September 19, 2017

On the Evil of North Korea

If there is one thing the mainstream news media in the U.S. seems to agree on, regardless of whether we're talking about those platforms that lean to the left or to the right, it would have to be that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is crazy. He's routinely depicted as an unpredictable man-child given to irrational fits (not at all like the U.S. president), and we are told again and again that this makes him especially dangerous. Whether one is watching Fox News or MSNBC seems to matter little in terms of how he is presented or what we are told about the acceptability of North Korea gaining access to the same sort of weapons of which we have an abundance.

When it comes to Kim Jong-un being crazy, I'm not so sure. He seems to be sticking rather closely to the sort of policies we've seen from North Korea for several decades. If he was as crazy and unpredictable as we keep being told he is, I'd expect some puzzling departures. Given the history of U.S. relations with North Korea, I'd think a sign of craziness might be if he suddenly warmed toward us and began working to improve our relationship in a way no previous North Korean leader had done. If he were to abruptly set aside everything his nation had done in the past and go in a very different direction, we'd be right to be worried.

I'm also not sure it is crazy for any leader of a country without nuclear weapons who feels threatened by countries with nuclear weapons to desire nuclear weapons. In fact, this seems perfectly rational. Kim Jong-un would have to be crazy not to notice that the U.S. behaves quite differently in our dealings with countries that have these weapons vs. those that do not. And if he did notice this difference, why wouldn't he want his country to be one of those that had these weapons? Wouldn't he be crazier if he abandoned his pursuit of nukes?

If I had to guess, I'd say that the consistent depictions of Kim Jong-un's craziness and of North Korea's inherent evil are not too different from how the U.S. news media presented the Soviet Union, Cuba, and even China during the Cold War. That is, I suspect that much of this is propaganda aimed at persuading us to hold particular views of those our leaders have deemed our enemies. And that brings us to one of the worst things about a government - any government - using propaganda on its own citizens: it is almost impossible to determine how much of what one is being fed is true vs. a well-crafted narrative aimed at shaping public opinion.

Those of us old enough to remember how the Soviet Union was presented during the Cold War may also remember the rather sudden shift toward its end when our mainstream news media largely abandoned the "evil empire" narrative and begin to feed us stories that seemed strangely sympathetic to the Russian people. Did the Russian people really make such an abrupt transformation from enemies to friends, or was it suddenly in someone's interest to humanize them to us? My suspicion is that they never were truly the enemies we were told they were.

I think it would be naive to place too much trust in one's government. They have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to use propaganda to shape our views. Similarly, I think it would be dangerous to place too much trust in the mainstream news media. While they can and do sometimes serve a valuable "watchdog" function which helps to protect us from some aspects of our government, they have also shown that they can be content to operate as a means of disseminating propaganda to the public.

North Korea is our enemy today, and Kim Jong-un is crazy today. I expect they will continue to be our enemy until our leaders decide it is in their interest for them to be our friends. And at that point, our news media will begin highlighting some of the positive aspects of North Korean culture and bringing us human interest stories that encourage us to realize that the North Korean people are far more similar to us than we ever realized. And if he's still around, maybe Kim Jong-un won't be quite so crazy.