The Lileks Zone

More expert analysis on North Korea

Kim Jong-Il is dead, and boo-hoo-hoo. Everyone’s passing around the Official Weeping Interval video today. This hellish ululation is either genuine, or it’s not. Either option is unnerving.

If it’s genuine, then you see the end result of a few generations of socialization and isolation: automatons whose depthless grief is matched only by their fear of a future without  Dear Leader’s hand on the till. Or the locomotive throttle. Or the golf cart steering wheel, or the movie camera’s focus control, or the agricultural biology lab’s special microscope he used to cure wheat smut, or any of the other things in which he excelled. But surely all is not lost; if he was the greatest at absolutely everything, then he was Top Best Sperm Man of All-Time, and his son will be just as smart. Certainly has his looks and charisma.

 

On the other hand: c’mon. What a bunch of fakers! Round up all the people who work in the local offices, the ones who aren’t starving and have probably had real coffee and a piece of meat in the last couple weeks. Line ‘em up and shout “express your grief” and give everyone a close-up, so you can study the tape later and see who didn’t seem consumed with despondency.

 

Who knows? Well, I do. Last summer I read “A Corpse in the Koryo,”  a murder mystery set in North Korea, and that makes me an expert on the place. The author wrote under a pseudonym of James Church, because he was a real secret intelligence officer, or because he wasn’t and wanted to make you think he was. The hero, Inspector O, floats through a mirror-palace world of corruption and suspicion; everything is broken, no one has everything, the black market thrives, the army is the mob, and so on. I’m not sure if it had a plot, or what it was, or who died at the end, but there was a sequel, so I’m pretty sure the hero survived. If there’s one thing I learned from the book, it’s that no one in Pyongyang believes in any of that Juche drivel. The entire state is performance art. Nothing will change as long as the regime is enabled by the outside world.

And that’s my expert opinion! Only slightly less useful than the rest of the speculation we’ll get this week.

No one knows what will happen, but we all know what didn’t happen. Ten years after President Bush named the Axis of Evil, the regime is still around. Still building Nork-nukes; still trying to figure out a way to sell a few to keep the top brass in cognac and imported Russian hookers for another year or two. In 2001 we figured they’d be toast within the next few years, once the world got serious about dealing with the threat, but no. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for a decade, even though we know it’ll be filled one day with nitroglycerine. Expect more of the same for Kim Jung-D’oh, or whatever Number Three Son is called. There’s no good end for this story; the only question is whose innocents eventually pay: theirs, or ours.

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