Jan 6, 2016

Shoot-the-messenger and other things North-Korean (reposted)

People are inquiring about this post, stirred by North Korea's supposedly thermo-nuclear test yesterday. The post was written in March 2013 while Michael was staying in South Korea. Here it is:

How about the situation? In Korea? Now? Aren't your scared? Don't you think they are going to throw their nukes? They know this would be the end of it, wouldn't they, a full-fledged war would trigger a violent American reaction that would certainly bring down a regime unable to feed its own people properly? They aren't crazy, or are they? Kim Jong Un, the new "leader," has studied in Switzerland, he has seen the world, he knows, right? They know, don't they, they know! At least he does!

Note the map of the US on the wall

Relax. Lean back. (Just back from the Korean dentist). Lean back.

My father was so lazy, he did not actually swim when dipping into the North Sea during our summer holidays. Instead, he did a "dead man," filling his lungs with extra air and staying afloat motionless in the water like a buoy. Along those lines, let's do an dead man and tell a story from 10 years ago when I last heard from Michel Kortczek. Michel had specialized in China, and then North Korea, and had published a beautiful essay on North Korea and its ideology on the internet. The page has disappeared in the meantime, but what I recall of his essay spoke of a regime quite unlike any other on earth, a regime completely in the thrall of  magic, superstition, and delusion.

Until then my appreciation of communist North Korea had been limited to a few glimpses at the book case in the office of the then-director of the PSCW of the University of Amsterdam (don't asks), a certain Geert-Jan van Oenen, a bookcase entirely filled with publications by the founder of the North-Korean dynasty, Kim Il Sung, the books apparently a left-over of van Oenen's revolutionary 1968-period, leather-spined like similar output by, say, V.I. Lenin, or J. Stalin, and supposedly containing similar marxoid messages. (The book case vanished in its entirety one fine day and was replaced by a painting of a cow.)

I didn't really follow up on Michel's essay until it was sort of too late, namely when I had to face the connubial facts of Korean thinking in my partner Chang Man Yoon. What I then found out (on the internet and elsewhere) would not go quite as far as Michel's assertions did, but still spoke of a mental world very much estranged from common scientific materialism, a world steeped in lucky and unlucky numbers, colors, birthdays & birth-years, a world haunted by forebodings, premonitions, and evil eyes. Applied to North Korea, I learned that "Kim Il Sung" --- the self-chosen name means "become the sun" --- that the "Heavenly Leader" (another of his titles) was possessed of various supernatural abilities, and that he still is, yes, still is North Korea's President, despite his death in 1994. His son Kim Jong Il, in turn, the "Beloved Leader," was born on Korea's highest mountain under significant circumstances, his birth being heralded by a swallow, which, on the occasion, also caused winter to change into spring, while a new bright star appeared in the sky & a double rainbow appeared on the horizon. Barely born, Kim Jong Il could walk and talk before the age of six months, and then take up golf and routinely shoot holes-in-one. In addition, he could control the weather telekinetically. He also composed operas.

Yes, so what? How about the situation? In Korea? Now? Aren't your scared? Do you think they are going to throw their nukes? They are not crazy, or are they? They know!

Let's focus. What do they know? Let's focus on just one item, the percentage of unserviceable equipment in the North  Korean army. Foreign intelligence services estimate it at forty percent. I don't know whether this number is particularly high,  but this is a bit like mathematics, in the end the assumption won't matter.

So, let's assume that the foreign intelligence services are correct with their number:  40% of the stuff does not work. And lets further assume this:

And this:

And this:

Note the trouser decoration

Would Kim Jong Un know about the 40%? Perhaps he surfes the internet and believes in foreign security services. But what if he doesn't? Life's not a beach for the leader of a big country. He's busy, busy, golf's a time-consuming hobby, he has to attend baseball games and so on. But as a responsible leader he's certainly interested in the readiness of his forces and so will ask somebody before he's going to engulf the world in a sea of fire. There will be a Minister of Defense whom he can ask. The minister, in term, will ask the Chief of Staff, who will ask his secretary to contact the commanding generals of each division. And so on.

And now assume that the buck stops with you because you are running this weapons depot not far from that sacred mountain at the top of which Kim John Un's father was born and you're getting a phone call. The imperialist crazies down South are getting more and more crazy by the day. A sea of fire needs to destroy them asap. Are we ready?

Forty percent of your material is desolate, that's our (your) number. So you're answering the phone (a red one), you've expected the call, of course, fine pearls of sweat have already formed on your forehead. What are you going to say? Will you tell them the truth? I'd say you will extemporize, & side-step, & say "let me explain," & go into details before you've given them the broader picture, & employ any evasive strategy of your repertoire. You're not going to tell them about the 40% unless they put you on the torture bench.

But they won't. They will be happy to learn that there are problems, but that the strictures of Command n° 99 issued on the birthday of the "Young Leader" have been almost fully implemented, & that the situation is improving, as always, & that there's hope on the horizon, the same horizon that accommodated the double rainbow of the Beloved Leader's birth. You hear a click. Oouff, the conversation is over. You've survived another day in paradise. You've not been put on the torture bench because your superior, who has now to call his own superior, hates torture too.

In a simplified model of information transfer, you can safely assume that with each step up the ladder some bad part of your news transmogrifies into good news, and that the numbers will get better and better as "information" moves up the hierarchy. Nobody wants to end up on the torture bench. There is no way, no way that a regime with weather-controlling leaders who routinely shoot holes in one does not have an elaborate culture of shoot-the-messenger to which every survivor has adapted.

So, there we are. The "Young General," the "Respected General," the "Great Successor," is back from golf or from the baseball game with Dennis Rodman and the news is ready. And it is good, the news, better than it has ever been before thanks to the magical powers of your dynasty and your own superior leadership. We're in the best of all worlds, "Young Leader," we're ready.

So, Kim Jong Un does not know. Plus, he doesn't want to know because yesterday he shot a triple bogey on the 18th hole. Anything can happen. Let's hope the caddy survived.

Note the state of maintenance of the sloop

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