Soundtracking the Resistance - Steely-Eyed Missile Men

A Crash Course in the History of North Korea

Dec 01, 2017 Web Exclusive By Stephen Mayne Bookmark and Share


To North Korea we go this week. Following yet another successful launch, we walk back a few decades to summarize the current situation threatening us all. Beneath the prospect of nuclear annihilation, there's also change afoot in the White House, an insulting president, tax reform, and the Grammys. (Note: Earlier today, after this was written, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and says he is cooperating with the Russia probe. We'll likely get into all of this in next week's column, depending on how things develop.)

The Big Event 

All through this year we've been skirting around North Korea and a missile program that seems to grow more threatening every month. We've mentioned launches and the petty spats Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has managed to get into with President Donald Trump. We've mentioned the fact Trump might be onto something by attempting to go through China to implement change, and how he definitely isn't onto something when issuing blind threats to a rogue state perfectly capable of hitting the self-destruct button if the end seems nigh. In short, we've kept returning without focusing on the threat. Now, after another launch, we're going to do that.

Consider this the potted history you may already know. From 1910 until the end of World War II, Imperial Japan ruled Korea. An agreement between the allies saw the Soviet Union liberate Korea north of the 38th parallel with the U.S. doing the same to the south. This left a country spilt into two regions.

The result of such tinkering, inevitably, was more war. The communist backed North Korean forces led by Kim Il-sung strove to reunite the country by invading the South in 1950. Triggering full Cold War paranoia on both sides, it became a bloody proxy war lasting over three years and claiming upwards of a million lives. The end result was misery for Korea and stalemate for the great powers. Both sides ended back where they started, staring at each other across a line barely changed.

Since then, paths have diverged considerably. South Korea struggled along for a while before coming to life in the 1980s through a mixture of western aid and a strategy of capitalism mixed with protectionist measures to home-grow industry. Today, South Korea is a success story: affluent, democratic, and influential, albeit trapped in a volatile situation south of a very dangerous neighbor.

The picture in North Korea is different. The Kim dynasty has been highly successful if remaining in power is the criteria on which they should be judged. After the Eternal President Kim Il-sung came his son Kim Jong-il, and now his grandson, the ruling supreme leader Kim Jong-un. On their watch, North Korea has become a highly repressive state with millions starving and imprisoned. Violent punishment is standard. One example saw reports surfacing of executions carried out using an anti-aircraft gun.

North Korea is not a uniquely repressive regime, although the degree is worse than most places, and the longevity of the Kim dynasty has given ample time to ruin the lives of generations of North Koreans. That's not what terrifies the rest of the world though. The North Korean nuclear program does that. The twin projects of crafting nuclear warheads and rockets to carry them have come on rapidly in the past year. Given the secretive nature of the regime, it's hard to know exactly what capacity it has, but Japan is worried, South Korea is definitely worried, and it's starting to look like America might be in range of nuclear tipped missiles as well.

Western sanctions have been imposed for years with only minimal success, partly because China has often turned a blind eye from the eminently sensible fear that the end of the Kim dynasty will lead to the dangerous disintegration of a nuclear armed and starving state on its border. But even China has limits, which Trump is now trying to find.

The unknowable nature of the Kim regime makes it even scarier. It seems plausible the launch button might get pressed anyway in a final fit of self-destructive violence should the end near. As far as threats to world peace go, and indeed direct threats to America, that posed by North Korea is far in excess of anything mustered by current bête noire, Islamic terrorism. The lives lost to terrorist attacks are terrible, but those groups can't wipe whole regions off the planet. A desperate and unhinged North Korean regime can do just that.

For once, Trump's brash resolve to assert himself could come in useful, if only it can be more safely channeled into diplomatic and military pressure rather than empty threats and Twitter insults. As it is, two volatile, nuclear armed men are intermittently squaring off. It's not a recipe for the long-lasting health of our world. But if Trump takes the threat seriously and bows to wiser heads than his own, and if he can avoid riling China in a fit of pique at some later stage and lay off attacking the leader of South Korea as he tried to do earlier in the year, perhaps this could be the start of what will likely be a long road to a safer world. Perhaps.

What's Going On 

Are Rex Tillerson's days in government behind him? Word on the Washington street has it that Trump might be about to get rid of him from the State Department due to their frequent foreign policy clashes, and let's face it, because Tillerson allegedly called him a moron. That's not the kind of thing the thin-skinned ruler of the free world is likely to let slide. If rumors are true, he'll be replaced by current CIA head Mike Pompeo.

Talking of fits of pique, it's been a classic Trumpian week in this regard. The president managed to make insensitive comments about Native Americans at a ceremony to honor Navajo veterans and retweeted a member of a far-right party in Britain. To double-down, he then mocked the British Prime Minister when she rebuked him.

As that goes on, the great tax reform effort that will save America by helping the rich to get richer continues to trundle along. There are still Republican senators who could hold the process up, but no one has yet put their head above the parapet meaning it could pass as is. Which will still then require an awful lot of negotiating with the House given both chambers insist on different versions, but by then much the damage will have been done.

Speak Up!

The Grammy nominations are out and as far as the whole diversity thing goes, it's a mixed bag. It's less of a whites only affair in the big categories this year, which marks an improvement, but there are not many women included. Cue the regular argument as to whether awards shows discriminate or are merely representative of the quality of the music released, which in turn could suggest the whole music world limits chances. But putting that to one side, there are plenty of happy people, as witnessed below.

 

I️ remember pretending to be vegan cause that's all I️ could afford lol (chips avocado n salad mix ) I️ remember sleeping on everyone's couch cause I missed the train AGAIN (thank yall for having me lol ) . Sold my beloved 500$ grillz for 50 bucks at the gold shop for train fair( I️ was SICK 😩 lol ). I️ BEGGED Punch for writers on this project cus I️ thought no one would ever like me the way I️ was . He said "U don't need em". I️ remember crying cus I️ didn't have any hits or a quantifiable "sound".. I️ remember feeling like damn maybe I suck . maybe I️ should try something else ? Maybe I'm jus wasting space ..Life's weird . I️ Didn't have any friends growing up. never gave my parents an opportunity to say "wow my kids killing it" didn't graduate or do any fly shit before my nana died . been fired from every job I️ ever had ..I remember sobbing on the phone w punch pleading for the album not to come out cause I️ couldn't take the embarrassment . Just wanted another week . Another day ?..he ignored me n said I'd be fine...This entire thing puts my wildest dreams to shame. I️ dunno what to say cause I️ dunno how to accept its even happening to me lol ? I've never won anything in my life even until this week (THANK YOU SOULTRAIN AWARDS!!) it all just feels strange somehow BUT IM SO OVERWHELMINGLY GRATEFUL FOR THIS STRANGENESS!! . I'm so in awe of Gods plan.. I just wanna live up to it. Thank you for listening to me.. thank you for understanding me.. thank u for bonding w my thoughts just the way they were. INFINITE GRATITUDE to the Recording Academy for this INCREDIBLE honor. I️ can't even believe I've been considered. God bless every person who worked on this album or gave it an ear (specially the producers of the century @somethingnebula @iam_c_lang @thankgod4cody 💜) . Thank you Top and Punch for believing in me no matter what (even when I'm on your LAST nerves😊) . Thank u RCA for giving me new wings🙏🏾 THANK YOU GOD FOR THIS LIFE I️ DONT UNDERSTAND . #Ctrl.. a concept . #mygrannynominatedfor5grammys #TDE

A post shared by SZA (@sza) on Nov 29, 2017 at 8:57am PST

 

 

 

Song of the Week: Silver Mt. Zion - "Babylon Was Built on Fire"

Apocalyptic imagery abounds this week in the wake of the North Korean shenanigans listed above, so we turn to Silver Mt. Zion to play us out amidst the wreckage of a destroyed world. It's not exactly uplifting stuff from the Canadian group, but it has its own beauty. Let's just hope the apocalyptic visions remain only visions. 

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Graham Aubrey
December 7th 2017
3:10pm

This is one of the most enjoyable news stories i have had the pleasure of reading in a very long time. The historical information around north Korea is relevant, and something that i believe more people should have a good understanding of. I absolutely love the way that you guys go about it - and not to mention the tracks that you guys include to accompany it - pure bliss.