Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why Kim Jong-il is Not Really So Funny or So Strange

The Kim is dead, long live the Kim.

Kim Jong-il, The second Stalinist autocrat of the House of Kim in North Korea has passed away, and the third, Kim Jong-un, now takes his father's place. This has received a lot of coverage in the American media, with a slight sense of regret, being that the elder Kim had provided so much entertainment for Americans who loved to laugh at the odd, portly dictator with a love of Hollywood films and nuclear missiles. Having visited South Korea several times, I know the anguish Koreans feel about the Cold War division of their country into two opposing halves, and I have observed with sadness how each successive effort by the government and people of the South to reach out to the North has been rebuffed with the situation ending up where it began, with the North engaging in saber-rattling, missile-launching and other acts of symbolic or actual aggression to extort food and other aid out of South Korea and the USA in a kind of bizarre protection racket. How very weird, ridiculous and awful North Korea and its leaders are; how very far removed from us in wonderful, democratic America; or so we would like to believe.

I have been reflecting on Korea and reaching a different kind of conclusion, one that is not especially cheerful or reassuring. In a number of ways, I see the USA becoming more and more like North Korea.

Resemblance #1: Dedication to military power over all else. North Korea is as poor and economically dysfunctional as a country can be, but it still manages to have the fourth largest army in the world. Add to that the development of nuclear missiles, and you can see why military force is so important to North Korea. The rulers know that no one will ever dare to attack them, because any attack on North Korea would result in a devastating counter-attack on South Korea. The modern,high-tech magnificence of Seoul, the South Korean capital, could be attacked within hours by the North Korean army, and if the nuclear missiles ever become fully functional, the threat will be even more acute.

What does this have to do with the USA? Well, we are the number one military force in the world, we have more military bases around the world than anyone else, and in the last several decades we have engaged in more invasions and wars than anyone else. Whoo-hoo! Most Americans almost wet their pants with love of the military, and since 9/11, it has been considered very poor taste, unpatriotic, and maybe even a potential sign of terrorist sympathies to ever EVER question or criticize our wars, our occupations, our bases, the size of our armed forces, our huge expenditures on military matters, and so on and so forth. So we are rather North Korean-like in our devotion to the military and the almost sacrosanct position that military matters occupy in our national psyche. The North Koreans cheer when their missile launches threaten South Korea, and we love to "support the troops" when they invade other nations, no questions asked by the "patriotic" majority.

Resemblance #2: Just as the North Koreans show no remorse for the pain or suffering their aggressive acts cause to others, so do we have very hard time ever admitting, let alone apologizing, for death and destruction caused to other people by our military. For both the USA and North Korea, military action is a conscience-free zone of thought. There are of course Americans who oppose and critique our militarism and aggression, but I am referring to the majority, for whom being "strong on defense"(i.e., aggressive and unapologetic) is a key qualification of national political leadership. Note that,with the exception of Ron Paul, all the current Republican candidates for President continually heap scorn on President Obama for being a "weak" and "apologetic" President, despite his continuation of the Bush wars with expansions into Yemen, Libya and Pakistan, with ever-increasing use of drones to make the killing of "bad guys" even easier.

Resemblance #3: Like North Korea, we are dedicated to maintaining our huge military at any cost, even if our society is crumbling and resources are badly needed elsewhere. In the last two rounds of budgetary brinkmanship on Capitol Hill, the one thing that has given the Republicans pause in their zombie-like, headlong rush to cut back government programs and services despite the toll that such reckless and random amputations would take on non-wealthy Americans was the possibility that defense spending might also have to be cut. Suddenly the Republicans felt a sense of hesitation about their budget-cutting gospel! It is one thing to cut off unemployment benefits to people who can't find work, withhold food stamps from people on the edge of starving, destroy union contracts that provide a decent living to people who do not live off investments, or cut back funding to roads, bridges, schools or water systems that are disintegrating and collapsing. Things like that the Republicans can do without a moment's hesitation or any apparent remorse. But cut back the military by even one penny? Oh no, that is INCONCEIVABLE! That would be a CATASTROPHE! I suspect that if the current right-wing extremists of the Republican party manage to take over the Senate, the House and the Presidency, we will see a massive devastation of most social services and government programs and at the same time, a massive buildup of the military, all wreathed in a beautiful, red, white and blue patriotic afterglow. And then will come the wars, and more "support the troop" mass hypnotism as we send our young men and women to kill and be killed, all in order to "defend our freedom," to finally return maimed and mad to a country whose decline can only be disguised so long by massive military extravaganzas.

So, while we may enjoy snickering and sneering in remembrance of Kim Jong-il and the completely miserable state of the country that he presided over, I see him and the way he ruled North Korea as a frightening foretaste of what America may become if we continue in our blind worship of the military to the exclusion of all other needs and concerns.

But hope springs eternal. Maybe in 2012, Americans will decide that they have had enough of war and that is is time, at long last, to direct our energies to non-military matters, like taking care of each other and preserving our precious planet rather than seeking to blame and attack others. However, I am not at all confident that this runaway train can be stopped in time.

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