A few snatches from recent readings.
Memory has certain pitfalls. Now when I recall those hostels full of teenagers they merge in my mind with the image of a cell at the 4th Police Station on the evening of 24 February 2010. My sister and I sharing a can of condensed milk with our classmates, suddenly being thrown into a hallway where the police scream and knock us around. My sister and I, on perpetual bunks, exactly the same amid Pinar del Rio’s red earth as in a damp basement of El Cerro. We went from sheltered girls to arrested women, from Little Pioneers harvesting bananas and oranges, to citizens forcibly pushed into a paddy wagon. My sister and I, one bed above another. She trembles, her voice strained, because she can no longer protect and defend me.
Across the world, in the other ally of Cuba, South Korea started dropping leaflets of the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, et al. Selig Harrison rubbishes it.
This is a ridiculous exercise for the obvious reason that Libya is split by countless tribal and regional divisions. By contrast, North Korea is ethnically homogeneous and strongly united by a nationalist heritage deeply rooted in the struggles against the Japanese colonial occupation and three years of U.S. saturation bombing during the Korean War.
The psychological cement that holds North Korea together is nationalism, and the key to understanding the strength of nationalist feeling in the North lies in a recognition of the traumatic impact of the Korean War. The North’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, skillfully utilized his totalitarian control to enshrine himself as the defender of Korean sovereignty and honor in the eyes of his people, but he was able to do so primarily because memories of the war made his nationalist message credible.
The American visitor is reminded constantly that the scars left by the war are unusually deep in the North. The South suffered brutal but relatively brief anguish during the latter part of 1950, with Pyongyang using little close air support in its operations there. The North, by contrast, endured three years of heavy U.S. bombing in addition to the Yalu offensive on the ground.
The defiant distrust of the outside world that persists in North Korea today recalls the American Revolution flag that bore the motto “Don’t Tread on Me” and depicted a rattlesnake poised to strike. But soon after winning the Revolutionary War, the United States adopted a confident posture toward the world. North Korea, however, continues to feel defensive and embattled more than five decades after the armistice. This “permanent siege mentality” has been systematically kept alive first by Kim Il Sung and now by Kim Jong Il to fortify their domestic power.
Laura Ling, who was held captive by North Korean soldiers for five months, finds the meaning (or lack of it) of freedom in the Hermit Kingdom.
There’s no need for the government to block threatening websites, because most North Koreans have never used a computer, let alone understand what a URL is.
On North Korean television, the picture of events taking place in Iran was very different. North Koreans saw only images of jubilant Iranians celebrating Ahmadinejad’s victory. I tried to tell my guard that there was another reality from the one being presented on TV. In broken English, she said she didn’t understand. It truly seemed that she couldn’t comprehend the idea of a people rising up against their leadership and demanding change.
When I think about the reaction of an impoverished North Korean farmer getting a strange leaflet dropped by a balloon in the sky telling him wild tales of an insurrection in a far-off land, I’m reminded of my guard who was dumbfounded by the idea of freedom. It’s a concept that the majority of North Koreans are likely to find impossible to understand.
The struggle goes on and on.