The Corner

Nationalist, Socialist, Racial-Supremacist Leftwingers? That’s Unpossible!

Maybe I still have that HNN nonsense on the brain, but I thought this was a bit timely. Melanie Kirkpatrick reviews two books on North Korea (The Most Evil Regime Around®).

A South Korean professor of my acquaintance recently told me about a conference he attended in Beijing last year at which he met a North Korean scholar. The man from the North approached him to follow up on a statistic that the South Korean professor had cited about the growing number of South Koreans who marry foreigners. The North Korean was aghast. “They are diluting the purity of our race,” he wailed.

The North Korean’s comment would not have surprised B. R. Myers, the author of “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves — and Why It Matters.” Mr. Myers is a professor at Dongseo University in South Korea, a contributing editor of The Atlantic and an occasional contributor to the editorial pages of this newspaper’s Asian edition.

In attempting to understand North Korea, Mr. Myers argues, outsiders almost invariably get it wrong. The country’s dominant ideology is not Communism or Stalinism or Marxist-Leninism. Nor is it Confucianism or even the regime’s governing doctrine, called Juche Thought, usually translated as “self-reliance.”

The real North Korean worldview, Mr. Myers notes, is based on a belief in the unique moral superiority of the Korean race. The closest analogy is the fervent nationalist ideology that governed prewar Japan and influenced North Korea’s founding fathers. Having grown up in colonial Korea, they embraced Japan’s propaganda methods after coming to power in 1948. Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — the North’s full name — even had himself photographed, Hirohito-like, astride a white stallion.

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