Conversation #1

In which the author, Erich Weingartner, is compelled by his fictional North Korean colleague, Pak Kim Li, to review the parameters of the interviews he intends to conduct. (First published in CanKor Report #300, 31 December 2007.)

Erich Heinz Weingartner (EHW): Mr. Pak Kim Li, on behalf of CanKor, I would like to thank you for agreeing to this series of interviews.

Pak Kim Li (PKL): I assure you that it is quite unnecessary and somewhat premature to thank me.

EHW:  On the contrary! If these interviews proceed according to our agreement, it will be not only well worthwhile to thank you; it could lead to a spectacular breakthrough in understanding between North Korea and the Western world. (Not to mention lucrative writing contracts and advance royalties for me!)

PKL:  I’m not sure what agreement you are referring to.

EHW:  You agreed that

1. you will answer all my questions, no matter how sensitive they might be;

2. you will answer truthfully to the best of your knowledge;

3. you will supply me with your own opinions on matters of controversy, without simply repeating your government’s position;

4. you will allow me to publish your answers in CanKor without censorship.

PKL:  Frankly, I don’t remember any of these conditions.

EHW:  Okay, maybe they weren’t conditions per se. Just a gentlemen’s agreement, if you will. You don’t remember our discussion when I published “Portrait of The Patriot” in the summer of 2006?

PKL:  You wanted to write something biographical about me. I agreed. But that was then and this is now. Besides, your conditions are somewhat lopsided. They all concern my behaviour and none of yours.

EHW:  I am perfectly happy to reciprocate. For example, let’s add these:

1. I will be polite at all times, and frame my questions without prejudice — to the best of my ability;

2. I will accept what you tell me as truthful and as your own perceptions and opinions, even if it sounds somewhat propagandistic to my ears;

3. I will faithfully reproduce your answers without edits or commentary;

4. At any time that you feel I have misrepresented your answers or in any way misquoted you, I am willing to give you the chance to correct this in a subsequent interview.

PKL:  That still sounds like you have the better part of the bargain. I agree to deliver material for your writing, and you retain control of the whole process.

EHW:  Mr. Pak, forgive me, but you sound a lot more defensive than during our face-to-face meetings. Is this because we are communicating by email now? Are you self-censoring your responses? Is someone reading over your shoulders?

PKL:  Mr. Erich, let me give you the advice my father often gave me: “Never add your own paranoia to the ocean of paranoia that already exists in the world. “You can rest assured that the answers I give you in an email will not differ in any substantial way to answers I would give in person. But you are avoiding my question about the basic fairness of this interview. It seems to me you hold all the cards in your own hand.

EHW:  Are you trying to opt out of this series of interviews?

PKL:  Not at all. Just trying to level the field a bit. You’re not against fairness, are you?

EHW:  Of course not. Be my guest. Rewrite the rules if you wish!

PKL:  Thank you. In that case, here are my conditions:

1. I will answer your questions only if I actually have an appropriate answer. Otherwise I reserve the right to remain silent;

2. I will be excused from answering questions that I find offensive, irrelevant, or too personal;

3. I will have the right to ask you questions in return, which you will answer truthfully, and publish accurately and completely in CanKor; and

4. the interview is over when I say it is over.

EHW:  But of course! Absolutely. I agree 100%. I will publish every word that passes between us, including this somewhat superfluous conversation about conditions. I hope that this makes you completely happy. Now could we get started?

PKL:  [shrugs shoulders]

EHW:  The first question then. We have all been very excited about the progress made in the Six-Party Talks, the disabling of Yongbyon, the Korean summit. We were looking forward to the next step, the list of all your nuclear assets, which was to be delivered by the end of the year. But this is the end of the year, and the list is not yet forthcoming. How serious is your government about moving forward on denuclearization?

PKL:  I thought you’d be asking questions without prejudice.

EHW:  Please Mr. Pak. It’s a legitimate question.

PKL:  How serious is my government? That’s not a question. That’s an accusation. It’s like asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife.” I incriminate myself whether I say “yes” or “no”.

EHW:  Fine. Rephrase the question any way you like. What if I say “In your opinion…”

PKL:  My opinion? You graciously permit me to have an opinion? When you published “Portrait of a Patriot”, you told readers that I am a fictional character.

EHW:  Fictional in this incarnation, yes. But I also told them that you are a composite character based on dozens of real DPR Koreans that I have come to know over the past 25 years or so.

PKL:  Composite Korean? Really, Mr. Erich. Would you feel justified creating a “composite” Canadian opinion — even as a Canadian?

EHW:  Well in a way, I probably could, based on opinion polls and the Statistics Canada census. And haven’t you told me more than once that DPRK public opinion fully supports your leader’s actions?

PKL:  You are avoiding my main concern, namely that in actual fact you are the author of both questions and answers in this interview.

EHW:  That is only partially true, in a purely mechanical sense. Yes, I type both sides of this conversation. But your answers are based on those given to me during the almost three years I worked closely with Korean colleagues in Pyongyang, as well as in conversations since then during frequent trips to the DPRK, and with diplomats at embassies in Geneva and New York. In addition, I read carefully every issue of the English language version of the Korean Central News Agency, the Bulletins that are emailed to me by the New York Mission, as well as any other DPR Korean literature that I can get my hands on.

PKL:  And you think this qualifies you to know what I am thinking and how I would respond to your questions?

EHW:  Well no, that would be presumptuous. I am sure there are some 23 million ways that DPR Koreans might answer my questions.

PKL:  And none of them would answer in any way similar to the way I will answer you.

EHW:  Wait, I think you are misunderstanding this whole exercize. I am not pretending that you are the personification of some kind of opinion poll. Instead, you are one possible example of a North Korean perception of reality.

PKL:  A speculative example.

EHW:  Yes, agreed. A speculative version of a possible perception.

PKL:  That sounds like an opinion four times removed from reality — less accurate than the shadows in Plato’s cave.

EHW:  Alright! I get your point. And wouldn’t I love it if your side would communicate with us in a way that is understandable to us. Most of my contemporaries think that you North Koreans are totally irrational. I would like you to help me prove them wrong. So why don’t we just agree that in the absence of access to the true reality — whatever that may be — speculation is pretty well the only tool available to interpret DPRK behaviour.

PKL:  It’s your behaviour that needs interpretation. After all, I am just a figment of your imagination!

EHW:  Please, Mr. Pak, look on it as protection for both of us. If I get criticized for flawed information, I can say this is all fiction anyway. If you get criticized for flawed ideological interpretations, you can say the mistake is clearly mine, since I am the author of your words. This should make you comfortable enough to be a bit more forthcoming in this interview than you have been so far. Now can we get on with it?

PKL:  Only if you confess that my responses to your questions are not so much DPR Korean perceptions of reality as they are your own perceptions about our perceptions.

EHW:  That’s what I have been trying to do since we started this conversation!

PKL:  Which means that you are merely talking to yourself.

EHW:  Well, yes in a way — but wait, no…

PKL:  You are setting up a stereotype that attempts to explain DPRK behaviour according to perceptions based on your own ideological predilections.

EHW:  No, I… Hold on. Let’s back up a bit. Let’s consider the problem that those of us on the outside face when trying to understand the actions of the DPRK. We see a country on the brink of economic collapse, unable to feed its own people. We see a regime massively violating human rights. We read your statements, news releases, your flood of invective and outrageous propaganda. We respond by declaring you evil and applying coercive pressures. We see a regime violating agreements by operating secret nuclear weapons programmes. We entice you into Six-Party Talks. We reach an impasse. You test missiles to get our attention. We respond with UN Security Council sanctions. We see a country testing a nuclear device and declaring itself a nuclear power. We apply more sanctions, and the cycle continues to another level of escalation.

PKL:  Are you quite done? That is the most convoluted, perfidious…

EHW:  No I am not done. Our perceptions may be wrong in your estimation, but like it or not, our perceptions have a direct impact on your wellbeing. There are those who believe that all avenues for a peaceful resolution have been exhausted, that only regime change — whether violent or not — will ultimately bring peace to Korea.

PKL:  And you share that opinion?

EHW:  Some of us are not satisfied with this scenario. At the very least, there is a need to explore options other than either the continuation of the status quo, or the complete elimination of one side of the conflict. In conflict resolution theory, mistaken perceptions often arise from the way opponents frame the problem. Reframing the problem sometimes reveals alternative, non-violent solutions. Part of the reframing exercize involves taking account of the opponent’s perceptions of reality. And that is where you come in. What I want most of all from you and from this interview is a greater understanding of what are your perceptions. How you view your own life, your country’s problems, your hopes for the future…

PKL:  That merely underlines the fundamental problem with this interview, namely that my perceptions are really only your perceptions. How can you expect to gain any insight from my answers when it is you who are making them up?

EHW:  Look, Mr. Pak. You are raising a question that has puzzled philosophers for millennia. All human beings are limited by the experience of reality derived from their own senses. I may be able to guess what my wife is feeling, but I can never actually feel what she is feeling. Even if she tells me her feelings, I often cannot understand the reasons why she feels them.

PKL:  And in my case, since I don’t actually exist, my feelings are projections of your feelings reflected back at you.

EHW:  Even if you were a real person, my comprehension of your perceptions will be limited by the extent to which they overlap with my own experience.

PKL:  Which means you’re not really going to be surprised by anything I say, will you?

EHW:  Oh, I suspect there is room for plenty of surprises! Let’s put it this way: after a quarter century of interacting with Koreans — whether on the peninsula or off — you remain a mystery to me. My conversations with you are an attempt to unravel that mystery. I do not belong to the majority of North Americans who think that all North Koreans are insane. I am willing to believe that your actions are rational, even if I have thus far failed to understand them due to differences in language, culture, history and political orientation. The rationality that I am trying to extract through our conversations may be coloured by my sometimes overly optimistic, sometimes overly pessimistic imagination, but every intrinsically consistent and logical interpretation has the potential of opening my mind to new perceptions and new possibilities.

PKL:  You place value on your propensity to surprise yourself. I suppose that’s as much freedom as anyone can ask from one’s creator.

EHW:  Shall we get on with the interview then?

PKL:  [shrugs shoulders]

EHW:  Mr. Pak, your news media published numerous quite unsubtle and unflattering critiques of one of South Korea’s presidential candidates, Lee Hoi-chang. Did you really think this would have any effect on the outcome of the elections?

PKL:  We don’t interfere with other people’s elections, and we expect others to respect our sovereignty as well.

EHW:  You called him “traitor”, and “a pro-US flunkeyist seeking to turn south Korea into an advanced base of the USA for aggression and a base for training mercenaries for a war.”

PKL:  That was a quote taken from a south Korean organization.

EHW:  Yes, the South Headquarters of the National Alliance for the Country’s Reunification. My South Korean sources say there is no such organization.

PKL:  And the South Headquarters of the National Alliance of Youth and Students for the Country’s Reunification doesn’t exist either? That organization also blasted Ri Hoe Chang as a traitor and war fanatic.

EHW:  Mr. Pak, these are all phantom bodies invented by your propagandists to give the illusion of speaking for all of Korea. Before any of these so-called organizations announced their opinions, the National Reunification Institute in Pyongyang set the tone by releasing what KCNA called an “indictment” branding “traitor” Lee Hoi-chang as (and I quote) “a fascist man-killer, separatist and confrontational maniac, kingpin of irregularities and corruption and human scum.”

PKL:  It isn’t just Korean organizations that have this opinion.

EHW:  Yes I know. There’s the International Liaison Committee for Reunification and Peace in Korea, who denounced Lee’s “ambition to grab power as a dangerous move to revive the fascist regime in south Korea.”

PKL:  The Russian Association for Friendship and Cultural Cooperation with the DPRK had similar things to say. Not to speak of the British Association for the Study of Songun Policy and the British Group for the Study of the Juche Idea.

EHW:  Are you familiar with the term “fellow travelers”? As my boss used to say, the only members in such organizations are a retired university professor and his girlfriend, whose only motivation is to get a free trip to Pyongyang every so often.

PKL:  Your question is irrelevant in any case. Ri Hoe Chang always trailed the other candidates and came in a distant third in the elections. You’re not implying that we succeeded in influencing south Korea’s voters, are you?

EHW:  Of course not. The outcome had nothing whatever to do with your rants. If anything, these types of “statements” are laughed at by South Koreans — and the rest of the world, if you want to know the truth.

PKL:  Then why not look on the bright side of these critiques? We attacked neither of the frontrunners in the south Korean elections. Shouldn’t the south Korean public be comforted to know that we could live with either of the two top candidates? Believe me, no right-minded Korean, north or south, would wish to turn back the hands of time the way Ri wishes to. And speaking of mercenaries, Mr. Erich, have you become one?

EHW:  Excuse me?

PKL:  Have you become a mercenary?

EHW:  What are you talking about?

PKL:  Have you forgotten about our conversation regarding the 3Ms? And no, I am not referring to the company that makes Scotch tape and Post-it notes.

EHW:  Good grief, that was ten years ago! The three Ms: mercenaries, missionaries and misfits.

PKL:  I had heard relief workers referring to themselves as the three Ms and asked you what that meant.

EHW:  Sure I remember. We were on a weeklong trek to Chongjin on the northeast coast of Hamgyong Province. Of course. I remember very well indeed. It was early Spring. There was still a light blanket of snow powdering the hillsides of the mountains we crossed in our white WFP Toyota Land Cruiser. Quite a few sections of the road were under repair by villagers working with hand tools. It took us three days to travel a distance that in Canada I could cover in half a day.

PKL:  You told me not to take these labels so seriously. When humanitarian aid workers call themselves mercenaries, missionaries or misfits they refer to personality types, not occupations; that they are more like metaphors and should be taken “with a grain of salt”. Self-something humour.

EHW:  Self-deprecating.

PKL:  That’s right. Self-deprecating humour. But there was a lot more truth in the humour than I first imagined. It’s no secret to you that in our country we are taught to be wary of foreigners, because one can never be sure if they are spies. But the three Ms opened my mind to a lot of other possibilities. It became clear to me that motivations of relief workers do not always have to be ideological. Or to put it another way, whereas I had always paid attention only to political motivations, you clarified how individual personal motivations can modify or even hide political motivations.

EHW:  Ah yes, and in our individualist societies most of us are blissfully unaware how much our political, cultural and ideological biases determine our actions.

PKL:  As you are well aware, individualism is a foreign concept for us DPR Koreans. What matters to us is nation and ideology. Our actions should benefit our community and our society, on the basis of a correct interpretation of our self-reliant Juche system. The individual is a beneficiary of the socialist system. We matter as individuals only to the extent that we are a loyal and productive part of a larger whole.

EHW:  Whereas in modern Western society, it is the individual that counts the most. The community and the state are supposed to be in service of the individual, not the other way around.

PKL:  Therefore you become so fanatic about civil and political rights and pretty much leave the defence of social and cultural rights to your religious communities and social action groups.

EHW:  And how does that relate to my being a mercenary, other than the fact that you managed to change the subject again?

PKL:  Didn’t you mention lucrative writing contracts and advance royalties at the beginning of this interview?

EHW:  Mr. Pak, have you completely lost your sense of humour? Working on North Korean issues isn’t exactly a lucrative occupation. If it were, CanKor would surely be swimming in money.

PKL:  Now you’re the one taking me too literally. It was you who taught me that the mercenary personality isn’t necessarily a soldier with guns. Nor is a mercenary necessarily interested only in money. But whatever mercenaries do, they do it to obtain some personal benefit.

EHW:  I taught you that?

PKL:  Remember that long stretch of highway from Hamhung to Danchon?

EHW:  How could I forget? I was afraid for my life crossing several passes on that narrow gravel road.

PKW:  The first thing I learned was the extent to which English speakers use language metaphorically.

EHW:  Yes, I remember your voracious appetite for English idioms, slogans, proverbs, slang and other types of catch-words.

PKL:  I knew about missionaries from Korea’s history. In fact, some of them were courageous fighters against the Japanese. But as a group, I was taught to regard them with disdain, since they brought not just their religion to Korea. They brought cultural pollution and softened the Korean heart to be open to foreign influences that led to deep divisions among us. But you told me that “missionaries” aren’t necessarily church workers out to convert heathens to Christianity. Seen from this more metaphorical point of view, the missionary personality could be a member of any religion or no religion at all. What distinguishes missionaries is a driving zeal to save the world — whether for the sake of God, or human rights, or globalization, or neo-liberal economic integration…

EHW:  …or the environment, or development, or socialism, or the Juche idea for that matter!

PKL:  Exactly. Thus leaving open the possibility that even I could be a missionary! [laughs]

EHW:  [sarcastically] Oh how shocking!

PKL:  Yes, indeed. It was quite an eye opening thought, or what you liked to call an “Aha!” experience. When we finally reached the guesthouse in Danchon…

EHW:  …after that dreadfully long and bumpy ride from gorgeous Hungnam seaside resort guest house…

PKL:  …I got you settled in your room and told you to take a rest before dinner. I went to my own room and jotted down notes on our conversation. I still have those notes, though I don’t need them to remember. We categorized the 3Ms according to specific parameters in order to be able to compare them.

EHW:  We did? Like what?

PKL:  Well, the first is the definition. Not just the dictionary definition, but what are the metaphorical levels of the particular personality.

EHW:  Therefore we set aside the image of the mercenary with a gun in his hand and a wad of dollar bills sticking out of his back pocket.

PKL:  Instead, we try to capture the essence of mercenary-ness. And lo and behold, we find the distinguishing feature to be the selfish pursuit of a heartless villain.

EHW:  Well thank you for asking whether I am a selfish, heartless villain! There is an important feature that distinguishes a mercenary from a villain that you are missing, Mr. Pak. And that is the concept of service. A villain has his own pursuits, without regard for others. A mercenary sells his services to another. He postpones his personal pursuits in order to fulfill the pursuits of his contractor. He is a professional and proud of his professionalism, because it is his expertise that keeps him employed.

PKL:  That was quite clever how you turned yourself from villain to selfless servant in almost the same breath.

EHW:  And I am glad that you are recovering your sense of humour. So we have missionaries without religion and mercenaries without guns. Will we have misfits who fit in?

PKL:  Misfits are people who engage in humanitarian pursuits for personal rather than ideological or ethical reasons.

EHW:  Is that not like mercenaries?

PKL:  No, misfits aren’t necessarily in it for personal gain. Perhaps they want to travel abroad to escape a failed marriage. Or they feel guilty after a life spent as heartless capitalists.

EHW:  Or they find their lives boring or socially restrictive. Don’t think that even you are immune to misfit-ism, Mr. Pak. On the other hand, maybe they are simply pursuing adventure, or fame and adoration, or the meaning of life, or dreams of glory, or simply the need to feel needed — the need to make a difference at a personal rather than political or ideological or religious level.

PKL:  I understand what you are saying, but to be frank, I still don’t understand. How can anyone put pursuits like these before family, community and nation? I really don’t think I could ever become a “misfit”.

EHW:  [smiling] There are those who consider your country to be a misfit among nations.

PKL:  But that isn’t our desire. We have been excluded from the club of sycophant countries sucking up to the globalizing empire of the USA.

EHW:  [still smiling] “Sucking up”?! Did I teach you that language? But don’t let me slow you down. I am quite enjoying this recollection of our 3M discussions. And I should acknowledge that the idea of organizing the discussion into categories was entirely yours. What categories were there other than definition?

PKL:  I think I suggested level of competence, but we decided that this varies from person to person for all three. More important was what part of their work receives the focus of their attention. How does that alter their working style, and what that says about how they perceive their ultimate purpose. For example, you said missionaries think of themselves as righting wrongs. That is why they pay so much attention to defining, categorizing and cataloguing wrongs.

EHW:  Of course! Ambiguities are obstacles that need to be removed.

PKL:  “Their favoured strategy is to recruit allies by appealing to people’s emotions in order to mould public opinion in favour of whatever action they believe is necessary to correct whatever they are convinced is wrong with the world.”

EHW:  I recognize that sentence!

PKL:  I made you dictate that sentence while I wrote it in my notebook. Then I memorized it, word for word. Do you want me to say it again?

EHW:  No thank you, I’m embarrassed enough already. So then, mercenaries certainly differ from missionaries in that respect.

PKL:  Absolutely. These are professionals who do an excellent job in specific fields as long as they receive very clear directions. They are not particularly concerned about larger issues or even the ultimate purpose of what they are doing. They simply concentrate on achieving the best possible outcomes for their employers.

EHW:  And the misfits? I have known many of these. They often do very competent work. In fact, I have known misfits with genius-level IQs.

PKL:  Yes, but you will often find misfits cycling through a variety of employers, because they can’t easily integrate into communal settings or organizational structures. Misfits are an almost necessary by-product of individualistic capitalism.

EHW:  But you have to admit they can be very useful, doing jobs you and I would stay away from. Some are drawn to high-risk projects for the adrenaline rush, much like war correspondents or practitioners of extreme sports. Who else but misfits would be crazy enough to deliver food or medical help in war zones or disaster areas?

PKL:  Yes, and still others take on one cause after another, doing outrageous tricks to get as much media exposure as possible, thriving on a sense of their own importance and heroism.

EHW:  You’re not by any chance referring to a certain German doctor, are you?

PKL:  The next category was the extent to which the 3Ms think strategically. Obviously misfits who think only of themselves don’t really care what are the long-term consequences of what they are doing.

EHW:  Well, they might. For instance, they might disagree with the solutions offered by existing agencies. Maybe it’s precisely because of their long-term dreams of perfection that they can’t seem to fit into current inadequate structures.

PKL:  But mercenaries definitely do not engage in political or strategic analysis. They simply do as they’re told.

EHW:  Unless of course they were hired as strategic analysts. Missionaries, on the other hand, are all about ultimate outcomes.

PKL:  Yes, but that doesn’t mean they do any political or strategic analysis, unless it becomes useful as a way to strengthen their arguments. The language of missionaries is most often couched in mutually exclusive, moralistic terms. Which brings us to the last category: the ability to negotiate a practical compromise.

EHW:  Oh no! For missionaries compromise is capitulation, or worse, appeasement!  They don’t regard neutrality as very effective either. Negotiation is just a waste of time — or worse yet, a danger to their position.

PKL:  In contrast, misfits may compromise or form alliances at will.

EHW:  True. How otherwise would they be able to reinvent themselves for each subsequent employer?

PKL:  Mercenaries can be very good negotiators, but only for the sake of getting a job done. They do not like to compromise, but will do so if that is desired by their employers. What distinguishes misfits from both missionaries and mercenaries is their unwillingness or inability to maintain institutional loyalties.

EHW:  Which is all well and good — and really, this has been a lot of fun, and I’m flattered to think you may have actually learned something from my ramblings — but why are we discussing the 3Ms at this point of time? The heyday of more than a hundred relief workers resident in Pyongyang is over. Even the central pillar of UN agencies in Pyongyang — the UNDP — is a mere shadow of its former self, labouring under suspicion, suspension and inspection.

PKL:  Mr. Erich, before I can feel comfortable baring my soul to you, I need to know where is this conversation going to take me. Why are you interested in doing this?

EHW:  Doing this? Mr. Pak, we’ve been doing this for years. When I was Head of FALU, my job description included teaching DPRK officials about NGOs and teaching NGOs about the DPRK. Let’s face it; every activity undertaken by foreigners with the DPRK is a learning experience for both parties, whether or not the two sides are aware of it.

PKL:  Precisely my concern. I want to be aware of what I am getting into and for what purpose, or conversely, what ulterior motives. When I asked you — back in the glory days of FALU — which of the 3Ms you would choose to describe yourself, you thought “missionary” came closer than the others. And after you told me why, I thought perhaps I am a missionary as well. Do you remember what you told me?

EHW:  I can guess. Actually, I am often asked by Koreans — in the ROK and overseas as well — why as a German-Yugoslav-Canadian I am so involved with the DPRK. I probably told you my relationship with Korea began in the South. (My goodness, that all started thirty years ago!) Before your country’s famine, it was peace I was mainly concerned with — the danger that a new conflict in Korea would pose for the region, and likely the whole world. I hoped that international response to the famine would be an opportunity to sow the seeds of peace. I hoped that getting to know one another face to face would lead to more trust and more options, that learning about and from each other would expose a mutuality of interest that could eventually lead to a lasting peace.

PKL:  But that was years ago, and I think you will agree that finding common ground proved not to be so easy.

EHW:  Yes, but you warned me about that. You told me that your mission is also peace for your country, your community, your family. But peace cannot be won by the weak, you said. So your goal as a “missionary” was to make your country strong.

PKL:  So that we can become equal partners in peace! Yes, we were struggling to feed our people, and yes, we want to get international help with our economic development. But at the same time we are also struggling to protect our revolutionary heritage, for which our elders so heroically fought and died. And that is why I’m not sure I want to be a missionary any longer. You are quite right that our international converts (the ones you call “fellow travelers”) are few and far between, and mostly not very powerful. Come to think of it (Dare I say this?) most would probably fit into the “misfit” category. Maybe according to your “servant” clarification, I am really a sort of mercenary. Am I not a servant of my leader for the sake of my people?

EHW:  But a mercenary is in it for personal gain.

PKL:  Yes, but who can read the motivations of the heart? Compared with most of my compatriots, I lead a very pleasant and secure life. I have a really interesting job that allows me to travel overseas! I am even allowed to have this conversation with you. [laughs]

EHW:  There are other options than those represented by the 3Ms. These were never meant to be comprehensive. It was a joke, after all.

PKL:  Yes “self-deprecating” humour. But things are getting more serious now. Some of my business friends are getting all excited about the wealth that would become possible if sanctions were lifted and the DPRK could tap into IMF and World Bank money. But you know, for someone like me, who really does believe in our Great Leader Kim Il Sung’s Juche idea, I believe we are entering very precarious and complicated times. Ideological contamination is already a daily reality in our country. Whatever “development” we may face will mean new dangers for our system and ourselves as a people.

EHW:  There. You put your finger on it. Can’t you see how these interviews with you — and knowledge sharing in general — could be of tremendous benefit in that regard?

PKL:  Yes, I know. “Knowledge is power,” as you would say. And yes, we need your knowledge. But all the same, we’ve become painfully aware that your knowledge can be disruptive to our way of life. You cannot deny that there is a concerted effort to bring down our system. Haven’t you taught me that “there is no free lunch”? You are willing to send us food. Fine, but it comes with intrusive monitoring requirements. You say the reason is that you want to make sure that the right beneficiaries receive the food. That’s fine with me as well. But who is to guarantee that you aren’t really serving other interests? Even unknowingly? Interests that do not want peace with us?

EHW:  Is that why you keep interrogating me about my motivations?

PKL:  Mr. Erich, “money speaks”, is that not what you say? But the recipient is never the one who speaks. It’s the donor who has all the power. And since the recipient has no power, he has to be more vigilant than the giver. Is it not the same with knowledge? We study you and you study us. But that doesn’t mean there is a mutual interest. Why do we need to know? It is to protect our independence. It is to become more powerful, so that we can protect our country and our system. You on the other hand are eager to teach us so that you can discover our weaknesses and cause our downfall.

EHW:  I hope you didn’t mean me when you said “you”. Mr. Pak, let me clarify a couple of things: First, there are free lunches. For most of our subscribers, for example, the CanKor Report is a free lunch. Secondly, it isn’t just money that speaks. I have no money, but I do speak, and so do many people around the world who speak for justice and peace and development. And right here and now I am giving you the opportunity to speak as well. That’s what this interview is all about. As for my motivations, I am offering you an instrument to get your message out there, where it can do the most good!

PKL:  You keep ignoring the fact that I am a figment of your imagination! You’re the editor of CanKor, you’re the writer of this interview, and as much as you’d like me to think of you as some sort of selfless saint, you’re ultimately just

playing to your audience.

EHW:  Don’t we all do that? Why are you making this so difficult? I have already agreed that you may say anything you want, that you don’t have to say anything you don’t want, and that you can stop the interview anytime you feel it no longer serves your interests! Why don’t you just relax, and we’ll try again?

PKL:  [shrugs shoulders]

EHW:  Okay, let’s start where we left off the last time we spoke. The DPRK had just test-launched a multi-stage missile over the Sea of Korea. You said at the time you were not sure why your military had taken such a dramatic step. You wondered privately why things could not be resolved through negotiation rather than force. Three months later, the DPRK detonated an underground nuclear test. As of today, do you have any better understanding as to what motivated the DPRK to take these provocative steps?

PKL:  I’m sorry, Mr. Erich, but this interview is over.

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