North Korea has been called, rather benignly, the hermit kingdom. In fact, it is a cell block in hell.
Few people are allowed in or out. The country’s original despot, Kim Il Sung, called “Great Leader,” passed absolute power to his son, Kim Jong Il, called “Dear Leader,” who treats his people like plantation slaves and the country like his private property.
The Marxist-Leninist regime has pauperized the economy. The party elites feed heartily, but the vast majority go hungry. In the Nineties, famine struck. Nobody really knows the horrors endured by that imprisoned population, but the best guess is that a million of them starved to death. Average height and weight declined for the survivors.
This is a stunted country, ruled by a moral monster who lurks like a spider at the center of an all-powerful and merciless system of control. It is literally the heart of darkness, as a well-known overhead photo of the Korean peninsula demonstrates.
Life is shaky these days for the Dear Leader. He has suffered a stroke. He recently tried to confiscate what little wealth his people possess by means of a currency reform – and for once, the people resisted. The Dear Leader was fearful enough to blame his top financial adviser for the mess. He then had the man executed. Other party potentates have been forced to apologize in public.
The country’s economy has careened to the edge of the precipice. Another great famine may be looming. Those who can, escape to China, where they are hunted down by the authorities and returned if caught. They prefer to endure a life in hiding as illegals than remain subjects of the monstrous Dear Leader.
The best account of conditions in North Korea right now can be found here, in North Korea Economy Watch – an excellent blog, which I recommend for those who aren’t put off by unedifying spectacles. This is a tale of suffering inflicted almost casually by evil in power.
By coincidence, the North Korean regime has just released a fresh batch of photographs of the Dear Leader inspecting his domains. These have been reproduced in the Boston Globe’s “Big Picture” site – also excellent and highly recommended.
For reasons known only to regime propagandists, most of the photos frame the pudgy Dear Leader with an abundance of foodstuff, making a striking contrast with everyday life in that hungry nation.
Irony is a game for the rich. With starvation a possibility – with the wolf howling at the door – the moral dissonance between regime and people in North Korea can only evoke sadness from helpless spectators like myself, and a deepening sense of horror in the victims.