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Hitch reads Myers on North Korea

February 3, 2010

The internet is a fast beast, a frightening, ruthless thing. I am, alas, a languid and lazy blogger, not quite shark enough for these waters, and so it is that I’m two days late with this. It’s already done the rounds at proper Korean blogs like The Marmot’s Hole and has even been posted on a popular social networking site by a friend of mine. Nevertheless I reproduce it here as a longtime fan of Christopher Hitchens and a regular reader of his Fighting Words column at Slate online magazine.

The mighty Hitch has been reading a new book on North Korea, The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B.R. Myers

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. The analogies to Confucianism are glib, and such parallels with it as can be drawn are intended by the regime only for the consumption of outsiders. 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.

All of us who scrutinize North Korean affairs are preoccupied with one question. Do these slaves really love their chains? The conundrum has several obscene corollaries. The people of that tiny and nightmarish state are not, of course, allowed to make comparisons with the lives of others, and if they complain or offend, they are shunted off to camps that—to judge by the standard of care and nutrition in the “wider” society—must be a living hell excusable only by the brevity of its duration. But race arrogance and nationalist hysteria are powerful cements for the most odious systems, as Europeans and Americans have good reason to remember. Even in South Korea there are those who feel the Kim Jong-il regime, under which they themselves could not live for a single day, to be somehow more “authentically” Korean.

Sounds like an intriguing book. I have a substantial backlog of reading to do on both Koreas but I wouldn’t mind getting to this new one eventually. Anyway, to make up for being late with the above I will provide some bonus Hitchens, a video no less, of him speaking about his visit to North Korea.

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