Philosophy Weekend: Kim Jong-Il and the Loony Way Out

Comedy Existential History Politics Psychology

This week's scary news of a sudden attack on South Korea by North Korea brought North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il into the spotlight again. But, all too often the analysis of this dangerous politician's motivation and character takes a quick dive into comic disbelief. "He's a loon." "He's out of his mind." "Kim Jong-Il is a nutjob."

This material can make good comedy -- and, listen, I don't understand the haircut either. But I sure hope nobody thinks "Kim Jong-Il is a loon" can substitute for real insight. A statement like this is, rather, a display of no insight. It signifies that some logic or explanation for Jong-Il's actions exists, and that we are blind to it. A statement like this is the opposite of insight.

We love comedy and satire in the United States of America, and we often have fun with the shrill, hysterical personalities of our military opponents. There's nothing wrong with this, unless we allow it to become a dead end for our own knowledge. When it comes to understanding North Korea here in the USA, this seems to have taken place. Kim Jong-Il is a Saturday Night Live skit, and as far as most Americans know, that's all he is.

Is Kim Jong-Il actually crazy? The evidence for this is slight, though his embattled leadership position has probably pushed his sanity towards the edges. However, we don't even have strong information about whether or not Kim Jong-Il is the prime decision-maker within the government, so it may not matter whether he is insane or not. Often in history we have misunderstood our enemy's internal workings. (For instance, during World War II it was generally believed among US and British military strategists that the Prussian military leadership was driving military strategy in Nazi Germany, when in fact this took place within Hitler's Nazi Party, a completely different organization. If we had known this during World War II, we could have helped the Prussian military clique overthrow Hitler, as it was desperately trying to do).

Like the government of every nation in the world, North Korea's is run by some kind of hive mind, and if we don't want to blunder our way through the Korean crisis (the way George W. Bush seemed to blunder through every foreign engagement for eight years) we are going to need to dig a little deeper and try to understand this hive mind. We're going to have to challenge our own intellects a little more.

Why did North Korea attack South Korea? "Because Kim Jong-Il is a loon." Get better material. We need to take a closer look.

First, let's look at Korea's tough, tragic history in recent centuries. The large ethnic, geographic, linguistic and national entity known as Korea has been fucked over by its neighbors about as often as Poland has been in Europe. Weak and vulnerable, it's been a military playground for giants. It suffered terribly under Japan's cruel, racist thumb during that nation's expansionist period leading up to World War II. Before then, it was a battleground between Russia and Japan.

We all know about the Korean War between North and South Korea, a war financed and encouraged by eager global "allies" on both sides. But the Korean War of 1950 to 1953 was the second Korean War of massive, global scale. The first, known to us as the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905, was largely fought to establish control over Korea and Northern China. Japan won, and Russia's defeat contributed to the fall of the Tsar's government. But Korea itself was the harshest victim, the raped, forgotten battlefield. Neither Russia nor Japan had Korea's interests in mind when they fought each other over its control.

I learned some disturbing facts from James Bradley's fascinating history book The Imperial Cruise about the role the United States of America played in the Russo-Japanese War. The USA was building a new relationship with Japan, and agreed to enthusiastically support Japan's occupation of Korea. We had a separate alliance with Korea's rulers at the time, and simply betrayed this alliance to cement our relationship with Japan. After World War II, Japan was kicked out of Korea and two puppet governments led by the Communist and democratics nations in the world were established as North and South Korea.

Well, it's no wonder that Korea doesn't like Japan, Russia or the United States of America very much. It's no surprise that this one of the most troubled regions in the world. We are all sums of our history.

It's strange, though, that some loudmouth American commentators think the best way the USA could respond to the Korean crisis would be to back Kim Jong-Il into a corner with a show of military strength. I bet many of these armchair strategists couldn't find Korea on a map.

It turns out that Korea has seen plenty of shows of military strength already. We don't need to teach Koreans any lessons about how to back down and swallow their national pride. They can't be humiliated much more. No wonder North Korea's leaders sometimes appear snarling mad when we try to catch them in 15-second sound bites between commercials on TV news.

I wish for a better understanding of different global points of view, for wider perspectives of our planet's shared history. I especially think that when a new war is threatened, our informed citizenry needs to insist on some smarter analysis than we've been getting. "Kim Jong-Il is a loon" won't cut it anymore. Dig a little deeper, please.

This article is part of the series Philosophy Weekend. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: The Pointless Rationalism of David Foster Wallace. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: The Bridges of New York City.
12 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: Kim Jong-Il and the Loony Way Out"

by Claudia on

Levi, in my opinion, all these evil dictators suffer from personality disorders, usually psychopathy or malignant narcissism. Their pathologies are relatively simple to see: they are clinically sane but severely disordered. But what is very complex--and no laughing matter-- is how and why they attain so much power in certain countries, at certain moments in history. Why sane people pay attention to them, enough to enable them to spread their pathology to the whole country is a mystery. If we'd be able to learn from history and prevent these social viruses from spreading, we'd spare humanity so much suffering.

by Mickey Z. on

Sounds like Claudia is describing every single U.S. president, too.

by frsh on

War is a business and the ones who profit from that business (weapon manufacturers) are always trying to create tension between nations to sell lots of weapons. It's one of those evil businesses that keep capitalism alive like tobacco and alcohol. Everyone puts up with those businesses that ruin people's lives and everyone sees them as "normal". People fall into the illusion that in capitalism we make choices when in reality companies use propaganda and advertising to tell us what to do, what to think and what to agree with.
People are idiotized by meaningless dead end jobs. The American way of life is a god that demands sacrifices and blood even from Americans, from the entire world.

by Alan on

I don't hear Americans, at least not those in leadership positions, saying, "Back North Korea into a corner." There will always be a certain percentage of Americans, or people of any country, who drool over the possibility of mass carnage. And, yes, Americans are benignly brainwashed by their consumer culture and perhaps even by some are numbed by their "meaningless dead end jobs." I think the far more dangerous course here is not "Back North Korea into a corner" but to take the path of least resistance and shrug and say, "Let them go at it and we'll just stay over here and do nothing."
Hopefully, Hillary Clinton is doing round the clock monitoring of the situation for some kind of diplomatic opening, but it will take good will on the part of China, too, and the UN's Security Council.
By the way, they said the same thing about Saddam Hussein before the invasion--that he's a "loon."
Frankly, I felt that George W. Bush took a back seat to no dictator in the "loon" department.

by TKG on

Yes, it's not just "lunacy" and we know why.

China says the "Six Party Talks" should be resumed. N. Korea agrees and complains that the US and S Korea are keeping that from happening, see U.S., S. Korea obstruct resumption of six-party talks: DPRK media. This is the Chinese news propaganda outlet "reporting" on the N Korean propaganda news.

Why? Look at the Daily Beast article from early November, Obama's China Ambush.

Here's an excerpt:

President Obama began his dealings with Beijing in a conciliatory vein, but almost two years in, his policy is more hawkish than President Bush’s. He’s angered human rights types by restoring military ties to the Indonesian Special Forces and, according to The Economist, may cut a nuclear deal with Vietnam that allows it to enrich uranium outside of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And if Obama is more hawkish than Bush, the Democrats are, in some ways, more hawkish than the GOP.

It's not hard to know why they did this.

It will probably work, too, unfortunately.

The Obama administration's stance vis-a-vis the Chinese communists was a pleasant surprise. Now let's see how long before they go back to the so-called Pax Sino-Americana policy/philosophy favored by the Clinton and Bush foreign policy teams.

I like the idea of letting them go at it and doing nothing.

Mickey, I ordered your book "There Is No Good War: The Myths of World War II."

by Mickey Z. on

Thanks, but that version of the book is definitely not in print, Bill. Maybe try "Saving Private Power"? If not, for a full appraisal of America's murderous foreign policy (both Republican and Democrat, Levi), please order my "Seven Deadly Spins" or e-mail me and I sell you one directly for a reduced price:

mickey@mickeyz.net

by Mickey Z. on

I'm very curious to find out what happens if your order it, Bill. This is the re-issue Sander Hicks attempted and then postponed. To the best of my knowledge, not a single copy was ever printed.

by Bill_Ectric on

Well, Mickey, like I said, I've already ordered it and Amazon accepted my money. We'll see what they come up with. Maybe they'll substitute the first edition with the different title, which is discussed in the intro of the edition I read when I click on "Look Inside." Maybe it's print-on-demand. It's cRaZy TiMe iN bOoKLaNd! TeXtS aRe tAkInG oN LiVeS oF ThEiR oWN!

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