by Christopher Zimny
December 26, 2011
PAIN ON A TRAIN
SARASOTA, Fl. -- When one reads the brutal story of the justly paranoid Winston Smith in the George Orwell classic 1984, one is confronted soon enough with a telescreen filled with the face of the Stalin-like image of Big Brother.
Never ceasing its indelibility, the image fades to the background where it looms through three phrases that take its place - the three slogans of the Party:
These absurd statements, penned in the 20th Century, and the totalitarian idea that led to Orwell to write about them, actively rule in only one place on earth today - North Korea.
In her 2009 book, Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick makes note of a few propaganda signs that line the unused roads and are plastered ostentatiously on North Korean buildings:
LONG LIVE KIM IL-SUNG
For nearly 20 years, this said sun "hath shown its awful light." On December 18th, however, the 'light' went out; it apparently was not impervious to train rides.
Kim Jong-il, the aberrant, ludicrous, sadistic creature-despot claiming ownership of every living being between the 38th Parallel and the Chinese border, suffered a heart attack and died from "exhaustion" on his way to an area outside the country's capital and is now gone from this earth.
The North Koreans are now rid of their principal, a disgusting dwarf, and have the faintest - yet simultaneously the clearest - glimpse of freedom they've enjoyed in over 60 years.
The state-run media reports that Kim Jong-un - the "Great Successor" - is to step up to the only quasi-successful Communist dynastic throne in history" i.e., one that sees its second handover of the baton, as it were.
But perhaps those few secretly apostate souls of the country, who willingly commit thoughtcrime and illegal acts of freedom (such as speaking ill of either the Dear Leader or Great Leader (as Kim Il-sung was known there), or being in possession of unapproved books), will have a chance to see the wretched state disintegrate in their own lifetime.
If that doesn't appear to be the case at the outset, a somewhat closer look reveals a more positive picture.
The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (aqs it optimistically calls itself), through various measures has coup-proofed itself by selecting the Great Leader's most loyal supporters to form its inner circle. However, now that the Dear Leader - as the middle Kim is called - is dead, struggles over who may fill the power vacuum may be the straw to break this sickly camel's back.
Some say that Kim Jong-un is far too inexperienced and still rather obscure to the North Korean people, having only been assigned as successor one year ago, in contrast to the 20 years spent by the eldest Kim preparing his son for the role.
If this is indeed the case, Harvard's Daniel Byman and Dartmouth's Jennifer Lind point out that an orderly succession may be the only event that can make the regime fall to pieces.
There is, of course, an alternate timeline North Koreans may face - the same road on which 1984's Oceania was driven: the inner party effortlessly moving past troubles and boldly pressing its drive for absolute power over the individual.
It is possible that this handover from capricious father to untried son may succeed in some way or another; if this happens, unless something markedly different changes in U.S. policy toward the government of that country, we may be condemned to watch North Korea for a long time thereafter, while thousands of North Korean defectors and secret dissenters still inside its borders hope, and then wait, for regime change.
Those dissenters and quiet renegades who have lived or continue to live the life of an average North Korean - a bleak, dreary one, always with a subtle undertone of real perpetual fear - have much to wait for in the way of liberation.
Owning a cell phone, for instance, may earn a person a place in front of a firing squad, as will selling DVDs or being repatriated from China, or even defacing currency if either Kim Sung-il or Kim Jong-il's porcine faces are depicted on the note.
These alleged "criminals" also face another fate: being dragged to the country's extensive and notorious network of prison camps. Some 200,000 human beings are interned and confined in these North Korean-style gulags - modern day concentration camps.
For a crime one commits, three generations of one's entire family is punished - over and over, an appalling terror tactic instituted by Kim Il-sung.
This goes without mentioning their abject poverty.
The purposeful and insane currency devaluation done in late 2009 decimated any semblance of a middle-class North Koreans could muster in a bustling if severely stifled and illegal market, plunging everyone not in the capital into acute destitution - a situation more perilous, perhaps, than the famine that killed millions in North Korea just over a decade ago.
Two nuclear tests and the sinking of a South Korean naval ship (leading to a short-lived recantation of the Sunshine Policy by South Korea) have not stopped foreign aid to North Korea.
The foreign aid and billions of dollars in imported wealth are used on three things only: the political class, the military, and propaganda - which the despotic regime feeds its starving people in place of food.
Indoctrinated children sing praises of their deified leaders, learn "official" history, and are subtly inculcated in every aspect of their schooling - notto mention their widespread malnourishment, diseases, or becoming stunted in mind and body (eight-year-old North Korean children appear to be three or four, for instance).
The average North Korean is six inches shorter than his South Korean neighbor due to a lifelong deprivation of protein. Such is life in North Korea.
The most deranged aspect of this abhorrent, grotesque picture is that these conditions are preventable. In satellite imagery of the Korean peninsula, the southern half is positively gleaming, and China produces its fair share of light - but between the two there is nothing. Darkness covers every meter except the expanse of the capital city, Pyongyang, where the government and the politically loyal live: it is the propaganda showcase city for foreigners.
Once this brutal authoritarian dynasty of dwarfish martinets is brought to an end, as may happen with Kim Jong-un's demise, North Koreans may be rid of their chains, free at long last.
We can only hope that the death of North Korea's infallible Dear Leader, exhausted from a pleasant train ride, is the beginning of the end for this repugnant regime and its successor.
This is AR Correspondent Chris Zimney's first article for The American Reporter - the first of many, we hope. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org