea wants is to be left alone, not be constantly belittled, have its sovereignty respected and construct basketball courts. Its leaders will continue to argue with its southern brother, but that's between them. More probable the reverse will occur; they will learn they must get along and finally figure out how to accomplish the task.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother - they're here.

march, 2013


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