May 1, 2009

N.K. State of Mind

After watching North Korea break off negotiations with the world, restart its nuclear program and expel UN monitors, everyone is wondering what comes next. Cameras and microscopes will minutely analyze every option available to America, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

As a result, North Korea’s mental state has gone relatively unexamined.

The North Korea leadership is easy to write off as irrational or delusional. The plight of the people, who have suffered multiple famines and live in the dark, has been ignored in pursuit of rigid ideology and nuclear weapons. Paradoxically, the state is being sacrificed for military dominance.

However, as insane as North Korea’s behavior appears, it has logical roots that stretch back 100 years. North Korea cannot be viewed strictly in an American context. North Korea was the battleground of many states and countless events influence its relationship with America.

Japanese occupation of the Korean peninusla, which had been united for 1500 years, began in 1910 and ended after World War 2. During Japanese rule, Korean culture was suppressed at all levels. Koreans were forbidden to speak Korean, forced to learn Japanese and the Shinto religion, barred from voting and conscripted into the Japanese army. Korean history was deleted by burning records and books, while temples were destroyed.

Korean nationalism was born from this occupation.

As soon as World War 2 ended the Korean peninsula was divided against itself. Korea was in shock but given no time to recover, instead thrown into the vast ideological struggle between East and West. Dominated by the Soviet Union and China, America offered no diplomatic recognition when North Korean Prime Minister Kim Il-sung declared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948.

The Korean war began soon after and was carried out with devastating effects. Besides the long-term political, economic, social and psychological consequences, the war resulted in America deploying nuclear missiles at North Korea for the next 40 years.

Perceiving multiple threats, Kim II-sung began his own nuclear program in the late 1950’s. The Soviet Union became equal to the American specter when, in the eyes of North Korean officials, it abandoned Cuba after the missile crisis. Beginning to trust no one, Kim II-sung delivered a speech in 1965 outlining the fundamentals of Juche, the new state ideology centered on self-sufficiency - particularly “self-defense in national defense.”

Kim II-sung wanted his own nukes at any cost, and the fall of the Soviet Union intensified his nuclear quest. Fear is both irrational and rational.

Distrust was pounded into North Korea over the next two decades. Having lost its Soviet aid, it approached America bilaterally to ease economic sanctions and normalize relations. North Korea signed an agreed framework in 1994 to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for light-water thermal reactors built by 2003. A Republican congress, sworn in months later, opposed the agreement. Construction started late and never finished.

Kim II-sung eventually gave way to his son, Kim Jong-II, who reverently continued chasing his father’s dream of deterrent. Their fear of America was confirmed in 2002 when President Bush included the “outpost of tyranny” in the “axis of evil,” and Vice President Cheney stated, “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat evil.”

North Korea may have never halted its nuclear program and America has other valid reasons for distrusting it: nuclear proliferation, arms exportation, drug running, counterfeiting and hostile threats. But Kim Jong II distrusts America for some of the same reasons.

In a way North Korea is like a drug addict in need of rehab - desperate but rational. Initially innocent, a hard life led to escape. Nuclear weapons became the answer to every problem. Family members failed to understand him and couldn’t agree on what to do. Some wanted hard punishment, others thought that would push him away.

Conflicting messages confused him and drove him over the edge.

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