Be Careful What You Wish For

by Mark Krikorian

All sentient beings are delighted to hear of the death of Kim Jong-Il, who made Caligula and Elagabalus seem like amateurs. Trying to extend an “open hand” to the new dictator would be a laughable mistake, though one you could easily see this White House doing.

Likewise, the end of the gangster regime in Pyongyang, whenever it comes, will be a blessing. But it won’t be easy or neat or pleasant; this piece by Robert Kaplan in the Atlantic a few years back is well reading — he explored the possible consequences of the fall of the Communist regime in the North. There’s a reason South Koreans aren’t gung-ho about reunification; reintegrating East Germany was a walk in the park by comparison. And it won’t simply be a matter, as Charlie Szrom suggests below, of the South using its development experience to “help the North Koreans prosper after the fall of dictatorship.” After almost a lifetime under the rule of the Kim Family Regime, North Koreans are broken, morally, psychologically, socially. You can’t just go back to the status quo ante — the society there entered modernity (sort of) under this perverse and demonic system and has been permanently disfigured as a result. The experience of the Czech Republic is irrelevant to North Korea because the Czechs began the process of modernization (urbanization, mass literacy, decreasing role of agriculture, etc.) before the imposition of Soviet rule, and Communism just wasn’t in power long enough to leave the kind of permanent mark you see in North Korea.

Look at the Soviet Union, which lasted about 75 years and whose people, even during Stalin’s rule, didn’t go through what North Koreans have; that experience distorted the development of the former Soviet countries such that 20 years after the formal dissolution of the USSR they are still struggling to create normal societies. Only Pol Pot’s luridly murderous rule in Cambodia is comparable to the Kim regime in North Korea, but that only lasted four years; as traumatic (not to mention bloody) as it was, the Khmer Rouge just didn’t have the time to disfigure the soul of their society the way the Kims have.

Obviously if you’re in North Korea, you’d be delighted just to be able to live like people in Congo or Somalia. But I’m afraid that even after reunification (assuming the Chinese permit it) the northern part of Korea will remain broken for a very, very long time.

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