The West needs to rethink its ideas about Korea

Having passed successfully through the demilitarised zone Gareth explains to the world’s media why the West’s “beat-up” view of North Korea is completely wrong.

Gareth and Jo and their group were free to set their own route through North Korea, witnessing at first hand the lives of ordinary North Koreans.

What they found surprised them – a people who were poor, yes, but wonderfully engaged, well-dressed, fully employed and well informed. In Gareth’s view, what North Korea has achieved economically despite its lack of access to international money has been magnificent.

He and Jo support active steps towards providing greater opportunities for ordinary Koreans from North and South to interact together – a goal of leaders from both North and South Korea. Hopefully, with enormous interest from the world media, this trip will be the catalyst for such a change.

30 Responses to The West needs to rethink its ideas about Korea

  1. brny@C September 2, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    Your views are both simplistic and naive,where have you been for the last thirty years,have you not seen ANY of the James Bond 007 movies???
    These guys are ALWAYS the villians,how can we have large doomed economy driven governments save the planet if there are no antiheroes????

  2. Mike Ross September 2, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    And the NK police investigate and prosecute people who put the ‘ex’ into ‘executed’? Yeah, right…

  3. Liberty Scott September 2, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    Utterly reprehensible. If he weren’t actually demonstrably intelligent I’d say he has been brainwashed. North Koreans cannot travel outside their own village or town without permission. There are thousands of children, as in from babies to teenagers, in gulags, for the political crimes of their other family members. Then he spouts in audio about Korean reunification essentially citing the Kim Il Sung plan as the way forward, but too naive to realise the north Korean regime doesn’t want reunification because it already hides the wealth and freedom of south Korea from its people. Reunification would see revolution in the north and wont happen until after it. He saw a Potemkin north Korea, as virtually all foreigners do – the one this Police state wanted him to see. The parts of towns and villages which are the acceptable front, not the squalor, not the emaciated children, not the prison camps. He talks of the high literacy, but then claims that these people – unable to leave the country, unable to access the internet, unable to watch TV other than the state media, are well informed? Yes, your guides know some things, but they are part of the tiny elite – unless you speak Korean you wouldn’t know squat about others, and if you did speak it, you wouldn’t have been permitted to see so much. The road to hell was paved with good intentions here, but it was and is still hell – maybe Gareth ought to have done some reading before he went.

    • Gareth Morgan September 3, 2013 at 1:24 am #

      Liberty you are ignorant.

      My concern is the 25 million Koreans suffering because of this 68 year impasse. The relevant question is whether it is the only way or can we be smarter. I am not supporting the authoritarian regime of North Korea’s or that in Russia (Pussy Riot) or that in China or for that matter, that in Singapore. What I’m saying is that the US as leader of liberal democracies has normal relations with totalitarian regimes when it suits them but push for “regime change” through crazy talk like the vacuous “Axis of Evil” accusation, and demonising the DPRK regime when they sniff the possibility of engineering a Saddam-like collapse. I think it’s called double standards.
      I do not see it as defensible to punish 25 million people for a totalitarian regime they are powerless to change. The only way to effect sustainable change is contact, demonstration and persuasion. Not isolation, escalation and humiliation. The DPRK’s reinstigation of its nuclear programme is a direct result of provocation – it’s terrified the US is going to invade it.You need to think more.

      Get it?

      • blairmulholland September 4, 2013 at 4:14 am #

        Mr Morgan, Scott writes extensively on North Korea. My understanding is that he has actually been there.

        It’s disgusting that you would even compare North Korea with Russia, or China or Singapore. That’s like comparing the common cold with the Ebola virus. It just shows what a useful idiot you have now made yourself for the North Korean regime. You are now complicit in their crimes. You can bet your ass that your visit has been used in the North as a propaganda tool for further oppression of the people there.

      • Liberty Scott September 5, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

        Gareth. Ignorant am I? I did my honours thesis on this place, I know a small amount of Korean, and you wouldn’t pass a high school essay on it for the basic lack of historical knowledge or understanding of context. Have some humility, it is embarrassing and discrediting you, and making you a laughing stock among the world of DPRK watchers.

        The impasse is simple – the DPRK regime has never been interested in reunification except on its terms to create a complete Kim family personality cult Korea with everyone slavishly working behind its enormous iron curtain with little – whilst the Kim family pillages, rapes and enjoys all it wishes from them, with grand monuments, and all art and culture dedicated to the glorification of them, the party and the faked history. The DPRK doesn’t let family reunions happen except in tiny numbers of the very elderly – because it knows if stories about south Korea are widely spread, it will demonstrate the lies they have been telling their population for decades. They fear what happened in East Germany, a state of people who all know the lies they are told because they see the difference, ready to take them on the moment there is some weakness.

        You don’t get it. No other country has hermetically sealed itself so much (although that has been breaking down informally, largely because the regime’s effective control outside major centres collapsed during the “arduous march” – corruption now reigns in many rural areas and the Amnok River border with China is far more porous than it once was), no other country has perfected totalitarianism on such a scale, with so much fiction about its past. Have you read 1984 and seen the parallels? You might note you can leave every other country you list, as a citizen getting a passport is no big deal. Not the DPRK, you can’t even leave your own village or town without special permission. Pyongyang is only for people who are in the top categories of the elite in terms of loyalty, so it presents a Potemkin view of the country that isn’t what you’ll see at Sariwon, Wonsan or even Nampo off the main road.

        The DPRK nuclear programme was instigated by Kim Il Sung when it saw the USSR collapsing and ending its support. Gorbachev cut off the aid and opened diplomatic relations with Seoul, and Kim Il Sung saw his nuclear umbrella folding up. If you read 1984 you’d recall that Oceania was at constant war – the regime maintains a constant fear of invasion as a form of control over the population. That perpetual militarisation also reflects the “Songun” (military first) policy set up by Kim Jong Il after his father’s death, because there were serious moves for a military coup, partly supported by Kim Song Ae – Kim Il Sung’s second wife.

        I happen to agree with a certain level of engagement, and there are plenty doing it, without coming out and publicly given succour to this prison state. One of the campaigns is to stop the DPRK imprisoning entire families including children as political prisoners.

        You’ve shown an astonishing level of ignorance, and will have pleased the regime enormously by not only not saying anything that would embarrass it, but praising it.

        I get it. You can engage with members of the elite, you can help give them confidence foreigners are willing to help, but you don’t help by denying the reality of the prison they are in. Did you know people there are banned from owning radios with tuning dials? (a handful are smuggled in and south Koreans send some over by balloon) Did you know the stories the regime tells its population about life in south Korea, and the rest of the world? Did you know how comprehensive the fiction is about the Kim family?

        Oh and yes, you can oppose the governments in Russia, China and Singapore, to some extent and not face incarceration or execution. In the DPRK there is not a smidgeon of activism against the regime visible anywhere. You think it is out of love?

        Read Aquariums of Pyongyang, Read Dae Sook Suh’s very well researched biography of Kim Il Sung, read Bradley Martin’s book and more recently Andrei Lankov.

        If you haven’t read any serious works on the place then you have some nerve calling me ignorant.

        • Gareth Morgan September 6, 2013 at 10:05 am #

          “Liberty” I have no idea re your ignorance in general, nor care. However it was clear immediately on this subject that your approach was deficient. A number of signals were very loud.

          (a) Despite the fact I don’t know you from a bar of soap you open with an ad hominem attack. Abuse is the lowest form of engagement, it points to

          I. illiteracy

          II. anger management issues

          III. logical relapse

          IV. emotional capture

          V. juvenile delinquency

          (b) You deduce that I am somehow sympathetic to the form of governance in North Korea. This apparently you conclude because

          I. we have been there twice. I have also now been to South Korea 7 times but apparently visiting the North is to your mind a crime.

          II. we suggest the West has a stereotypical depiction of people from the North that is misplaced – this was not a commentary on what the West thinks of the regime but you couldn’t see the difference

          III. our observations re Korean people we met (not the regime on which we haven’t commented) don’t fit your preconception. If you had any sense of perspective you would know there are 25 million people there and they do not all fit the caricature of evil monsters or tortured victims. These are the people we met and whom we commented on. You have missed that utterly in your gush to read yourself.

          (c) Your lens is seriously that of an anglophile with no understanding whatsoever of the pan-Korean perspective. If you had that you would know that this mission is being hugely received in South Korea as well where we are currently riding to Hallasan to complete the journey. We have four television crews in tow, everyone who gets to hold the rocks from the summit of Pakteausan is moved emotionally, some to the point of tears, and everyone thanks us for what we are trying to achieve here – a move to peaceful co-existence of two Koreas.

          (d) Your core competency appears to be transport planning which has about as much to do with socio-economics and the political economy as macramé.

          The evidence of your ignorance is overwhelming as is your cowardice and your insulting of Korean people. If you’d been subject to any kind of editorial review your blog wouldn’t have seen the light of day – but sadly the barriers to entry in that sphere are so low that prejudice disguised as knowledge is common.

          Insofar as the books you mention I have read all the accounts of North Korean camps and have no reason whatsoever to doubt them, particularly those that have been corroborated. Your accusation that I do is totally without any basis and of course is libellous. Reunification by both Koreas has to be on their terms which is why it’s a non-starter from either perspective. Why you suggest I think it is, is yet another straw man you’ve constructed in order to puff your chest. The whole thing we’re doing over here is all about peaceful coexistence rather than the current animosity that prevails and discussing with ordinary Koreans in the north and south how that might be achieved. According to you every Korean we met in the North, even in the fields and working on the roads was a stooge. What a jerk you really are.

          I don’t suffer fools and you sadly are in the major league on that account. Try thinking for yourself instead of trying to forge a grab-bag of hackneyed stereotypical pre-conceptions into coherent commentary. Failing that stick to your core competency – transport planning which has about as much to do with socio-economics and the political economy as macramé..

          Due to you abusive engagement and propensity to spam, this correspondence is closed. Have your low level discussions elsewhere or try and get yourself independently published and see how far your truculent polemic gets you.

          • Mike September 6, 2013 at 10:31 am #

            Gareth, the only person engaging in abuse ad hominem attacks here is clearly you. And it’s as pathetic as your useless commentary on North Korea.

          • IntrinsicValue September 6, 2013 at 10:38 am #

            Gareth, it was you who accused Liberty of ignorance, now you are backtracking having discovered he/she actually knows something about the place. Your attempts to refute his points with further ad-hominem frankly make you look pathetic.

          • Angus Robertson September 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

            If you are trying to be diplomatic, try to be diplomatic in all ways regarding this project. Learn to suffer fools.

        • Angus Robertson September 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

          Just to point out the ridiculously obvious – Gareth & Jo are trying to do private diplomacy which means they have to be diplomatic. They are trying to achieve good things – namely have Koreans travel freely in Korea. This would be a massive improvement over the state of things as they exist today.
          And the observations they are making are not new. The people of North Korea are just normal Koreans – like the Russians in the Soviet Union turned out to be pretty normal, or the East Germans or the Chinese.

          • Richard McGrath September 9, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

            Yes but diplomacy is not conducted between visitors and citizens of a country, it is conducted between governments. And the North Korean government is a rogue state, like that of Syria. Diplomacy doesn’t work, neither does throwing money at them.

    • Herrman September 3, 2013 at 9:14 am #

      Mr Scott, some F William Engdahl or Noam Chomsky is needed here.
      Basically any country who does not open their banking system to London or New York is in the Axis of Evil and demonized as such in the mainstream media.
      I totally agree with Gareth.

      • Liberty Scott September 5, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

        Yes Chomsky claimed the reports of mass killings under the Khmer Rouge was CIA propaganda, then recanted it when the proof was overwhelming. Now he worms his way out of this. Look at the gulags, or was Auschwitz just faked by the Zionists too? The DPRK demonises itself, by its own behaviour in treating its citizens as children – and abusing them.

    • amirite September 3, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

      Because people cannot be brainwashed by US propaganda?

      • blairmulholland September 4, 2013 at 4:24 am #

        Actually no. Because there are always alternative sources of information in free countries. There are no alternative sources of information in North Korea. You see what the State wants you to see. And that is what Mr Morgan saw, he just doesn’t seem to realise it.

      • Liberty Scott September 5, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

        Well you can be a denier of DPRK gulags if you like, but that puts you in with David Irving on the Holocaust. However, if you want to believe Kim Il Sung was the greatest of all great men and singlehandedly fought off the Japanese from the Korean peninsula, is loved by all people across Korea and millions around the world, then good for you – the pills aren’t working.

    • Jack September 4, 2013 at 1:16 am #

      Then Liberty what do you propose?
      Gareth is saying that the North Korean people are normal people living under an autocratic regime, which has subjected them to enormous hardships … but my question is what do you do about it? … apart from whinging about the negative The current situation is that the country is controlled by a dictatorship – not by its people. You say you know a great deal about Korea, but probably not as much as the late Kim Dae Jung, who decided that a policy of ‘positivity’ toward the North, which he called ‘the sunshine policy’, would be more beneficial than the hard line policies of the past. Dealing with North Korea, as those who have been involved in the process for five decades and more know, is a frustrating process of steps forward and steps back, and as most of the expats in Korea would agree the net change over the past two decades has been in the right direction. Often the North Korean government will say one thing (even after ‘proper’ translation) but mean another. Sometimes they will do something that annoys, while doing something else that appeases, but often progress is a tale of forward and reverse. Economic advances in China will undoubtedly persuade the North Korean leadership that they must move in the same direction. But, it is obvious is that route forward is via economic and cultural engagement with the North not via ostracism. In fact they have already well demonstrated that they will not be intimidated by the West.
      Please keep on reading your books and if you have the time visit Korea, maybe your proposal will suddenly materialize.

      • Liberty Scott September 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

        I have been there. You can support LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), you can support LNK (love north Korean children – a private charity that ensures aid gets directly to children), you can support free media in south Korea that sends radios by balloon to the north and broadcasts to them, you can support the “underground railroad” of refugees from the north that go through China to freedom, you can loudly embarrass the only regime on the planet that routinely incarcerates small children as political prisoners. You can refuse to engage in a publicity campaign for the regime BECAUSE it throws children in gulags. Would you have said he ought to have gone to apartheid South Africa and talked about how fantastic it is? Would you have said he ought to have visited Taliban run Afghanistan and said the same or (back in the day) Khmer Rouge run Cambodia?

        There is nothing “normal” about the DPRK as an autocratic regime. It is a state of perpetual terror for people constantly looking out for being reported as being not loyal. Did he ask about the weekly criticism sessions everyone goes through, where they must criticise themselves and one other person in their residential cell area for not being sufficiently loyal? Did he ask why he saw no disabled people?

        I happen to agree that engagement is useful, it is helpful to intelligently engage with the elite, the people who will run the place regardless of what happens and who are influential. I had some very intelligent conversations with people there, who are only too aware of the challenges faced – but I wasn’t going to be a publicity tool for the regime, and also not going to put those people at risk. All they need to know is that there are people from outside who understand.

        The most positive thing recently has been a handful of private charities that are allowed to operate and get monitored, but they take hard work. Meanwhile, ignoring the horrors, which are difficult to exaggerate, doesn’t help. Getting children out of gulags should be a priority, oh and perhaps taking steps to transform agriculture so mass starvation doesn’t happen again – the Potemkin DPRK Gareth seemed to see is hardly relevant. I saw some tragic people when I was there.

  4. Sheffles September 4, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Dear Mr Morgan, please do not say anything honest or positive about North Korea again, particularly not from your own personal experience. Remember: North Korea Bad. United States Good. You must be a communist. Or a terrorist. Or both. What if everyone started to get to know the North Koreans? Then we might find out they are people just like us. Then where would we be?

    • blairmulholland September 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      I’m sure their mass gymnastic displays are fantastic. And it’s great that they spare the lives of relatives of dissidents by sending them to “holiday camps” instead of killing them. Very merciful these North Koreans.

    • Liberty Scott September 5, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

      Be nice if they could get to know us. However, all outgoing mail is read, they aren’t allowed internet access or international phone access. However, Nazi Germany couldn’t be all bad either right? How dare people ignore the achievements of Hitler. Anyone demonising it was a tool of the Allied imperialists surely. Totalitarian regimes are just misunderstood, don’t believe the refugees, the must all be propaganda tools of the free world – which you happily enjoy.

  5. Mark September 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    After just reading this I assume Mr Morgan’s comments are a wind-up.

  6. Angus Robertson September 4, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    Nelson Mandela enforced sanctions to isolate and boycotts to humiliate the apartheid regime. The ANC escalated the conflict with an armed struggle.

    But it worked.

    • Angus Robertson September 5, 2013 at 12:19 am #

      Replied in the wrong place.

      Anyway do wish the Morgans all the best with their project, in spite of the obvious. North Koreans cannot travel, because allowing them to do so would mean the downfall of the North Korean regime.

    • Never in the dark..... September 6, 2013 at 11:14 am #

      Your comment is even more simplistic.

  7. David Broome September 6, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    I assume this is a parody post Gareth?

  8. Neville C September 6, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    It has always seemed to me that, in dealing with foreign countries, we do not give ourselves a chance of success unless we try to understand their mentality, which is not always the same as our own, and it really is astonishing to contemplate how the identically same facts are regarded from two different angles.

  9. Paul Martinson September 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    …..the west should indeed ”rethink it’s ideas” about North Korea. It’s time the regime was put under more scrutiny by the world community in order to prevent the continuous /terrible suffering that occurs there -and bring an end to this nasty regime. At least Gareth’s trip will show the military that once again Westerners are not evil dragons as they’ve been brainwashed to believe. But in fact, generally well meaning people .Then hopefully,one day, they will overthrow their despot leader -as the military did in Egypt recently.

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