North Korea’s apocalyptic propagandists


The prickliness of North Korea’s messaging also can be read as an evolutionary strategy, akin to a hedgehog showing its spines to protect its pink underbelly, Hannah Beech writes for The New Yorker:

In asymmetric warfare, belligerent propaganda—not to mention nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that may one day reach the U.S. mainland—is a useful tool…. North Koreans are subject to a never-ending stream of scaremongering from the regime’s propagandists, warning that Western imperialists and South Koreans are intent on forcibly unifying the peninsula.

“Even with its nuclear program, North Korea is a weak country with an outdated military and a very small population,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean studies at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “The only card they hold is to appear completely irrational and unpredictable. When they say they will wipe South Korea and the U.S. off the map, this propaganda gives an image of crazy zealots, who could do anything. They want the world to believe this image.”

Decades of a centrally planned command economy have transformed North Korea into Asia’s poorest country, one that has twisted inward, Beech adds:

A report from the rand Corporation last month concluded that, while those at the apex of North Korean society might harbor some reservations about their thirty-three-year-old leader, “the North Korean regime has made every effort to indoctrinate North Korean elites into believing that unification would be disastrous for them.”

“You read their propaganda from the nineteen-sixties, when they were interested in world revolution and civil-rights movements, and it’s rich in detail about the outside world,” said Peter Ward, a sociology postgraduate at Seoul National University, who has studied North Korean propaganda. “But by the nineteen-eighties, they knew nothing about the outside world. It’s kind of depressing how ignorant they are.”

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