The New Year always seems to bring about the need for change. People commit to their new year’s resolutions in order quit smoking or drinking, lose weight or better themselves in some particular way. Rarely do you see these types of changes taking a place at a national or international level, after all, you never hear of a government resolving to spend less or be more accountable for their actions.
Upon the unexpected death of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, the hope for such a change was high, especially in the media. The trouble is a totalitarian regime never works that way, in fact no country works that way. The only way to change a democratic or autocratic government is by having its people demand it, just like in North Africa this past year, just like in Washington in 2008. To believe that change comes about with a man’s “heart attack” is as naïve as thinking it comes with the changing of the year. Change is up to us, not them.
The problem with North Korea is that the ruling party has spent decades building up its leader’s cult of personality and shutting the rest of the world out. With the Kim Dynasty now entering its third generation, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who knows of the freedom that those in the west take for granted. However, I would bet if you were to ask the average North Korean if they felt free, they would agree. They just don’t know any better.
Enter Kim Jong Un, youngest son of the late Kim Jong Il, a man supposedly in his late twenties with only two years of grooming under his father’s wing. Kim the third will now take control of twenty-five million people, the world’s fourth largest military and one of the two last state-run economies on earth.
Kim Jong Un will also have to decide what to do with the ongoing famine in his communist country. While famine is not at the levels they were in the mid-nineties when up to three million North Koreans died of famine related diseases, it is still a problem. According to Jimmy Carter who visited the country last year, the North Korean state had reduced daily food intake from 1,400 calories to 700 calories in 2011 (a healthy European takes in about 2000-2500). Another study concluded that roughly 45% of North Korean children under the age of five are stunted from malnutrition.
Thanks to Songun, a term used to describe Kim Jong Il’s “military first” policy, all aspects of North Korean society is secondary to the KPA (Korean People’s Army). This policy helped Kim Jong Il solidify his power after his father died and helped to strengthen the country after the fall of communism in many allied countries. Songun guides domestic policy and international interactions at the expense of its people who struggle to survive. I would argue that the United States has a similar policy in place.
Kim Jong Un has already consolidated his power in the country and last Friday was appointed supreme commander of the country’s 1.2 million-strong armed forces. The state’s annual New Year’s address urged the country to defend the new leader, Kim Jong-un, to the death. The message also said the “burning issue” of food shortages was one the nation’s leaders must work to solve. Of course in a country like North Korea, if that “burning issue” isn’t solved all one has to do is change the message.
The situation in the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” is virtually hopeless in regards to its citizens. The Kim dynasty’s Stalin-like military rule has made any chance of revolution impossible. The presence of a massive army supported by nuclear weapons has made any intervention undesirable. Furthermore, their state run media brainwashes its people to believe that everything is great no matter how starving and desperate its people become. Kim Jong Un might very well lead the country for fifty years, but the type of country he leads is solely in his hands.
I didn’t write this first essay of the New Year to depress anyone, I wrote it to encourage. We used to live in the freest society the world has ever known. Those freedoms that we took for granted for so long are now slowly being replaced or repealed by the people in government and the corporations and special interests that control them. In 2012 we all must come together to take back what is rightfully ours. Unlike North Korea, we don’t have to wait an eternity…
“I’m thankful I live in a place where I can say the things I do without being taken out and shot. So I’m on guard against the goons trying to take my rights away. We’ve got to rise above the need for cops and laws.” – Taken from Stars and Stripes of Corruption by Jello Biafra
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