The Center of the Earth, North Korea and Different Cultures.

Reality is often not as we think or wish it were.

Rest in Peace, Jerk

Hey! I'm the boss now.

I spent the past couple of days writing this article about the impacts of Korean culture and history on its future as well as ours now that Kim Jong-il is dead and his young son, Kim Jong-un, is nominally in charge.  My principal thesis, beyond that we don’t really know much about what’s happening there, is that Kim Junior will be controlled by a regency of close Kim relatives and senior members of the military.

Comfortingly, the White House assured us that

it has “no new concerns” about North Korea’s leadership after the death of dictator Kim Jong-il, but a spokesman for President Obama said he is “closely monitoring events.”

“I don’t think we have any additional concerns,” said presidential spokesman Jay Carney. “The issue here isn’t about personalities, it’s about the actions of the government. President Obama has been regularly briefed on the situation.” (Emphasis added)

Yeah, right. Except that in North Korea it is mainly about personalities, their interactions and the ways in which those within and outside the Kim Jong-un regency will seek to maintain and augment their own personal powers and statures. That’s what government is for in North Korea and that’s the way the government there operates; to ignore that reality is to proceed instead on the basis of unrealistic assumptions.

When I go to bed, I generally read novels until I doze off.  Recently, I have been reading Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth — a very strange place for which our experiences on the surface of the Earth would ill prepare us. In Verne’s fantasy world the Earth is hollow, with an inland sea and pleasant temperatures, is lit by electro-luminescence, has yummy stuff to eat and the remains as well as living examples of prehistoric critters can be found (or might find the traveler). As I dozed off, it occurred to me that we in the West are no more familiar with Korea, and particularly with North Korea, than we would be were we trying to understand and analyze goings on at Verne’s center of the Earth. We have never been to the center of the Earth, know very little about it and what we would encounter there would be very different from what we have experienced at home.

We probably recognize this. Yet we try to analyze what happens and is likely to happen in North Korea as though we knew as much as there is to know about it. We seem to look upon it as a small state in a mid western part of the United States.  It is not. Korea has a far longer history than does the United States and is extraordinarily different culturally, historically and in just about every other important respect. It is said that FDR tried to deal with Joseph Stalin before and during WWII as though Stalin were a Senator from the Georgia in the United States.  He obviously knew that Stalin was not, but nevertheless treated him in many respects as though he were. Give him the equivalent of a bridge, a road and other such goodies; then he will like us and do as we demand because that’s the way politics works in the United States.

Until we learn that people around the world are not necessarily the same as we are, don’t necessarily think in the same way and don’t necessarily appreciate the same things, we will continue to muck up foreign policy terribly. Our troops and those of our allies and enemies will continue to die unnecessarily, we will continue spend money that we don’t have and continue to be impoverished in the process.  Are we stupid, or just mistakenly well-meaning?

About danmillerinpanama

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains. I have contributed to Pajamas Media and Pajamas Tatler. In addition to my own blog, Dan Miller in Panama, I an an editor of Warsclerotic and contribute to China Daily Mail when I have something to write about North Korea.
This entry was posted in Appeasement, China, Cultural differences, Death, Death of Kim Jong-il, Facts, Food for North Korea, Freedom, History, Idiocy, Kim Dynasty, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, Korea, Korean Conflict, Stalin and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The Center of the Earth, North Korea and Different Cultures.

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  27. What a brilliant post! It is easily the most insightful thing I have read about foreign relations in a long while. People try applying the concepts that make sense to them to foreign realities and then are surprised when that doesn’t work.

    I’ve recently read many articles as to how the protests in Russia are somehow an extension of #OWS protests. Even a cursory look at the Organizing Committee of the protests in Russia would make it obvious that this is not the case. But in order to engage in such an analysis, one needs to understand precisely that “people around the world are not necessarily the same as we are.”

    • Muchas gracias, Clarissa. I’ve very much enjoyed your posts about the situation in Russia and elsewhere as well. Now if the folks allegedly in charge of our foreign policy would come to realize and, even better to understand, that what works in the United States will not automatically work or work in the same way elsewhere, there could be improvements. Fat chance of that happening, but it’s still worth contemplating.

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