Category Archives: North Korea

No China, no North Korea…

The fate of Mussolini

…and no North Korea, Kim Jong-un hanged from the nearest lamp-post.

Certainly, says Dalrymple, there will be no more men

standing behind Kim and taking down his precious words in their notebooks. (On hospital visits, not a word of that wisdom must be lost for posterity; when Kim speaks, the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine are redundant.)

There will be no more men

taking notes of the pearls of medical wisdom and advice that fall from Kim’s lips.

There will be no more notebooks at the ready,

taking down Kim’s immortal vapourings.

There wil be no more

guidance for orthopædic surgeons on how to treat the injured.

There will be no more of this on the great day of the fall of the North Korean tyranny.

Pearls of medical wisdom and advice fall from the lips of the Supreme Leader (and behind him, in the display cabinet, adequate supplies of liquor — the reward of eloquence)

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North Korea is at one of the unpleasant edges of human possibility

Dalrymple writes:

I think it was Jean Améry who said that once you have been tortured you remain tortured. I do not mean to claim any kind of equivalence in the experience, but once you have been to North Korea, you never forget it, either—as, for example, you might forget whether or not you have ever been to Stevenage or Welwyn Garden City.

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. (He was neither a youth nor a student at the time.)

Ever since, he says,

I have been drawn to pictures of the Kim dynasty, whether of Kim the First, Second, or Third. There is a fascination to this horrible family that makes the Borgias seem like philanthropists. The Borgias certainly had better taste.

He adds:

You feel, as you look at pictures, that if only you stare long and hard enough at them, you will pluck out the heart of their mystery—an absurd notion, of course.

In his 1991 book The Wilder Shores of Marx: Journeys in a Vanishing World (also published as Utopias Elsewhere), Dalrymple observes closely some of his fellow delegates on that trip, 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.

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Jean Améry

What’s wrong with this picture?

Answer: It is not staged, but real — it offers a rare glimpse of reality. How does Dalrymple know? He explains: ‘The side-rail of the bed in which the patient lies is in terrible condition. Its white enamel and blue paint are as chipped, and the metal underneath as rusted, as they would have been in, say, Mauritania or the Central African Republic. If it had been a proper North Korean mise-en-scène, the bed-rail would have been gleaming. The chipped enamel and paint, and the rust, give the game away.’

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

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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.

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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.

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