Thursday, July 20, 2006


North Korea and The New Yorker – a Case of Hysteria in Print [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Usually the staid New Yorker magazine can be counted upon to publish fairly informative, if not always completely reliable, articles about the goings on in our world. The August 22, 2005 issue, however, has an hysterical rant about North Korea more suitable to a tabloid such as the Enquirer than to a magazine that prides itself on its "quality."

I am referring to Ian Buruma’s lurid "Kimworld: Inside the North Korean Slave State" a review of a book by Bradley K. Martin ("Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty") which "relies heavily" on the stories given out by one high ranking defector Hwang Jang-yop. Buruma, a real bottom feeder for juicy info also likes to quote such scholarly works as "Kim Jong Il’s Cook – I Saw His Naked Body."

While there are many problems with North Korea, to be sure, they are not the concoctions and fantasies put forth by Buruma in his "review."

Here is an example of his simple-minded analysis: "To begin with, Kim Il Sung, whom the Soviets installed as head of state in 1945, was responsible for starting the Korean War, which may have caused as many as a million deaths."

In the first place Kim was not "installed" by the Soviets – that is just old cold war codswallop. He was a major leader of the Korean resistance to Japan in the 1930s and throughout World War II. The Soviets actually favored Cho Man-sik – a non-communist nationalist. The Koreans themselves ended up favoring Kim as their leader after the commencement of the US buildup of an independent southern army of occupation full of old Japanese collaborators.

Nor did Kim "start" the Korean War. It is far more complex than that. The unilateral decision by the US to set up an independent southern state under its auspices, when almost all Koreans had expected a unified Korea to emerge after the defeat of Japan, was "the invitation" for the commencement of the Korean War, according to then British Minister of Works Richard Stokes. One man, Kim Il Sung, is no more responsible for the Korean War, than is, say Kaiser Wilhelm for World War 1. The war was the result of a whole concatenation of factors arising out of the decision to launch the cold war in 1945. Buruma’s cant notwithstanding.

Millions were killed – civilians – and the vast majority were killed by US and South Korean forces as a deliberate policy. Buruma says "many civilians were massacred by the Communists." What Buruma covers up, thru silence, is more telling than what he claims. Bruce Cumings, in "North Korea: Another Country", points out that the US with bombs and napalm, "leveled North Korea and killed millions of civilians’ and bombed "huge irrigation dams that provided water for 75% of the North’s food production." This was "a war crime, recognized as such by international law," as Cumings points out.

Buruma is not interested in facts. He claims the horrific famine of the 1990s in North Korea was "largely brought on by disastrous agricultural policies." Honest scholar that he is, he never mentions that many Korea experts blame the famine on severe floods over a two year period followed by an extreme drought. (If I thought as Buruma, I’d say these conditions were caused by global warming so the famine was really the result of US policies!).

Much of the rest of the review is full of the bad behavior of Kim Jong Il based on the tales of #1 defector Hwang. Buruma compares him to Nero and Caligula. He also refers to an idiotic propaganda piece by Jasper Becker to get some of his information [see my brief review of Becker's work here]. Becker, like Martin relies "heavily" on this one defector.

We get to the point of the review near the end where Buruma, like many supporters of US Imperialism, suggests we have to do something about the "evil" Kim Jong Il – he must be removed from power. We, mind you, not the Korean people have to figure out how to do this. This must be an appealing thought after our great success in Iraq.

Buruma, he has no shame, based on the memoirs of the cook and Hwang carries on about Kim Il Jong’s "sexual demands" and "debauchery" – including having husbands shoot their wives – naked girls forced to dance at his parties, etc. This is the basis of his comparison of Kim to the above mentioned Roman Emperors.

It is amazing to me that "The New Yorker" would let such trash be published in its pages. Cumings, who has spent his career studying North Korea and the Kims – and has no cold war imperialist mentality to warp his outlook, tells us that Kim "is not the playboy, womanizer, drunk, and mentally deranged fanatic ‘Dr. Evil’ of our press. He is a homebody who doesn’t socialize much, doesn’t drink much, and works at home in his pajamas, scribbling marginal comments on the endless reams of documents brought to him in gray briefcases by his aides."

Still, there are really problems in North Korea – and Cumings is very frank about the shortcomings in that country. But the Koreans can work out their own problems. If Mr. Buruma wants to write something worth reading on the subject he should read less contentious books and view fewer James Bond movies.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of PA and can be reached at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what kind of twisted fuckwit bends himself into a pretzel trying to be an apologist for North Korea? I know. A twisted cunt like you.