"THE King” – no, make that – “The Kim is dead ... Long live the Kim!” seems to be the attitude now in North Korea, although how much of the emotion is real, how much is manufactured, and how much is pure propaganda is anybody’s guess. In any case, Karl Marx must certainly be rolling over in his grave at the sight of a pudgy, third-generation child of privilege taking over dictatorial control of this “workers’ paradise.”
Back in 1998, the year that Kim Jong Il first fired a test missile over Japan, I was living in Nagano City. Looking at the likely flight path that the missile had taken, my Japanese friends and I speculated that it might have gone right over our heads. My local pals – along with most of Japan – became obsessed with the potential military threat that North Korea and its strongman might pose to their country. Needless to say, this anxiety only deepened in 2005, when the Kim regime announced it had developed a nuclear weapon, and deepened even more the next year when it was tested.
For my part, however, I never really thought North Korea represented any serious danger to Japan. Given the backward state of its economy and technological base, I didn’t think then – and I don’t think now – that North Korea has the capability of doing any real damage to Japan ... much less to Guam. In fact, my only fear was that one of their missile tests might flop, and the thing might come down on us in Nagano.
South Korea is another matter, but not because of any nuclear weapons the North may or may not have ... and may or may not be able to use effectively. No, the problem for the south is that its capital, Seoul, is in easy striking distance of the North’s long range artillery, which is said to be dug into virtually bomb-proof positions in the mountains, and stocked with enough chemical, biological and high-explosive shells to kill most of the people in the city.
Fortunately, nothing like that ever happened, perhaps because a large part of Kim Jong Il’s erratic behavior and strange lifestyle might have been something of a calculated act. Appear unstable enough when you control a large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and people will be very careful how they treat you. I suspect that Kim might actually have been a little craftier than we usually give him credit for. His people might have been starving and living in a constant state of fear, but his goal was his own survival, and that of his dynasty. In this, I am sorry to say, Kim Jong Il seems to have been a complete success. The oligarchy created by his father, Kim Il Sung, lives on, with a few ultra powerful people at the top controlling everything, and his immediate family sitting at the very top.
Looking at North Korea, we can clearly see what happens when too few people control too much.
Before we start to feel too smug, however, perhaps we should take a long hard look at some other parts of the world ... starting with our own. We certainly have a long way to go before things are anywhere near as bad as they are in North Korea, but what should we think when the inheritors of the Wal-Mart fortune – six people – now have as much wealth as 130 million ordinary Americans? What should we think when billionaires and mega-corporations are now free to pour as much of their money as they like into our elections, without even having to report it? What should we think when we hear that a record 49 million Americans now live in poverty while the top 1 percent has never had it so good?
And here on Guam ...
What do you think?