North Korea Emphasizes Nuclear Pride

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Wall Street Journal
December 15, 2006
Pg. 8

Propaganda Push Indicates Disarmament Discussions Could Yield Little Progress
By Evan Ramstad
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean propaganda is putting a renewed focus on pride in the country's new nuclear capability, a sign that suggests disarmament talks next week will make little progress, Pyongyang watchers say.
Immediately after North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear-bomb test, the country's state-controlled news media claimed its weapons were a great benefit for the country, says Brian Myers, a specialist in North Korean propaganda based in Seoul. And last month, signs appeared on the streets of Pyongyang with slogans such as "Revel in the pride of being a country in the Nuclear Club."
State propaganda is one of the few windows into North Korea's nominally communist dictatorship, which controls the flow of information and people into and out of the country. The first job held by dictator Kim Jong Il was in the propaganda department.
Mr. Myers says the current campaign is a sign that nuclear capability has become a tool for the government to galvanize support at a time when the country is suffering food shortages and economic decay.
Little Headway Is Expected
Only a handful of researchers study the propaganda. One reason is the difficulty of the Korean language. Another is that few people are willing to bet that the country, which has appeared to be on the brink of collapse for more than a decade, will sustain a career's work. Mr. Myers is one of only two non-Koreans who regularly visit Seoul's North Korean cultural center.
The other non-Korean regular at the cultural center, Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar of Korean history, agrees that next week's talks will make little headway. "I can't see North Korea willing to give up nuclear weapons," he says. "And I don't think the United States or the others will offer what it will take for them to consider it."
A month after the nuclear test, North Korea agreed to return to the six-nation disarmament talks it has boycotted since November 2005. Since the early 1990s, the U.S. and others have offered money, food and other assistance to the impoverished country in an effort to persuade it not to build atomic weapons, fearing Pyongyang would either use the weapons or sell them to terrorists.
Mr. Myers, the 43-year-old son of a U.S. Army chaplain, lived around the world while growing up. He became interested in propaganda when he spent a year as a high-school student in apartheid-era South Africa. He then lived in Germany in the years before its reunification. He later made North Korean propaganda the topic of his doctoral thesis and now teaches Korean literature and North Korean culture at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea's second-largest city.
North Korean news media for 60 years have dished out a steady diet of criticism of Americans, Japanese and South Koreans. Newspapers still run stories playing up American-inflicted damage during the 1950-53 Korean War, when the communist-backed North and the U.S.-backed South fought for control of the Korean Peninsula. They describe South Korea as a hostage to the U.S., which stations about 25,000 military personnel here. Novels portray American and Japanese armies as too scared to invade because of Mr. Kim's cunning strategies. Posters call for the destruction of U.S. nuclear weapons, and magazines depict Americans as clowns or animals.
Several months ago, Mr. Myers says, posters appeared in the streets of Pyongyang depicting a nuclear bomb and urging people to "Prepare to Die" or "Dare to Die." That meant the government had added a nuclear element to the message of constant war -- there has still been no formal end to the Korean War halted by a 1953 truce between North and South -- that the regime uses to help maintain totalitarian control. "They're trying to let people know they have nothing to fear, that the United States will regularly confront North Korea and try to bully it, but that because of Kim Jong Il, America will never succeed," Mr. Myers says.
'Completely New Angle'
Following the October nuclear test, North Korean newspapers claimed South Koreans were just as happy about the test as North Koreans and that the nuclear program was enabling South Korean business to flourish. The logic appeared to be that the U.S. military was intimidated by the North's nuclear program and that without this, the U.S. might have started a damaging confrontation.
Mr. Myers believes the Kim regime is trying to cope with North Koreans' finding out, chiefly through smuggled videos, that South Korea is much wealthier. So his government is responding by saying the South is wealthy because the North has put economic priority on the military. "This is a completely new angle," he says. "In the North Korea of old, they would have not seen any reason to present South Korean capitalists as being happy with the nuclear program. It shows that Marxist-Leninism is being leached out of the ideology and that all you have left is nationalism."
Mr. Myers is sometimes consulted by U.S. diplomats and military officials for his observations on North Korea. "You really have to admire these State Department people who do these negotiations and go through these grueling talks for days and weeks," Mr. Myers said. "They haven't given up on them. I never have expected anything from the talks with the North Koreans."