The question consistently asked by journalists over the past weeks is whether the weeping and wailing that accompanied the death and funeral of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is the product of stage management or a genuine outpouring of grief. In other words, how real are the tears?
To our secular and cynical Western sensibilities, it seems inconceivable that a nation would be moved to tears at the death of what we believe to have been an evil tyrant who ate lobsters and caviar while his people starved, who squandered the nation’s wealth on nuclear weapons while soliciting humanitarian aid, who operated a network of brutal prison camps and kept the entire population isolated from the outside world. Why is there no nationwide rejoicing? Should we not see people dancing in the streets of Pyongyang? As is often the case when dealing with North Korea, our simplistic questions require more complex answers than time allows in journalistic interviews.
The way in which all humans respond to emotional events has a lot to do with our perception of history, politics, economics and the culture in which we are embedded. North Korea is not what we consider to be a modern, secular, capitalist society in which the individual reigns supreme. Although it describes itself as a revolutionary society, the DPRK is not revolutionary in the style of the French, the American or even the Russian revolutions. Kim Il Sung and his compatriots fought an anti-colonial struggle against foreign domination. There was never the sense of fighting against an indigenous corrupt or oppressive ruler, and North Korean propaganda continues to justify a “revolutionary” attitude and the need for a powerful military as one that is aimed against foreign domination. Read the rest of this entry »