On Christmas Eve, the Wall Street Journal‘s Opinion Journal ran a short stocking stuffer of an op-ed by literary contrarian B. R. Myers, who wrote his dissertation on North Korean literature (reviewed here).
No country today is as misunderstood as North Korea. Journalists still refer to it as a Stalinist or communist state, when in fact it espouses a race-based nationalism such as the West last confronted during the Pacific War. Pyongyang’s propaganda touts the moral superiority of the Korean race, condemns South Korea for allowing miscegenation, and stresses the need to defend the Dear Leader with kyeolsa, or dare-to-die spirit–the Korean version of the Japanese kamikaze slogan kesshi [決死]. The six-party talks are therefore less likely to replicate the successes of Cold War détente than the negotiating failures of the 1930s. According to early reports from Beijing, the North Korean delegation appears more confident than ever. It has clearly been emboldened not only by its accession to the nuclear club, but by the awareness that Seoul will continue providing food and financial support no matter what happens….
The ideological landscape of the peninsula defeats the reasoning that led to the six-party talks in the first place. North Korea is not a communist country with ideological and sentimental reasons to listen to China and Russia; it is a virulently nationalist state that distrusts all the other parties at the table. And though the rhetoric of a “concerted front” against North Korea has proved to be just that, it has sufficed to heighten South Korea’s sense of solidarity with the North. This will continue to mean plenty of aid money for Kim Jong Il with which to build weapons. The U.S. has urged Beijing to bring more pressure to bear on the North. But if America can do nothing with its own ally, it can hardly expect the Chinese to do more with theirs.
UPDATE: B. R. Myers responds to comments over at The Marmot’s Hole.