Sonic Charmer takes a look into the tears of the Hermit Kingdom.
I’ve heard it written (if that makes sense) that of course people were sobbing about the death of Kim Jong Il – his soldiers would have no compunction about shooting them dead if they were insufficiently sorrowful. That’s true enough, but as Charmer observes, that might inspire an actual, sincere devotion as well:
This interpretation seems to stem from the error of assuming that North Korean people and society is basically like our people and society, just with a wacky dictator on top. Like a charmingly more-straitlaced version of South Korea, that happened to have a crazy celebrity who uses/kills people in charge. I think, rather, that having a wacky dictator on top of your society actually affects the society. What I tend to see in North Korea is Jonestown writ large. A mass psychosis. Almost all of the people depicted there would qualify as mentally ill here. …
We’re going to have to face it: People love their dictators. And the more miserable they are, the more they will love him. The more empty and powerless their lives are, the more their hopes and dreams get tied up with the dictator’s fate.
This reminded me of a scene that very effectively spells out the difficulty (video will play when you click).
What’s most striking is the chilling confidence of Darkseid. His victory is already assured. Even though the outcome of the fight is not certain, his position is fixed beyond the power of Superman to alter or remedy. No earthly dictator can have this sort of permanent authority, of course, but for as long as it lasts, the dictator might as well BE all-encompassing. Kim could erase his people from this life as surely as Darkseid’s Omega Beams do in the DC universe.
So, yes – this is the first thing I thought of when I saw the public mourning of the North Koreans after Kim died. Dear Leader was many things to many people… and there, he was God. The difficulty is not that his people don’t recognize him as cruel and mad, but that they do.
If China suddenly decided that they had too many problems internally to bother with DRNK as a satellite/buffer/proxy, and buggered out – if the South and its allies swept through and reunited the penninsula under democratic rule – there would be years, possibly decades, of drastic unrest. This would happen even if the initial unification were peaceful. If you’ve paid attention to the Middle East over the past ten years, you already know how it would play out: the South would be seen as welcome liberators, who were nonetheless despised, and everywhere those accustomed to the old regime would seek ways to recreate it on some level – and that goes for the entire chain, from the ultimate power down through the brokers and facilitators and petty jacks-in-office, right down to the bottom-rung oppressed. There would be little corrupt fiefdoms springing up everywhere, if not efforts to use the democratic process to elect a new Dear Leader.
Hell, you don’t need the Middle East to see it in action, either: only a very unfortunate neighbor who grew up in an abusive household, endlessly building copies of it in their own life, even while lamenting to friends that “this is stupid” and “he’ll never change” and “I never want to be like my parents were.” They keep going back anyway – they regard their interventionist friends as meddlers who only provoke the abuse, and if they just left well enough alone, they could go back to happily living on constant eggshells in the vague hope of catching the abuser in a peaceable mood every once in a while. They need healing from within, before they can accept changes from without.
None of this is to say that efforts to help are unwise; just that they are often as thankless as they are necessary. Every once in a great while, however, they work far more brilliantly than could ever be hoped, and the people as one make the change, and where they were once caged in their own homeland, they break free and reassume their sovereignty. The counterpoint is made more startling here because of the man who died on the same day – Vaclav Havel – and the Velvet Revolution that he helped to focus and came to embody. But there, I have to let the better writer take over, so please read this from Sheila O’Malley on the playwright and former Czech President. One thing that she wrote stands out – the thing that made the difference –
… his philosophy was that, yes, he lived in an un-free society, but he would behave as if he were free. The magic “as if”, so much a theatrical term, used to describe the mystery of the creative process of actors (act “as if” you were such and such). Of course, Havel, a man of the theatre, would use the “as if” as a way to survive oppression. He did not compromise. He acted “as if” he were living in a free society, and drove the authorities slowly insane.
My only comment on that is to offer a slight but important clarification. Havel, strictly speaking, did not drive the authorities insane; by living sanely himself, he only revealed that they had been insane the whole time.