Category Archives: North Korea

When travel narrows the mind

Dalrymple writes that there is nothing like mass travel for

destroying the value—educational, spiritual, æsthetic—of travel.

He notes also that there is no reason to suppose

that other cultures, when found, will necessarily meet with travellers’ approval rather than with, say, disgust.

He points out that when Sayyid Quṭb went to the USA,

it closed his mind forever.

And when Dalrymple visited North Korea,

it did not cause me to respect North Korean culture, which is a permanent mixture of Nuremberg Rally and Busby Berkeley, but to view it with horror and detestation.


One day the North Korean tyranny will fall

In 1989, Dalrymple embedded himself in a delegation to the World Festival of Youth and Students (run by the World Federation of Democratic Youth), which was then being held in Pyongyang.

In his 1991 book The Wilder Shores of Marx: Journeys in a Vanishing World (also published as Utopias Elsewhere), he observes closely some of his fellow delegates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commenting thus about a female cadre:

A young woman of clearly middle-class origin, who wore only black shapeless clothes and had owlish round spectacles, was shocked how people who called themselves caring could eat meat.

She was

a person of very definite opinions, including a rather poor one of the male sex in general: when she signed her name, she appended a cross to the ‘o’ it contained, to turn it into the biological symbol for female.

Dalrymple describes a couple of male delegates:

They were hard-faced communists, who dressed tough and cut their hair short so that their heads should appear as bony as possible. I overheard one of them describing a demonstration he had attended in England, in which there had also been a member of Amnesty International with a placard. ‘I went up to him and said, “I don’t believe in that bourgeois shit,” and he said, “Do you think political prisoners should be tortured and killed, then?” “Too fucking right, I do,” I said.’ The person to whom he related this charming little exchange laughed.

Dalrymple’s disgust cannot be disguised even in this propaganda film

What Dalrymple found frightening about the pair

was that their faces were contorted with hatred even as they laughed, and when they talked of killing political prisoners they meant it. They were members of a little communist groupuscule for whom Stalin was a god, not in spite of his crimes but because of them.

Dalrymple reports that the Scandinavian guests,

to my great admiration, unfurled two banners, one asking why Amnesty International was not permitted to investigate conditions in North Korea, and another expressing solidarity with the Chinese pro­-democracy students who had been massacred in Tiananmen Square. Later, when the Scandinavian marchers returned to the body of the stadium, scuffles broke out as security men tried to wrest the banners away. A few of the Scandinavians were punched and kicked.

When these scuffles broke out,

I overheard some of my fellow delegates, the hard-faced communists, express a willingness, indeed an anxiety, to join in – on the side of the North Koreans, ‘to beat the shit out of them’.

Discussing among themselves the Peking scene when the single student (since executed) stood in front of the column of tanks and held them up by moral force alone,

one of them remarked that if he had been the tank driver he would have driven ‘straight over the bastard and squashed him’. And his face showed that he meant what he said.

Dalrymple refuses to stand for the entry of the Eternal President and mouths a version of Luther’s Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders! Gott helfe mir, Amen!

The foreigners, caught up in the atmosphere of hysterical self-abasement, stood up and applauded as if to save their lives. I am not by nature brave, or even unconventional, yet in the moment of Kim Il-sung’s entry I decided that I would not stand, not if everyone in the stadium should hurl abuse at me. I was so appalled by the sight and sound of 200,000 men and women worshipping a fellow mortal, abdicating their humanity, that I should rather have died than assent to this monstrous evil by standing (my mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany). There I sat; I could do no other. The terrible obedience of the crowd, uncoerced at least in the immediate sense, indicated the power of the régime, a power that seemed absolute and limitless, that had entered the very recesses of minds, that had eradicated any countervailing force.
Yet the power that was so strong Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 09.53.35
was brittle. It would only have taken 10,000 people not to have stood up for Kim Il-sung when he entered the stadium – the omission of one small act of obedience – and his power and mystique would have snapped like a twig, to remain broken and irrecoverable. My refusal to stand was a feeble, isolated gesture; but a tiny crystal thrown into a sea of saturated solution can cause an immense precipitate, and one day such a thing will happen in North Korea and everyone, wise after the event, will marvel that it didn’t happen sooner.

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 10.05.05Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 10.02.22

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 00.40.33


Dalrymple in North Korea

The DPRK: the ne plus ultra of contemporary political deformity (before, that is, the epidemic of Islamism)

Footage of an apparently uniformed doctor-writer from about 31:18 and again from about 32:32 (at which he point he is holding a camera).

Dalrymple is seen looking upon the spectacle with, to put it mildly, some scepticism. Among the speakers is Robert Mugabe. We know that later in the proceedings Dalrymple refused to stand or applaud at the appearance of the Dear Leader: ‘There I sat; I could do no other.’ The doctor-writer had succeeded in embedding himself in the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students.

Footage found on YouTube by Yakimi of the Skeptical Doctor site.


For anti-imperialist solidarity, peace and friendship

Dalrymple is in Pyongyang to attend the World Festival of Youth and Students

Albanian Arcadia

Compared with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dalrymple tells an interviewer, even Hoxha’s People’s Socialist Republic seemed a paradise.

Brains of tinsel

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 13.16.38Turning to the Olympics and

the expenditure of billions on infrastructure that is so soon to crumble to worthlessness and liability, all for the sake of a couple of weeks’ gormless global entertainment,

Dalrymple writes that

only someone with brains of tinsel, such as Mr Blair, the former British prime minister who brought the games to London, could have thought it worthwhile; not as bad, perhaps, as the endless mass parades in Pyongyang, but of a similar genre.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 13.09.39Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 13.18.25Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 13.20.56Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 13.24.58

Encounter in Pyongyang

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

Strolling through the North Korean capital, Dalrymple finds himself

in the enormous and almost deserted square in front of the Grand People’s Study House. (All open spaces in Pyongyang remain deserted unless filled with parades of hundreds of thousands of human automata.)

A young Korean slides surreptitiously up to him and asks:

Do you speak English?

It is, says Dalrymple, an electric moment, for in North Korea, unsupervised contact between a Korean and a foreigner is as unthinkable as shouting, ‘Down with Big Brother!’ Dalrymple nods. The young Korean says:

I am a student at the Foreign Languages Institute. Reading Dickens and Shakespeare is the greatest, the only pleasure of my life.

It is a

searing communication. We parted immediately afterwards and of course will never meet again. For him, Dickens and Shakespeare (which the régime permitted him to read with quite other ends in view) guaranteed the possibility not just of freedom but of truly human life. Orwell and Huxley had the imagination to understand why—unlike me, who had to go to Pyongyang to find out.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 09.51.42


People ground to dust

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.59.25Dalrymple writes that in the broad, almost deserted boulevards of today’s Pyongyang as much as in the St Petersburg of 1839, a crowd, in the words of Astolphe de Custine,

would be a revolution.


Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.53.44demand immense efforts to bring forth trifles, one of the differences between the tsarist autocracy and the totalitarian dictatorship being the absence of aesthetic judgment and taste of the latter.

Dalrymple points out that the purpose of North Korean ceremonies

is to humiliate, to force people to acknowledge their enslavement with simulated joy. Spontaneity is not the only thing abolished; sincerity follows into the dustbin of history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.52.21There was a time when Dalrymple regarded North Korea as

the ne plus ultra of contemporary political deformity. In those days, Islamism was hardly a speck on the horizon.

He should have known better, for as he says,

when it comes to the forms of self-evident stupidity and self-destruction, man’s inventiveness is infinite.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.54.32


‘A man is killed; a phone is advertised’

It is all one to us, writes Dalrymple.

It is all one to us, says Dalrymple.

‘Millions dead, freedom unknown and nothing to show for it’

That is socialism, says Dalrymple. Milksop, Western, populist, vote-grubbing, ‘democratic’ socialism, of the type practised by Harold Wilson or François Hollande, entails, Dalrymple points out, the — at first mild — ‘replacement of the impersonal allocation by price, by allocation by political influence’. As for full-throttled socialism, as practised, for instance, by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, it is theoretical fantasy and absurdity. It can only be imposed, Dalrymple notes, by force. The result in socialist countries was (is, in the case of North Korea and Cuba) ‘disastrous’. It has been murderous and very often genocidal, for socialism, as Michael Wharton famously described it, is like ‘a great road, stretching to infinity across a barren, waterless waste. Along it trudge half the peoples of the world, bowed, manacled, parched, exhausted. By the verges lie the gaunt wrecks of crashed and burnt-out nations; and skeletons picked clean by vultures and bleached by a pitiless sun’. Socialism, Wharton wrote, involves ‘the death of freedom, the enslavement of the masses, the withering of art and culture, the restless, ruthless hunt for scapegoats, the aggressive folie de grandeur of dictators’. Only a tiny number of fantasists deny that socialism was and is like this. But these fantasists, traitors and apologists for tyranny — the foremost example is the disgusting Alger Hiss — whether they be spies, fellow travellers or sympathisers, these ‘enemies of the open society’, have wielded, and continue to wield, very great power inside the Western establishment, indeed in one sense they are the Western establishment.