Last Friday Hank Green of Vlogbrothers uploaded the boldly titled 4-minute video North Korea: Explained. It was a decent introduction to the current stare-off and will hopefully encourage more people to talk seriously and without phobia or sensation about the country, but unsurprisingly Hank is very Ameri-centric in his outlook, putting too much trust into his own country’s terrifying military power.
He rightly points out that the DPRK could launch a nuclear attack against South Korea, Japan, and Guam, but “almost certainly will not.” US military occupies much of South Korea, and so against these two huge allies, DPRK does not compare. It is also true that the provocations coming from the North are nothing particularly new – as any casual observer of their state media can tell you – although it is not quite like anything we’ve seen recently, particularly with the suspension of work at the Kaesong industrial zone and encouraging ambassadors to leave for their safety. But the nuclear weapons of the US are far more the greater threat to Asia: this was neglected to mention. Between 1945 and 1992, there were 1,054 nuclear weapons tests conducted by the only country that has used nuclear weapons in warfare. Is anyone really naive enough to think that the US government is above killing foreigners?
The claim that everyone and their mums gets sent to a concentration camp is really unknowable at this point. Hank admits that we know very little about the DPRK’s political leaders and day-to-day decision-making. The same critical thinking should be applied to incarceration. When Google Maps claimed to have marked all the main prison camps, they provided no evidence but it was generally treated as factual, when it’s perfectly possible that some of them could have been farms. If we find out that North Korea has a prison population like Mississippi or Louisiana, I’d be more likely to believe the huge claims about concentration camps. But for now, there is enough confirmed tyranny for us to not rely on conjecture.
Hank rightly answers that North Korea is not communist, but for the wrong reasons. He weirdly sites the fact that they have some kind of show-elections. It would be more appropriate to consider the consistent poverty and divide in class. Inequality in the North is even worse than in the strongly capitalist South with its very limited welfare. Of course “communist state” is a stupid term: ‘socialism’ is a better word here.*
Anti-Americanism can be presented dramatically and irrationally but it is essentially a legitimate worldview. Looking past “South: Good, North: Bad” is essentially for any serious discourse. Alternative views aren’t that hard to find, and you don’t even have to look to the nutjobs at the Korean Friendship Association. Kim Young-ik, a South Korean, wrote in the Socialist Worker newspaper (UK) on the 6th a short piece titled US rhetoric and sanctions ramp up dangerous tension with North Korea. He says that “Socialists should not support such actions by North Korean rulers. But their actions and rhetoric are the result – not the cause – of tensions ramped up by the US.” He goes on to claim, like others, that the joint US-ROK military excercises are part of an attempt to extend American imperialism: “It is an open secret that these exercises simulate an invasion into North Korea.”
*Hank was just answering questions from Google’s auto-fill, one of which was: “Is North Korea communist?”
It is also worth mentioning that China, at least formally, is not North Korea’s only ally. Cuba, Russia, and Cambodia are also counted. Hank says that China is NK’s only ally.