Tuesday, October 17, 2006


North Korea learns Republican secrets of governance—or vice versa

Last Saturday National Public Radio correspondent Steve Inskeep did an interview with one Guy DeLisle, a French-Canadian who visited North Korea in 2001 to help his employer exploit take advantage of the cheap labor. DeLisle then drew a "graphic novel" titled Pyongyang, which is "basically a diary of [his] experiences while in North Korea."1

The news segment is titled "Graphic Novel Depicts Surreal North Korea," but don't expect a book review. This was NPR's effort to give us a cartoonist's view of North Vietnamese society.

The literary musings came to this—

INSKEEP: You know, when I imagine North Korea, the thing that I imagine is the color gray—gray clothing, gray buildings, gray landscapes.... But then I open this graphic novel and I realize you've done this entire thing in shades of gray. [a Simply Appalling transcription]

Delisle agrees that it's dreadfully drab there. No billboards or neon, it seems.

But as the interview proceeded, I was struck by the parallels between our great nations.

For instance, when a foreign businessman arrives in North Korea, he's expected to lay a bouquet of flowers at the feet of the giant statue of dead President and Great Leader Kim Il-Sung. The required gift in the U.S. is more expensive, as befits our own Great Leader: A campaign donation to the Republican party or to one or more of its members should be made as quickly as possible (through a middleman, of course, to remove the taint of foreign money).

Information control

INSKEEP: .... You write that after experiencing so much of this propaganda you ask the question "Do they really believe the BS that's being forced down their throats?" Do they?

DELISLE: I'm sure that the peasants believe that. And they even believe that outside North Korea things are much worse.

INSKEEP: You're saying the peasants believe that—people in the countryside. Why them?

DELISLE: Yeah. Because they have no source of information. There's only one television—it's North Korean. There's only one radio station—it's North Korean. The newspaper—there's only one. So imagine in any country what would it be. Over there they have no clue what's happening outside....

Imagine that.

A permanent state of Orange Alert

But it's the method for maintaining political control that made me feel a real kinship with the North Koreans—

INSKEEP: How much talk was there about war — or imminent war — in North Korea when you were there in 2001?

DELISLE: Ah, it's quite crazy. That's one of the most strange feelings you have when you're there because on the news the news opens with the victims of the Japanese occupation, victims of the American War — how do you call it, the "American War"?

INSKEEP: Oh, that's the "Korean War" as we would know it here in the United States.

DELISLE: You really have the feeling that the war just stopped a few months ago. And you really have the feeling that the war can start again some time next week.

STEVE INSKEEP: Did you think that the government was using the constant threat of war to maintain its power?

GUY DELISLE: Yes. For me it was the only logical answer to all that. They don't want to have trouble with the population so they keep them in a constant state of fright.



1 A "graphic novel" has a remarkable resemblance to a "comic book." I believe the difference is in the binding. [back]

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