Just two weeks ago North Korea threatened to conduct its fourth major nuclear weapons test aimed at showing the world their superior level of military power. And just today North Korea fired several shots at a South Korean border patrol ship. The hostility may be caused by fear, desperation, or as a political maneuver by the new Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un who is trying to gain favor with the old elite military establishment… or perhaps as Paul French suggests, North Korea “exists in a state of paranoia”.
For the past 60 years North Korea has been a country of isolation. No-one leaves freely; in fact, there is so much government control that just to travel outside the capital of Pyongyang, it’s citizens need a permission certificate. All jobs are government assigned, housing is assigned, there are no foreign books, newspapers, or magazines allowed in North Korea and TV programming is government controlled. There is no internet and no private phones available to the public. To make a phone call one must go to a telephone bureau or the post office and place the call through a government operator. All such calls are monitored. Paranoid indeed!
Paul French has been a writer for Access Asia for many years. He has worked alongside many other knowledgable people and it is with excellent credentials and well-informed connections that Paul French writes this book. His research was acquired from various governments, academia, international agencies, and the media from the Far East and beyond including at least one defector, the former North Korean Government Secretary for International Affairs Hwang Jang-yop.
North Korea is broken down into several sections: the culture and philosophy of its people, the history since WW II, the economic situation, the ruling family and political atmosphere, and the military and foreign relations.
The life style is so sad, reading about it made me cry, and so de-humanizing it left me nauseated. Mr. Jang-yop is quoted as saying, “the entire country is a large prison.” (Pg. 67)
The North Koreans live by the philosophy of “Juche” meaning “self-reliance”. This is quite delusional because they could not survive without millions of dollars in foreign aid annually. Food shortages are causing starvation and there have been reports of cannibalism. Their entire economic system is a failure. “The aid economy keeps the country, its people and political regime afloat on a drip feed, while the second economy, the domestic sphere, continues to drain resources and energy.” (Pg 156). They spend a good portion of their money and the aid money on arms and hold their innocent citizens hostage for more aid, international recognition, and power.
Politically the book explains how the Soviet Union and China helped mold the regime, and the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And there is surprisingly detailed information about the secretive Kim clan – pointing out the fabricated propaganda and myths the North Koreans are taught. The author offers his readers well-substantiated facts.
The portion of North Korea that covers the military is truly frightening. They are the worlds most militarized regime… a country of approximately 20 to 25 million people with an army of approximately 1.2 million soldiers and as many as 4 million additional civilians armed in case of invasion. The border separating North and South Korea- referred to as the DMZ – is a 2.5 miles wide by 156 miles long “mine-laden strip” to insure no-one leaves and no-one enters. Twenty years ago President Clinton described the DMZ as “the scariest place on earth” (Pg. 345) And since then it has only gotten worse.
These are just a few of the details, quotes, and statistics presented in Paul French’s book. Some of the information is repetitive and more detail is presented than the average layman may be interested to know, but over-all the book is fascinating… especially because of the occult isolation. And the astounding fact that after the Korean War ended in 1953, a peaceful settlement has never been achieved. Technically North and South Korea are in a stalemate – still at war, and on the precipice – poised for the final battle.
Rated 4.5 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish. Books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.