North of the DMZ

Just in case $4.xx/gallon gas and the seemingly interminable and insurmountable problems in Junior’s Iraq weren’t causing you enough headaches,  Andrei Lankov– a professor of Korean history and politics at the Australian National University has written a distinctive and eye opening book about the realities of daily life in North Korea.    I have to confess that apart from occasionally shelving the Korean collection at the library and having once upon a time watched the television show M*A*S*H to the point of total immersion,   I know very little about either of the Koreas.    And precious little scholarship exists about current day North Korea,  despite the heavy coverage of Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program and the vague and ultimately empty threats from Washington.   So this 2007 trade paperback caught my eye at the circulation and I brought it home and learned a bit about North Korea.

It is, to be honest, rather frightening.   I was actually shocked to learn that all education in North Korea is taught with what can only be described as a virulently anti-American bias,  even in such seemingly neutral areas as math.    It was also interesting to learn about North Korea’s very primative communications infrastructure through which the ruling Communist Party has acheived a level of propagandic exclusivity far, far beyond anything acheived by the Soviet Communists during their time in power.   Most all homes in North Korea are wired to "cable radio",   a very simple system (the reciever is merely a speaker with an on/off/volume control.  Also,  radios and televisions sold in North Korea are required to be altered so that they can not receive any but the official broadcasts.    According to Lankov,  this informaion embargo is becoming less and less successful as time goes by and North Koreans increasingly hear messages and points of view outside of the officially issued ones.

In the end, Lankov concludes that the ruling Kim regime will eventually give way to the forces of outside change but is very pessimistic as to the prospects this will bring to the North Korean people,  who live in a society broken into to 50-some-odd different "cliques" or levels which are largely hereditary (sonbung).    Lankov,  who is originally from Leningrad,  Russia,  strongly suggests that the topple of the Kim regime will leave these people still bound by these hereditary cliques and largely ruled by the same people as now,  who will merely be spouting some very different ideology.     Overall,  I found this a fascinating glimpse into a very, very foreign culture and for me, at least, a bit of education about the history of Korea.   To anyone who would like to better understand the realities of North Korea, North of the DMZ  is Highly Recommended.