Don’t just sample the clip for 10 seconds. Watch to the end and drink in the full spectacle of grown men, prostrate, screaming in grief at the death of their subjugator. I take it state media beamed this out to show the world how unlikely a North Korean Spring is; it might be their first honest moment. Count me in with Michael Totten and Dan Foster in thinking these histrionics are more genuine than we’d like to believe. After all, lesser cult leaders like Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite have asked and gotten more from their followers than this; surely a few tears were in order in Pyongyang upon learning that God is dead. The whole point of totalitarian conditioning is to draw this reaction without needing soldiers to stand just out of frame pointing rifles at the crowd. Go figure that it actually works on some people.
Totten, a regular visitor to authoritarian countries, wonders how many people it worked on:
A spectrum of opinion exists in North Korea just like anywhere else. On one end is some percentage of the population that is willing to drink the Kool Aid, so to speak, because they’re more susceptible to propaganda than others or because they benefit from the system personally. There are also those who are terrified of the consequences if they resist, so they force themselves to try to believe it. Then there are those who can lie on the outside, but not on the inside. They know perfectly well that the Kim family dynasty is a horror show. A rather large number of North Koreans have escaped with their lives or died trying. Some of those have dedicated themselves to smuggling their comrades out through an underground railroad of sorts into China…
Especially in full-bore Stalinist systems like North Korea’s, would-be dissidents feel like they’re completely alone, that no one else has any idea the emperor is naked. That’s why these regimes will mobilize massive state resources just to locate and punish a single graffiti artist. It’s critically important that everyone who hates the government feels like they’re the only people who do so.
But there are always genuine supporters. My guess is that most or all of the people in the video above are genuine supporters. They aren’t at all likely to be a random sampling of the population. The fact that they live in Pyongyang alone means they aren’t a random sample because the capital city is reserved for those deemed the most loyal.
At National Journal, Michael Hirsh predicts the Kim dynasty will crawl on because, really, how could it not?
There is, perhaps, no totalitarianism in the world that is as all-embracing as North Korea’s. Something like it hasn’t existed since Stalin died (and with him a personality cult very much like that which surrounds the Kims). I have spent time in other police states, but even in some of the most vicious of them, an undercurrent of dissent ran like a subterranean stream through the back rooms of restaurants, bars and private meeting rooms. Even under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi cab drivers would glance around when pressed and spit out their hatred of the dictator. Dissidents in Myanmar, during the worst of the crackdown, would whisper their fealty to democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In Vietnam, Saigon residents would raise their eyebrows and snort at the central planners in the North. In China, after Mao’s death, there was a reappraisal of his policies, and the Communist Party ultimately allowed that some elements of “Mao Zedong Thought,” like the disastrous Great Leap Forward of the ’50s or the Cultural Revolution of the ’60s, had not been successful…
It is too simplistic to attribute this mindset to a mere fear of repression or self-censorship. Yes, according to State Department human-rights reports and the few defectors to make it out of North Korea, there are gulags in remote areas for the wrong-thinking. But on the whole, there seems little in the way of independent thought to censor. One foreign resident of Pyongyang, when asked on our trip in 2000 if he had ever seen any evidence of dissent–even over drinks with North Korean associates–responded: “Never. Nothing.” North Korea’s regime has come the closest of any society to what Orwell called, in 1984, the literal inability to conceive an unorthodox thought. If one sets aside the fact that North Korea is an economic sinkhole, and that its freedom-loving enemies are crowding in upon it from every side, it may even be called the most successful totalitarianism in modern history.
If the regime fell and South Korea took over, would Northerners be psychologically capable of integrating into a free society or would they need some sort of institutional structure to very slowly reintroduce them to the world? Also, something for the foreign-policy eggheads to ponder: Why do North Koreans behave this way when many Libyans were ecstatic to see Qaddafi go? Is it a simple matter of NK’s military being vastly more competent and therefore intimidating to the population than Libya’s was? Is it that NK, as a society, is even more cloistered than Libya, leaving North Koreans with no international yardstick to measure their own oppression by? Is it the absence of any strong tribal divisions in North Korea of the sort in Libya that gave people an identity beyond Qaddafi’s brand of nationalism? What’s the magic sinister ingredient?
Update: From Tiberius to Caligula?
The portrait of Kim Jong Eun that emerges in his U.S. profile is that of a young man who, despite years of education in the West, is steeped in his father’s cult of personality and may be even more mercurial and merciless, officials said.
A senior U.S. official said intelligence analysts believe, for instance, that Kim Jung Eun “tortured small animals” when he was a youth. “He has a violent streak and that’s worrisome,” a senior U.S. official said, summing up the U.S. assessments…
“Kim Jong Il picked the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree,” a U.S. official said. “He didn’t select a successor who he believed would radically depart from his vision for North Korea.”
China had better huddle with the Praetorian Guard and figure out a solution before Caligula does something he can’t take back.
Update: And right on cue:
On Monday, China was moving to quickly to deepen its influence over senior officials in North Korea and particularly with those in the military, according to Chinese and foreign former government officials and analysts. For now, the reclusive leadership is offering few clues as to what, if any, changes the death of the dictator could bring. It did, however, send a strong signal that at least for now, the powerful military and other parts of the nation’s small, privileged ruling elite would go along with the Kim family’s ambitions to extend its rule to a third generation…
Given Kim Jong-un’s relatively weak domestic position, Mr. Okonogi and other analysts said some kind of group rule could emerge. Much speculation has centered on whether Kim Jong-il’s apparent second-in-command, his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, could emerge as a regent. However, analysts said there were no signs of that on Monday in the propaganda that followed the death announcement.