Making Sense of North Korea

In a

recent issue of Foreign Affairs
, Selig S. Harrison
made waves in Washington and Pyongyang by arguing that the evidence
Bush administration officials used to declare that North Korea had
breached a nuclear accord signed in 1994 looks a lot like the
evidence it used to justify the invasion of Iraq. In other words,
the books were cooked to serve the pre-determined, interventionist
foreign policy goals of the administration’s neo-conservatives.

Michael Levi lobs back in The New Republic
several of Harrison’s claims are false.

Historian Bruce Cumings gives some context to North Korea’s
stubbornness in
Le Monde
by revisiting the U.S. military’s use of
Napalm in a carpet bombing campaign during the Korean Conflict, and
its threat to use strategic nuclear weapons.

While all of this writing is fodder for an interesting and
increasingly crucial debate, the average American knows very little
about North Korea and its people. In part this is due to
disinterest (the Korean Conflict has been called the Forgotten War,
after all, and the amnesiac fog still clouds the country today). Up
until now, though, even if there were more interest in the region,
basic information was scarce — in large part because the North
Korean government is as secretive as it is repressive. As Nicholas
D. Kristof notes, the country is ‘perhaps the least understood
place on earth.’

Which is why the recently published, Under the Loving Care
of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty
is so
important. In a
review published in
The New York Review of Books
, Kristof calls Bradley K.
Martin’s work ‘simply the best book ever written about North
Korea.’ A biography of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung and his son,
Kim Jong Il, who later assumed the same moniker, it relies heavily
on interviews with defectors to paint a picture of daily life that
explains ‘the paradoxes in North Korean public opinion’ — or how
people can praise a ‘Great Leader’ while he’s starving them. (Two
million North Koreans died of starvation in the late 1990s and
Jong Il just cut rations
to half that recommended by the World
Food Programme.)

If the praise proves to be true, Martin’s book could prove
invaluable as the debate over North Korea rages on.

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