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North Korea's state-loyalty advantage.

Although North Korea's northern border remains easy to cross, and North Koreans are now well aware of the prosperity enjoyed south of the demilitarized zone, Kim Long Il continues to rule over a stable and supportive population. Kim enjoys mass support due to his perceived success in strengthening the race and humiliating its enemies. Thanks in part to decades of skillful propaganda, North Koreans generally equate the race with their state, so that ethno-nationalism and state-loyalty are mutually enforcing. In this respect North Korea enjoys an important advantage over its rival, for in the Republic of Korea ethnonationalism militates against support for a state that is perceived as having betrayed the race. South Koreans' "good race, bad state" attitude is reflected in widespread sympathy for the people of the North and in ambivalent feelings toward the United States and Japan, which are regarded as friends of the republic but enemies of the race. But North Korea cannot survive forever on the public perception of state legitimacy alone. The more it loses its economic distinctiveness vis-a-vis the rival state, the more the Kim regime must compensate with triumphs on the military and nuclear fronts. Another act of aggression against the Republic of Korea may well take place in the months ahead, not only to divert North Korean public attention from the failures of the consumer-oriented "Strong and Prosperous Country" campaign, but also to strengthen the appeasement-minded South Korean opposition in the run-up to the presidential election in 2012.


For all its problems, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) enjoys one significant advantage over its rival to the south. North Koreans identify strongly with their nation (race) and their state, between which they appear to make little distinction, while in South Korea loyalty to the race militates against state-loyalty. (1) Awareness of the difference between the two Koreas can help us understand not only the overbearing confidence that Pyongyang displays when dealing with Seoul, even when requesting aid, but also the apathy with which the South Korean public has responded to acts of North Korean aggression in recent years.

In South Korea, citizens' reluctance to identify with the state is a common topic of discussion among conservatives. (2) In the United States, however, even Korea watchers tend to overlook it entirely. The general assumption in Washington is that if one of the two Koreas can count on its people in a crunch, it is the Republic of Korea (ROK). This assumption rests on a misperception of North Korea as a communist state that has failed even on its own terms. Also at work is a confusion of South Korean nationalism with patriotism, as evidenced in international press references to the ROK's "patriotic" sports fans. (3) This derives from the common tendency of native English speakers, including many political scientists, to use the words "state" and "nation" interchangeably--as Koreans do not. (4) We must therefore distinguish clearly between Korean nationalism, which is a sense of proud identification with the Korean race, and South or North Korean patriotism, i.e., loyalty to the respective state as a political entity. For clarity's sake I will resort to a redundant but common prefix and discuss ethno-nationalism. First, however,

I must take issue with the current consensus in regard to North Korea's longevity.

The perception of the DPRK as a Stalinist or hard-line communist holdout surviving by dint of exceptional totalitarianism still features in some journalism and Western conservative scholarship, but it seems to be waning, not least because it is now so easy (if still illegal) for North Koreans to cross the border or to telephone outsiders. (5) Far more popular nowadays is the notion that the DPRK owes much of its stability and longevity to its popular success in adapting communism to indigenous Korean traditions. Much is made of the Confucian tradition in particular; even such things as "respect for hierarchy and the elevated status of the ruler" are confidently attributed to it, as if they were not common to all dictatorships. (6) But if indigenousness were the key to state longevity on the peninsula, the Japanese would not have taken Korea so easily in 1910. Take it they did, of course, and their propaganda soon reached far more Koreans than had ever heard of the ancient sages. Even if the avowedly anti-Confucian Kim Il Sung had revived this pre-colonial tradition when launching the DPRK in 1948, there is no reason why it should have won him the support of the North Korean masses.

Like the Stalinist model, the indigenization model takes too little account of the DPRK's ruling ideology, according to which Koreans are a uniquely virtuous race that needs a parental leader's protection to survive in an evil world. (7) This race theory is at variance with all Korean traditions; not for nothing did the national language lack a word for race until modern times. Nor is there anything distinctly Confucian about the North Korean personality cult. Revered as a motherly, nurturing figure on the side of "pure" racial instincts, Kim II Sung was always a less Confucian dictator than his didactic, parochial counterparts in Eastern Europe. The likeliest source for North Korea's ideology is the Japanese fascism that most of Kim Il Sung's cultural officials had been propagating before the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945, and to a more receptive audience than Koreans now admit. Less important than its origins, however, is the fact that it anchors the DPRK on the far right of the ideological spectrum. I do not make this distinction for its own sake. Far-right states derive mass support from the perception of their success in dealing with internal or external enemies; economic matters, though certainly important, do not bear directly on state legitimacy as they do in far-left states. To misperceive the DPRK as a communist state--either of the Stalinist or indigenized kind--is therefore to misunderstand and miscalculate its behavior.

I often encounter resistance to this point when lecturing to American audiences. Conservatives do not want communism let off the hook for creating this state, and liberals do not want Washington let off the hook for bullying it. Politically correct college students object to the attribution of racism to non-whites. State Department officials, for their part, know that the perception of North Korea as a country much like our Eastern European adversaries in the late Cold War will better sustain public faith in a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis.

So it is that I can talk for an hour on North Korean race propaganda, only to be chided during the question-and-answer session for overlooking the "nationalism" inherent in Stalin's "Socialism in One Country" policy. This is a prime example of the terminological confusion discussed above. Putting one's multiethnic state first is not the same as propagating a race theory. My work has been faulted by one reviewer for downplaying the fact that "there was plenty of xenophobia and racism in Mao's China." (8) Let me highlight the fact, then, that a mistrust of outsiders--as manifested by and in states for thousands of years--is very different from an ideology asserting that one uniquely pure race is morally superior to all others. Such thinking was by no means the norm even in European fascism. It runs directly counter to Marx. In any case, the regime excised the last mention of communism from its constitution in 2009 and enshrined "military-first thought" there instead. The burden of proof now rests with those who attribute to the DPRK an ideology to which it no longer even pays lip service.

Not all far-right states are alike any more than all far-left ones are, and to apply the fascist or Hitlerian label to North Korea would be grossly misleading. Nevertheless, the examples of imperial Japan and Nazi Germany offer insight into the DPRK's longevity. They attest to how well an ethno-nationalist state can link itself in the public mind with the race and thereby maintain class-transcending support even through difficult times.


The DPRK derives its legitimacy from the myth that the anti-Japanese hero Kim Il Sung was all right-thinking citizens' choice as the man to found and lead the new Korea after liberation in 1945. (9) Until the mid-1960s the USSR was credited with defeating Japan, but since then propaganda has claimed that Kim and his guerillas freed the race on their own. That this is known to be untrue by those who lived through the time is of minor importance. The painful historical reality of mass collaboration (and the military insignificance of all armed Korean resistance to colonial rule) is precisely what made the Kim myth so attractive. It has been reinforced for decades by a propaganda apparatus that is now one of the most experienced in world history. Small wonder that even today North Koreans blink back tears--as my driver did on my last trip to the DPRK in June 2011--when speaking of their "Eternal President." The Kim myth identifies the regime with the state, just as it links the state to the race. We tend to focus on the fact that Kim Jong Il is less highly regarded than his father, and average citizens may indeed draw a stronger distinction between regime and state than they did before. But their enduring love for the republic's founder shows that while the DPRK may have many problems, public doubt in the legitimacy of the state is not yet one of them. (10)

According to official myth, the DPRK is both a young revolutionary state and the only true representative of the five-thousand-year-old race. (11) Although the unity of state and nation is stressed, the former was conceived to inspire loyalty as a political entity in its own right. Thus did the DPRK readily cede to its rival the old yin-yang flag in favor of a new flag with a red socialist star. The DPRK's emblem or seal, a star shining over a hydroelectric dam, also eschews racial symbolism for the state-political kind. (These flags and emblems are reproduced in the "Images" section of this issue on page 237.) The state's founding on 9 September 1948 is a public holiday commemorated annually with great pomp and expenditure. Newscasters proudly intone the full name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on the evening news. Even the shortened form "our republic" is pronounced with great dramatic affect.

In Eastern-bloc countries, the party was known to be above the state both formally and in practice, which led the latter's prestige to fall irrevocably with the former's. (12) The Third Reich, in contrast, held onto mass loyalty long after public alienation from a Nazi Party that in reality had never played more than an adjunct function. (13) The preamble to the DPRK constitution claims that the republic is "under the leadership of the Workers' Party," but no party body is known to dictate to the National (lit. State) Defense Commission, the highest state organ, which Kim Jong Il chairs. It is telling that among his many titles, that of general secretary of the Workers' Party (WP) is used least often. Instead he is the leader, general, supreme commander or National Defense Commission chairman. Though Kim Jong Un holds a party post of his own, the heir apparent is referred to in his budding personality cult by his military title of "general," or taejang.

In addition to these factors, the extreme infrequency and brevity of WP conferences and the disparity between the WP hierarchy and the real command structure (a constant irritant to Beijing, which maintains party-to-party relations with Pyongyang) point to the party's lower status vis-a-vis the state than in other communist countries. Similarly, its official nickname "the Mother Party"--though powerfully affective--is hardly indicative of primacy over the state. The conclusion is inescapable that like the Nazi Party, the WP is little more than the state's liaison with the masses, its main functions being to propagandize, snoop and report. (14) Ethno-nationalism's great simplicity prevents the WP from posing, communist-party-like, as an indispensable interpreter of theory. As workers stray from their units to make money, after-work party lectures are ever less faithfully attended. We know from copies of the lectures smuggled out of the DPRK that they consist of crude propaganda, much of it of the especially bellicose and anti-South Korean kind that the regime, for obvious reasons, prefers to keep out of the official media. (15)

The Kim Il Sung myth firmly establishes the legitimacy of the state and its form of government. The propaganda apparatus can thus focus its effort on bolstering support for Kim Jong Il and his putative successor. In June 2011 I saw roadside signs congratulating the masses on having been "blessed with a Leader [i.e., Kim Il Sung], blessed with a General [i.e., Kim Jong Il], blessed with a Young General [i.e., Kim long Un]." (16) Though the last two are not named in the constitution, they are directly enshrined in Articles 3 and 59 through the code-phrase "military-first policy," which is associated with their rule.

This policy first emerged between 1995 and 1997, a time characterized by both a famine and the most relaxed period in the history of Washington-Pyongyang relations. In other words, it was more a matter of putting a heroic spin on the economic collapse than of responding to a sudden security crisis. The American threat was nonetheless hyped, even as the Clinton administration's aid poured in. The shift to a military-first state preserved Kim Jong Il's charisma through the Arduous March of the 1990s and the partial dismantling of his father's command economy. Unfortunately for Kim, however, there is no going back; North Koreans will not revert to thanking him for what they now earn by bending or breaking the law. Many people evidently believe that their livelihood is by definition none of the military-first state's business. In August 2011, South Korean television broadcast video of a security official shooing away unlicensed vendors, surreptitiously filmed near a state-sanctioned Pyongyang market. As they finally disperse, one woman retorts: "The state (kukka) can't solve the problem for us, so what's the big deal? Do you have to chase away people trying to make a little money?" (17)

The woman's words reflect a decline in the state's authority but do not call its legitimacy into question, which is why she was not hauled away. The black market flourished in military-first Japan in the face of far more serious efforts to stamp it out, but sellers and buyers proved abundantly loyal to the state when put to the test. For similar reasons, public awareness of the South's standard of living does not present as great a problem for the Kim long II regime as West Germany's Wirtschaftswunder posed for the materialist East. To a far-right state, autonomy and strength are what matters. (18) Although it has been about thirty years since South Korea's economy pulled ahead and over a decade since average North Koreans learned how well people live in "the neighborhood down there," as they informally call it, the DPRK still manages to get away with envisioning its own prosperity in the future. The northern border remains easy to cross and punishment for most escape attempts is a few months in a low-security facility, yet the country is not hemorrhaging people. Its population is growing, in fact, and at a faster rate than South Korea's. (19)

This is not to say that the regime in Pyongyang is secure. The leader must prove himself the heroic and legitimate successor to the state's founder and justify his continued focus on military matters by constantly creating tension and conflict with South Korea. The Eastern-bloc solution of putting a dispirited population under surveilled lockdown is beyond the DPRK's meager resources; it would also bring the unofficial economy--the only one still functioning--to a screeching halt. Though not the head of a fascist regime, Kim is now in the classic fascist situation of needing victories over the enemy, or at least displays of superiority over it, in order to maintain mass support. Hence, all efforts to induce the regime to disarm, whether they take the form of carrots or sticks, will prove futile. But to understand the DPRK's longevity and viability, it is not enough to grasp that it is no East Germany; one must also understand that South Korea is no West Germany either.


Ruling from the ancient capital over twice as many people as his North Korean counterpart, the ROK's first president Syngman Rhee saw little need for state building. The strength of the republic's claim to have inherited the ancient Korean state would, he thought, suffice to keep citizens loyal to it. This complacency induced him to promulgate the ROK on 15 August 1948, the anniversary of Japan's defeat. Ever since, the republic's founding has gone virtually un-commemorated in Liberation Day festivities, so that many South Koreans are uncertain even of the year it took place. (The race's legendary founding in 2333 BCE, on the other hand, is remembered on its own national holiday in October.) Judging from the yin-yang flag's universal popularity in South Korea, even among those who deny the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea, it evidently evokes the race first and the state second. There is therefore none of the parodying or deliberate desecration of the state flag that one encounters in the countercultures of other countries. The national anthem conveys no republican ideals at all, referring only to the ancient race and homeland. The dictator Park Chung Hee (1961 to 1979) was no less wary than Syngman Rhee of vaunting republican values that he might actually be held to. The state emblem (adopted in 1963) is a yin-yang symbol on a rose of Sharon--another purely racial symbol. (See page 237.) Even when a pledge to the flag was finally introduced in 1972, it spoke only of loyalty to the homeland and the race, not to the ROK. (20)

How, one may ask, did Park and his successor Chun Doo Hwan (1980 to 1988) maintain public hostility to the DPRK in such a climate? They did so by denying the North's legitimacy on ethno-nationalist grounds, i.e., for being a Soviet lackey beholden to a foreign ideology. The very name North Korea was thought to have too much of the race in it; "Northern Puppet" was preferred. Kim Il Sung was defamed as a Soviet-trained impostor, a man who had merely assumed the name and illustrious record of a real guerilla hero. Because live-action propaganda required the casting of South Korean actors in enemy roles, the regime in Seoul preferred to lampoon Kim and his cadres in animated films as pigs, monkeys or horned, red monsters. (21) Teachers encouraged children to make their own vituperative posters; not surprisingly, the "reds" were quite literally given red skins. (Many older citizens remember thinking the North Koreans really looked like this.) Despite or perhaps because of its crudeness, this denial of the enemy's Korean-ness was effective propaganda, at least for as long as the ROK public knew nothing of the rival state. (22)

With the onset of democratization in the late 1980s, media coverage of the DPRK became less hostile and the public realized the extent to which it had hitherto been patronized and deceived; the North was no Soviet lackey, but a more radically ethno-nationalist state than the South itself. These years also saw the popular triumph of revisionist scholars and novelists, who put over a new canard of their own: the DPRK, it was claimed, had rigorously "purged" itself of pro-Japanese elements before its founding. The American historian Bruce Cumings exerted a great influence on students at the time. Especially influential was his assertion that the North had secured mass legitimation honestly in the late 1940s due to its superior ethno-nationalist credentials, whereas the ROK government had been tainted by having ex-collaborators in its employ. (23)

In fact we must beware of assuming that Koreans in the late 1940s were as anti-Japanese as they are today. Contemporary accounts of the consternation with which the working classes reacted to Japanese emperor Hirohito's surrender are at variance with the now-orthodox notion of a whole peninsula wildly celebrating its liberation. (24) In any case, Syngman Rhee's long campaign for Korean independence had posed a more serious problem for Japan than Kim II Sung's Manchurian raids in the 1930s. Kim had cheerfully sat out the Pacific War (1941 to 1945) as a Red Army officer in the USSR, a neutral country until days before liberation; the public may well have been glad to know that he had not been firing on conscripted Koreans instead. (25) As for his regime, it had more than its own share of ex-collaborators in plum posts. With its militaristic personality cult, its passion for regimentation and industrialization and its anti-Confucian, anti-Christian, anti-American rhetoric, the DPRK probably signaled greater continuity with the colonial order than did Rhee's starchy patrimonial government. This would explain why so many intellectual ex-collaborators headed north even as the entrepreneurial ones were fleeing south. (26)

Having let the ROK military put over its version of events for so long, South Koreans thought it only fair for the academic left to have a turn; there was no appetite for information that did not turn the old propaganda on its head. The moralistic opposition of tainted South versus pure North dealt a blow to the public's state-loyalty, which had not been all that strong in the first place, and it has yet to recover. Despite the ensuing expansion of freedoms and human rights and the collapse of the North's economy, the ROK today is still judged by ethnonationalist standards and found wanting. Books with titles like Questioning the Legitimacy of the Republic of Korea are part of the mainstream academic discourse. (27) School textbooks advance a moralizing two-track version of South Korean history that credits the race for all good things (like the economic "Miracle on the Han River"), while chalking up all disgraceful-seeming things (like the normalization of ROK-Japan relations that kicked off that miracle) to the tainted state. (28) The effect of such teachings can be imagined. The following is an excerpt from the history professor Kim II-yong's contribution to a published roundtable discussion in 2006:
   I sometimes ask my students when they feel the state in their
   lives. The answer is: when they have to go to the army, or when
   they get a ticket for breaking the law while driving, or when they
   have to pay taxes. In short they feel the state at most as an
   assaulting force. Otherwise they barely feel it at all. (29)

The pledge to the flag was amended in 2007; schoolchildren now declare loyalty not to the homeland and the race but to a "free and just Republic of Korea." Although the change was inspired by the increase in multiethnic households, not by the drive to bolster state-patriotism per se, the left-wing media objected that the new oath "runs the high risk of calling forth violent and exclusive state-ism [kukkajuui]." (30) Such a risk was and remains low. A poll taken in 2007 found that of respondents in forty-seven countries, South Koreans registered the third-lowest level of satisfaction with their country; only Palestine and Lebanon were less well regarded by their citizens. (31) A year earlier, a poll had found that only 10 percent of South Korean schoolchildren expressed readiness to defend the ROK in case of war. (32) This lack of patriotism is indirectly reflected in attitudes toward the United States, which due to its hostility to the North is perceived by many as the republic's ally but the race's enemy. In early 2008, a poll of cadets at the ROK's version of West Point found that slightly more of them (34 percent) considered the United States to be South Korea's "main enemy" than perceived North Korea that way (33 percent). (33)

On 26 March 2010, a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel, killing forty-six sailors. Even before a conspiracy theory emerged to exonerate the DPRK of all involvement, there was no public show of outrage except from bereaved relatives and the geriatric military-veteran right. The mainstream consensus was that if the DPRK had sunk the ship, the Lee Myung Bak administration was just as much to blame, having adopted a provocatively hard-line policy toward the Kim regime. When President Lee responded to the attack by suspending dialogue with the North along with all bilateral aid, the left criticized him for heightening tension on the peninsula. (34) This view gained traction until the left's resounding victory in regional elections in June 2010.

On 23 November 2010, the DPRK attacked the South again, this time with an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island near Incheon. Two ROK soldiers were quickly reported killed. An American radio reporter who took to Seoul's city center that night found the locals far from angry or distraught; when asked how they felt about the news, a group of businessmen laughed tipsily. (35) Only after two civilians were also reported dead did the public mood shift to one harshly critical of the North. These deaths made the incident more than a mere state-versus-state affair, but there ensued no popular protests against the bombardment, and public anger had largely dissipated within a week. The government's effort to show resolve by conducting military exercises in early December 2010 was widely criticized in the press and sparked demonstrations by self-styled peace protesters. In April 2011, the first regional elections to take place after the attack resulted in another victory for parties advocating a softer line toward the North. (36) While campaigning for the Seoul mayoral by-election in October 2011, Park Won-soon, the left-wing candidate, ascribed much of the blame for the Cheonan sinking to the South Korean president, saying, "By inciting the North, the Lee Myung Bak administration brought about the unjust deaths at sea of forty-six sailors." Although conservative politicians and journalists responded angrily, the statement had no discernible effect on Park's strong standing in the polls. (37) Park won the election on 26 October.

In contrast to North Korea's deadly military attacks, which are registered as offenses against the mere state, Japan's formal reiterations of its claim to the disputed Liancourt Rocks are felt as grave offenses against the race and responded to accordingly, with sustained and angry media attention, street demonstrations, the burning of Japanese lawmakers in effigy, the abuse and killing of animals meant to symbolize the hated country and even the occasional self-maiming or suicide. In 2006, then-president Roh dispatched twenty gunships toward the Liancourt Rocks in response to the Japanese government's plans for a seabed survey in the vicinity. (38) No public voices of restraint are heard during these roughly biannual excesses.

For all this, the element of cant and affectation in South Korean ethnonationalism should not be overlooked. The country's unequaled passion for imported brand-name goods, including Japanese ones, speaks for itself. More to the point, most South Koreans had no desire even to visit North Korea during the Sunshine Policy years when such trips were still possible, and outright defections are now almost unheard of. The public opposes unification in the foreseeable future just as it opposes a renewal of massive aid for Pyongyang, the conspicuously state-centric logic being that the ROK should take care of its own first. For comparable reasons, ethnic Koreans from poorer countries who settle in South Korea often feature in media reports as foreigners up to no good. The cynical observer might well conclude that South Koreans' loyalty vacillates between abstract race and concrete state depending on which of the two seems less likely to demand real sacrifices, but most citizens readily send their sons off to a full two years of military service. The lack of state-loyalty in the ROK is thus a more complex and nuanced affair than it might appear to be. The problem is that the Kim long Il regime can he relied upon to take it at face value.


The DPRK has always interpreted South Korean disunity or unrest in accordance with its own ideology, i.e., that most South Koreans are hostile to the "Yankee colony." Kim Il Sung initiated the invasion of the ROK in 1950 with the expectation that the South Korean masses would rise up and seize the provinces on his behalf--hence his fateful decision to let his troops cool their heels in Seoul for three days. (39) Although the hoped-for uprising failed to materialize, enough South Koreans defected to or supported the DPRK side to nurture Kim's hope for a pro-North revolution in the ROK. In 1961, after years of South Korean unrest ended in Park Chung Hee's coup, Kim sounded out his Eastern-bloc allies to see if they would approve another invasion. (40) Later attempts to assassinate Park Chung Hee (in 1968 and 1974) and Chun Doo Hwan (in 1983) were intended to trigger a popular revolt that would bring down the ROK entirely.

The North's consistent emphasis on unification reflects an unflagging confidence in South Koreans' willingness to live under its flag. The German scholar Robert Schwarz has contrasted it with the East German state's reluctance to talk of such things: "It is only logical that the higher one assesses their own chances of

dominating the partner after national unification, the more firmly one would insist on [it]." (41) Unification remains "the supreme task of the nation," as the preamble of the latest version of the DPRK constitution puts it. Most foreign observers assume that since the country's economy collapsed in the 1990s, this goal must merely be a pro forma one. They fail to realize that the North's crisis began at roughly the same time as South Koreans lost faith in the legitimacy of their own state. It has been over twenty years since a South Korean president contested the DPRK's right to exist with any degree of forcefulness or public support. After two attacks on ROK territory the media in Seoul still refer to Kim long Il as National (lit. State) Defense Commission chairman, a title implicitly acknowledging the legitimacy of both the DPRK and its militarism. (42) Should we be surprised that the North responds by vilifying the "traitor Lee Myung Bak" as "human scum"? (43)

If anything, the military-first era has brought more daily emphasis on routing the Americans and their "puppets." Granted, this may well result from the simple need to justify the military-first policy. A leader whose prestige derives almost exclusively from military affairs must give his people military victories. Even this interpretation forces us to expect at least more acts of aggression or displays of strength, which at some point may well trigger a war that the DPRK does not want. However, there is reason to believe that the deterioration of the information cordon that once surrounded the DPRK has made its interest in unification stronger than ever. The problem is not South Koreans' material prosperity, which a far-right regime has ways of spinning, but their indifference to the "Dear Leader" and the entire DPRK. Simply put, the ethno-nationalist personality cult cannot indefinitely survive North Koreans' growing awareness that their southern brethren barely notice it. Nor can the Kim regime forever motivate its citizens to make material sacrifices in order to liberate the "Yankee colony." South Koreans may want the DPRK to go on and on, as polls seem to indicate, but their republic remains the Kim regime's most urgent security threat regardless.

The DPRK is highly unlikely to risk war with the United States by launching an all-out assault on the ROK as it did in 1950. It has a better chance of fulfilling the "supreme task of the nation" in stages, bullying the South first into resuming unconditional aid and making symbolic tributes, then into some form of confederation, then power sharing and so on. The North is all the more likely to see the viability of such a strategy now, after two attacks on the ROK have been followed by two regional election victories for the appeasement-minded left. Whether considerations of inter-Korean relations played a decisive role in voters' minds is beside the point. We must assume that Kim Jong Il was ideologically predisposed to agree with the international media consensus that they did. (44)

In South Korea it is considered a low blow to describe any party as North Korea's choice, just as it was thought unfair in West Germany to say that East Berlin was rooting for the Social Democrats. But we now know that it was indeed "the declared intention of the Ministry of State Security" to do all it could to put or keep the West German left in power. (45) This entailed, inter alia, presenting East Germany as the force for peace in central Europe. But Kim long Il cannot "play nice" in the run-up to the ROK's next presidential election in 2012 without appearing to reward President Lee's approach to inter-Korean relations. As counterintuitive as it may sound to Americans unfamiliar with South Korean ethno-nationalism, the DPRK can more effectively strengthen South Korean parties sympathetic to the North by seeking conflict with the ROK. It is perhaps only right and proper that such considerations should not be given too much attention in the South Korean political discourse. It would be foolish for the ROK's main ally, however, not to prepare for another act of North Korean aggression in the year ahead. South Korea's state-loyalty problem is now Washington's problem too.


(1) I first discussed South Korea's lack of loyalty to the state in a luncheon lecture entitled "The Unloved Republic" (Asia Society Korea Branch, Seoul, 14 September 2010).

(2) The spirit of national cooperation and solidarity that the Japanese demonstrated in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami gave rise to renewed laments about the lack of such spirit among South Koreans by conservative commentators such as Yi Sang-jin, a member of the Citizens' Alliance for the Exposure of Anti-State Education. Yi Sang-jin, "3.11 ilbon taejijin eso poyojun ilbonin ui chilso uisik e pich'wobon hanguk kyouk ui kwaje" [The task facing Korean education has been made apparent by the sense of order displayed by Japanese in the March 11 earthquake], Chosun (blog), 9 April 2011, I&listType=2&from=&to=&curPage=1l&logId=5452067; Yi Yonghun, Taehan min'guk iyagi [Talking about the Republic of Korea] (Seoul: Kip'arang, 2007).

(3) Jeremy Laurence, "South Koreans rejoice after painful 10-year Olympic wait," Reuters, 6 July 2011.

(4) Walker Connor, Ethnonationalism: The Quest for Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 40.

(5) Andrei Lankov, "North Korea has for decades worked hard to take Stalinism to its logical extremes," Asia Times, 23 September 2011; "N. Korea tells UN rival South seeking 'road to war'," Agence France-Presse, 27 September 2011; B. R. Myers, The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves--And Why It Matters (New York: Melville House, 2010), 53-54; Kim Young-jin, "Online newspaper notes more change in NK," Korea Times, 19 September 2011.

(6) Jim Hoare, foreword to Human Rights Discourse in North Korea: Post-Colonial, Marxist and Confucian Perspectives, by Jiyoung Song (New York: Routledge, 2011), xiv.

(7) Charles Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 4.

(8) Charles Armstrong, "Trends in the Study of North Korea," Journal of Asian Studies 70, no. 2 (May 2011): 361.

(9) The Soviet occupation is of course not mentioned. It is asserted that Kim spent three years bringing together all social and political groups before founding the DPRK in 1948. See, for example, the entry on Kim Il Sung in Chosontaebaekkwa sajon [Great Korean encyclopedia], 1:3-17; Myers, The Cleanest Race, 95-96.

(10) In contrast, the ROK's first president, Syngman Rhee, remains a deeply unpopular figure among South Koreans.

(11) The personality cult's increasingly common use of the phrase "Mount Paektu bloodline" is an especially topical example of the unceasing effort to link the Kims with the founder of the race, who is believed to have been born on the mountain. "Choson inmin'gunch'anggon 79-tol kyongchuk chungangpogodaehoe" [Central report assembly to congratulate the Korean People's Army on the seventy-ninth anniversary of its creation], Korean Central News Agency, 24 April 2011. The entry on Korean history in the official encyclopedia underscores the fundamental continuity of the ancient and modern Korean states, not least by puffing up Pyongyang's historical importance ar Seoul's expense and by attributing heroic feats to Kim Il Sung's ancestors. Chosontaebaekkwa sajon [Great Korean encyclopedia], 18:118-93.

(12) Hannelore Offner and Klaus Schroeder, Eingegrenzt-Ausgegrenzt: Bildende Kunst und Parteiherrschaft in der DDR [Hemmed In-Excluded: Visual Arts and Party Rule in the GDR] (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2000), 50-51.

(13) Kurt Patzold and Manfred Weissbecker, Geschichte der NSDAP: 1920-1945 [History of the NSDAP: 1920-1945] (Cologne: Papyrossa, 2009), 489.

(14) Ibid., 314.

(15) An example is the lecture published by the Workers' Party in brochure form in 2005 under the title "Isaekjogin saenghwal p'ungjorul yup'o sik'inun chokdurui ch'aekdongul ch'olchohi chitbusilde taehayo" [On thoroughly stamping out the enemies' scheme to spread unusual ways of life]. The lecture was smuggled out of the country and handed to a refugee group, which passed it on to an American journalist, who gave me a copy.

(16) I have taken the liberty of translating taejang as "young general," though it literally means four-star general, both because that attribute is often stuck before the word taejang in the relevant propaganda and because I need to distinguish the younger man's title from his father's. The literal English translation might be wrongly interpreted to mean that Gen. Kim long Il is of lower rank than his son. Translating Kim Jong Il's title as "marshal" would perhaps be a more precise way to distinguish the two, though the suggestion made my minders in Pyongyang nervous.

(17) "Puk, singnyangnan sok P'yongyang kotkot sijang hwalbal" [In the North, vibrant markets here and there in Pyongyang in the midst of a food shortage], KBS News Nine, 10 August 2011,

(18) Otto-Ernst Schuddekopf, Linke Leute von Rechts [Left-Wing People of the Right] (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1960), 216.

(19) The CIA Warld Factbook as of October 2011 estimates North Korea's population growth rate at 0.538 percent, more than twice the South's estimated rate of 0.230 percent.

(20) The full text of the pledge is available on the website of the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Public Administration and Security, wn.jsp?cat=bonbu/chief&menu=chief_06_04_02_sub02.

(21) In a preface to her new book, Suk-Young Kim recalls watching these horrifying films as a child. Suk-Young Kim, Illusive Utopia (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), vii.

(22) As late as 1986 my friends in Seoul failed to recognize the DPRK flag; one guessed Texas, having heard of the Lone Star State.

(23) Bruce Cumings, "The Legacy of Japanese Colonialism in Korea," The Japanese Colonial Empire, ed. Ramon H. Myers and Mark R. Peattie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 496.

(24) Kim Il-yong et al., "Haebang chonhusa ui saeroun chip'yong" [A new horizon in the history of the years before and after liberation], Haebang chonhusa ui chaeinsik 2 lA reappraisal of the history of the years before and after liberation 2] (Seoul: Ch'aeksesang, 2006), 625. Yi T'ae-jun's autobiographical short story also describes bus passengers' gloomy reaction to the news. "Haebang chonhu" [Before and After Liberation] (1946), in Yi T'ae-jun munhak sonjip [Selected literary works of Yi T'ae-jun] (Seoul: Kip'unsaem, 1995), 3:13-52.

(25) Andrei Lankov, From Stalin to Kim li Sung: The Formation of North Korea 1945-1960 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 57.

(26) B.R. Myers, The Cleanest Race, 31-33.

(27) Han Hong-gu et al., Taehanmin'guk ui chongt'ongsong ul mutta [Questioning the Legitimacy of the Republic of Korea] (Seoul: Ch' olsuwayonghui, 2009).

(28) Cf Ryu Kun-il, "Chwap'a kyogwaso ui tok ul ppaeda" [Taking the venom out of left-wing textbooks], Chosun, 31 March 2008, html.

(29) Kim Il-yong et al., 631.

(30) "Pyollo naulge omnun 'Kukki ui taehan maengse'" [A hardly improved "Pledge to the flag"], Hankyoreh, 6 July 2007,; Pak Chung-hyon, "Kukki e taehan maengse wae pakkulkka?" [Why change the pledge to the flag?], Chosun, 7 July 2007,

(31) Kim Choong-nam, "Rehabilitating our history education," Korea Joongang Daily, 21 January 2011.

(32) Chon Sang-in, "Kon'guk 60 nyon, chanch'inun kkut'natta" [Sixty years after the state's founding, the feast is over], Dong-a ilbo, 4 April 2009, 8703406/1.

(33) Kim Yon-se, "34 Percent of Army Cadets Regard US as Main Enemy," Korea Times, 6 April 2008.

(34) "Tensions on Korean peninsula escalate prior to release of Cheonan report," Hankyoreh, 19 May 2010, 7.html.

(35) Doualy Xaykaothao, "Life As Usual For Ordinary Citizens in Seoul," All Things Considered, NPR, 24 November 2010.

(36) Kim Eun-jung, "Ruling party roiled by crushing defeat in by-elections," Yonhap News Agency, 28 April 2011.

(37) "Hannara-dang, Pak Wonsun ch'onanham paron yonil pip'an" [Sustained Grand National Party criticism of Park Won-soon's Cheonan statement], MBC News, 12 October 2011, http://imnews.imbc. com/news/2011/politic/article/2942761_8448.html.

(38) "Seoul's top party chief briefly visits disputed islets," Kyodo News Agency, 2 May 2006.

(39) Hyondae sasang yon'guhoe, 625 tongnan kwa namhan chwa'ik [The 6.25 upheaval and the South Korean left] (Seoul: Inyangsa, 2010), 27, 36.

(40) See, for example, Balazs Szalontai, "'You Have No Political Line of Your Own': Kim Il Sung and the Soviets, 1953-1964," Cold War International History Project Bulletin 14/15 (Winter 2003-Spring 2004): 95, 97.

(41) Robert Schwarz, "The Concept of 'Nation' in East Germany's and North Korea's State Ideology" (unpublished master's thesis, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, August 2010), 11.

(42) Kang Jin-won, "Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un kwollyok sunggye kwajong ch'aijom un?" [How are Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un's power take overs different?], YTN, 3 October 2011.

(43) "Traitor Lee Myung Bak's Anti-Reunification Remarks Slammed," Korean Central News Agency, 26 June 2011.

(44) Choe Sang-Hun, "S. Korea's Governing Party Surprised by Election," New York Times, 2 June 2010.

(45) Offner and Schroeder, 398.

B. R. Myers directs the Department of International Studies at Dongseo University in the South Korean port city of Busan and is the author of The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (2010).
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Title Annotation:Inside the Authoritarian State
Author:Myers, B.R.
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9NORT
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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