February 3, 2010

Korea a nation of racist dwarves in the dark, says Hitchens

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Satellite photograph of the Korean peninsula at night

Satellite photograph of the Korean peninsula at night

Christopher Hitchens says that when thinking of how to characterize North Korea, he’s reminded that “Karl Marx in his Eighteenth Brumaire wrote that those trying to master a new language always begin by translating it back into the tongue they already know.” And in thinking of North Korea as just another totalitarian state, “I was limiting myself (and ill-serving my readers) in using the pre-existing imagery of Stalinism and Eastern deference.”

But in a riveting column for Slate, Hitchens says,

“I have recently donned the bifocals provided by B.R. Myers in his electrifying new book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, and I understand now that I got the picture either upside down or inside out. The whole idea of communism is dead in North Korea, and its most recent “Constitution,” “ratified” last April, has dropped all mention of the word …. Myers makes a persuasive case that we should instead regard the Kim Jong-il system as a phenomenon of the very extreme and pathological right. It is based on totalitarian “military first” mobilization, is maintained by slave labor, and instills an ideology of the most unapologetic racism and xenophobia.”

Myers’ book, the newest from Melville House, is a study of how the North Korean worldview may be revealed through its propaganda. Using illustrations that “are an education in themselves,” Hitchens says, “this finely argued and brilliantly written book” carries “the worrisome implication that the propaganda of the regime may actually mean exactly what it says, which in turn would mean that peace and disarmament negotiations with it are a waste of time and perhaps a dangerous waste at that.”

In short, says Hitchens,

Here are the two most shattering facts about North Korea. First, when viewed by satellite photography at night, it is an area of unrelieved darkness. Barely a scintilla of light is visible even in the capital city. Second, a North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.

But this is what proves Myers right. Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult: This horror show is in our future, and is so ghastly that our own darling leaders dare not face it and can only peep through their fingers at what is coming.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives

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