Book #5: North Korea: Through The Looking Glass (by Kongdan Oh and Ralph Hassig) is only slightly dated, having been published in 2000. I really valued this book for the glimpse it gave me into North Korea. Unlike a lot of texts that seem to focus on the political-economic historythe kind of “master narrative” that doesn’t much describe daily life for the majority of real people except in very abstract termsthis book excavates a lot of things from the testimonies of North Korean defectors (I think of them more as refugees from a hellish unreality) as well as piles of scholars.
The picture that emerges reading this book is so endlessly sad, so powerfully Orwellian. I realize now that the Orwellian model of tyranny is a simplistic one, an adolescent version of oppression because it is so obvious, so simple, so stupid. North Korea is the only Orwellian state in the world, and INGSOC and its government are extremely difficult to differentiate. There is nothing mundane about the North Korean government, just as there is nothing Confucian or Communist or anything else about it. It is not a government, it is a hellish instantiation of selfishness and insanity, one that is aided and abetted by too many outsiders around the world.
The only problem is, it seems the Kims set things up well enough to make it so that nothing an outsider does fails to support their tyranny over their people. They seized upon a population at a very critical transitional point in history, when a group of peasants who had just been under a long-held colonial occupation, and they cut them off from the rest of the world, radically. It is as if they would have hidden the stars from the sky if they could have. It is as if they already have cut off the stars, and the light of the sun, too, from the eyes of the people if not their failing crops.
This book will make you absolutely hate Kim Jong Il, and the North Korean regime; and so this book is good for you.
(By the way, my claiming North Korea is the only Orwellian state in the world is not an apologia for Bush and his minions. It’s just that, as I read in a book review of 1984 lately, the book was brilliant, and yet it was not a guide to the full gamut of political horror. The great condemnatory book of modern Western politics, perhaps, has yet to be written, or at the very least it has yet to be read by me.)