North Korea: Myth of a Hermit Kingdom, a History Talk Podcast

North Korea: Myth of a Hermit Kingdom, a History Talk Podcast


Jessica Blissit
Welcome to History Talk, the podcast that brings together a panel of experts to discuss
current events in historical perspective. I’m your host Jessica Blissitt. Brenna Miller
And I’m your other host, Brenna Miller. Many people around the world are familiar
with the now iconic image of the Korean Peninsula. Taken at night from space, the image show
South Korea’s cities and towns alight throughout the country, while the North is virtually
cloaked in darkness. This image has become a symbol of the stark
differences between the two countries’ developments and outlooks, and the perception that many
Americans have of the isolation, secretiveness and hostility of the so called “Hermit Kingdom.” Jessica Blissit
But what does the world look like from North Korea’s perspective? Today we’re here with three historians to
explore how, when, and why North Korea seems to have diverged so much from the rest of
the world, and to try to understand and figure out what the world looks like from inside
the Hermit Kingdom. Brenna Miller
From Otterbein University, we have Deborah Solomon, an assistant professor of history
and political science, specializing in Japanese colonization of Korea. Dr. Deborah Solomon
Hi, it’s great to be here. Jessica Blissit
From Ohio State University, We have Mitchell Lerner, an Associate Professor
specializing in US-Korean relations, and director of the Institute for Korean Studies. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Thanks for having me. Brenna Miller
And finally, we also have Youngbae Hwang, a lecturer at The Ohio State University in
International Studies Department and a faculty member in Korean studies who focuses on East
Asia. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
Thank you for having me. Jessica Blissit
Thanks for joining us today. First off, let’s talk about the impression
that many Americans have of North Korea. Why is North Korea nicknamed the “Hermit Kingdom?” And how long has it had this reputation? is
it accurate? Dr. Deborah Solomon
Well, actually, the nickname The Hermit Kingdom really predates the division of Korea along
the 38th parallel in 1945. So that the first known instance of it being
called the Hermit Kingdom is in a Western book that talked about it as Korea in general
as a hermit kingdom in the early 1880s. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Yeah, it’s really actually I think kind of ironic. We have this image of North Korea as the Hermit
Kingdom. And yet the name actually refers to Korea
going back hundreds of years. And without going through Korean history,
it’s a name that’s really born out of a number of invasions and wars in the 1500s and the
1600s conflict they have with Japan, with the Manchus, that really, along with some
nationalist values and a unique sort of Confucian heritage in the country, that really creates
a nation that divides itself, that withdraws from the rest of the world, particularly as
the West is starting to expand in East Asia in the 1800s. And the real irony is now that the country’s
been divided, we think of North Korea as the Hermit Kingdom rather than recognizing that
this is part of the long historical tradition of the country itself. And the irony is that North Korea is really
not a hermit kingdom. They certainly are closed off to some extent
to the west and they made it pretty clear that they don’t welcome Western involvement,
but they’re actually fairly well involved in the word. There are roughly 50,000 North Korean workers
who are scattered around the world working in China, working in Russia. They have ties and they have diplomatic recognition
with any number of countries. And if you look back over the years of the
Cold War, it’s off and on sometimes, but they had good relations with Cuba, with East Germany,
will Albania. So they’re really not the hermit kingdom that
we think of in the West and it’s really that’s a name that would have been much better applied
a couple centuries ago when it was one nation and really not in today’s vernacular. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
One of the the historical explanations about the nickname hermit kingdom, I think it originates
from those the western diplomats when they visit or scout around East Asia in 19th century
and 18th century, but it’s actually between 1392 and 1910. There’s a dynasty called Chosŏn Dynasty,
or Yi Dynasty is, is actually the longest single surname dynasty in the history of human
civilization. The Chosŏn dynasty has that kind of reputation. So if you have 500 years old, a kingdom with
a single surname, Yi, and outside from the outside perspective, it’s a kingdom of a hermit. Dr. Deborah Solomon
This idea that North Korea is somehow more hermetically sealed from the outside world
than the rest of the peninsula is historically not something that we see. Brenna Miller
Today the country has a reputation of being very difficult, especially for Westerners
as you mentioned, to get information from, so how do scholars and journalists learn about
North Korea today? Dr. Deborah Solomon
I would say that that is probably the biggest problem with trying to study North Korea today,
is how unreliable all of the sources of information are, how limited and really narrow they are,
and how difficult it is to get a well balanced and well rounded picture. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Yeah, the question of how we get sources is a difficult one. And a lot of what we know about North Korea
comes from defector testimony, and there’s thousands of defectors from North Korea that
have settled in the south or elsewhere. But there’s always questions about their reliability. So we use those with some caution. There’s other sources, especially in the electronic
age, there’s growing numbers of satellite images that we use to decipher particularly
if you work in sort of national security as I do, we use satellites that we, over the
North so we can detect when they’re moving prison populations, when they’re closing. One of their kwanlisos, one of their political
prison camps. We use them to monitor the Yongbyon nuclear
facility. So to some extent, we can use technology. But by and large as Deborah says it really
is it’s, it’s like a black hole and there’s just not a lot out there. Now, one thing that we have had access to
over the last decade or so, with the fall of the Soviet Union, we started to get access
to North Korean government records through the communist bloc states. Now we can’t get access, obviously, into you
know the file cabinets of North Korea, if they’re even are file cabinets in North Korea. But there were times when the North Korean
ambassador in Moscow or in Beijing or wherever it happened to be, was sending information. And as we’ve normalized relations with the
communist bloc states, we’ve gotten access to a lot of these materials. Now, this only takes us really through the
1980s. But there are, there’s a scholarly project
based in Washington that really uses these materials to draw lessons from the past, but
also to apply them a little bit to understanding what motivates North Korea, what its values
are, and then apply those lessons to contemporary society. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
Yeah, there is no question I mean, the gathering information from North Korea is extremely
difficult, as Mitch just told about those North Korean defectors. Now we have probably more than 50,000 North
Korean defectors all around the world. There’s probably 30,000 more than 30,000 in
South Korea. So it’s always some of the best information
you get is from human intelligence. Before those methods of information gathering
is very difficult to have those information from North Korea because North Korea is a
extremely homogeneous country, in terms of linguistically, in terms of ethnically. 99.9% of North Korea is homogeneous. So it is a Mission Impossible, it’s impossible
to infiltrate inside North Korea and gathering information if you are outside. So the limit of human intelligence is probably
the biggest barrier to understand North Korea. And I believe that’s exactly the reason why
North Korea can just disguise themselves as a hermit kingdom or country of mystery so
the people can guest about their behavior because when you’re a country that poor, that
desperate surrounded by all those great powers with famine and starvation, all kinds of negative
things going on, you try to claim a prize yourself with that kind of image and limit
information so we can guess. So they have, we can miss so they can maximize
their gains out of our miscalculation. Jessica Blissit
Perhaps that homogeneity also helps explain our next question. We tend to think of North Korea as largely
static, but it’s gone through at least three generations of leadership since the 1950s. What do we know about how life inside North
Korea has changed through these transitions and how the leadership’s internal logic has
changed? Is there an evolution we can discern? Dr. Deborah Solomon
I would say that there are definitely a lot of different internal changes and a lot of
evolution that’s gone on in North Korea and certainly the leadership transition in late
2011, early 2012 was something that was really closely watched. And there were a lot of predictions that North
Korea would open up more, or become a more engaged country with Western nations and other
things like that. And really the opposite seems to be happening,
at least in relation to the west where there really seems to be a kind of hunkering down
and a tightening of the borders. I know that refugees to South Korea have really
dropped since 2012, for example, and other things like that. So there’s really been a ratcheting up of
the purity and kind of isolation in North Korea. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
For people in North Korea, for three generations of dictatorship, is just just I mean it just
a piece of cake for them, because they have a 500 year old dynasty experience between
1392 and 1910. There’s 27, 28 kings and all those kings have
the last name, Yi. So they have only three Kim’s in past seven
years or something like that. So for them, the leadership, the duration
of political control is nothing new. They just, so natural when you talk about
many North Korean defectors, I mean their complaint is mostly about economics, or social
or cultural conditions. They seldom complain about those political
issues. And many North Korean defectors themselves
want to be classified as economic refugee, not political refugee, because for them it’s
nothing new. It’s only three generation. Come on. We have 27th generation of single surname
dynasty. Dr. Mitch Lerner
And I generally agree with Deborah but I with a little bit of a qualification and then I
said, I think this probably falls under the heading of the more things change, the more
they stay the same. There have been a lot of superficial changes
and never acknowledge that and then Dr. Youngbae Hwang
I know when when Kim Jong-un came to power, and I was one of the people who was optimistic
that maybe there would be changes going on, instead things, the changes have been cosmetic
and the place remains pretty much a repressed police state as she said. Now there are, there’s maybe one change that
I think I’ve seen over the course of these three sort of tyrannical police states and
that biggest one for me is that Kim Il-sung, the founder and the first president, I feel
like looking back at the historical records, he had somewhat of an ideological hold on
the people. He had created a cult of personality that
that really dwarfs almost anything we’ve seen in the modern era. And there’s generally a sense I think, in
the 60s and the 70s, that Kim Jong Il was something special that the nation was something
special that we had to behave in certain ways in accordance with the the precepts of the
Kim family because this is ideologically the way we’re trained, and understand this is
a society where back in the 60s, people had to walk around with a button on their lapel
shirt jacket all the time that was a picture of Kim Il-sung. When kids are raised in schools, most of what
they’re taught is Kim Il-sung. Even in nurseries as a young child, you’re
taking from your family five days a week, and you’re fed with a huge picture of Kim
Il-sung behind you. So you associate the Kim family with taking
care of you. So I think that generation of the 60s and
the 70s grew up, at least to some extent, thinking that this is just, this is the way
it is for Korea. And that’s good. The Kim family is is wonderful and magnanimous. We have it better than most of the rest of
the world. There wasn’t same sort of information flowing
in that there is today. Now I think it’s a little bit more just a
blatant police state. The new Kim rules much more through overt
fear and repression, and in some cases, sort of buying over the loyalty of the elites in
Pyongyang, but there’s much less I think of genuine buy-in now than there was 50 years
ago. Dr. Deborah Solomon
Right. And again, the question of how you measure
genuine buy-in, I think it’s a fascinating one, and it’s really, really difficult to
figure out if the only people that you have to talk about these things. If your only sources of human information
are either North Korean state media, or refugees from North Korea who have clearly made the
decision for whatever reason to flee. And one thing that I think is really interesting
about the refugee population is that they tend to be from the most marginalized parts
of North Korea. And I’ve heard that something like 70% of
them are female. It’s a really, it’s something that it’s often
women in very poor regions that are escaping out of sheer desperation. And so they are, by their position in North
Korea, the farthest away from the centers of political power. And on the one hand, they have really meaningful
things to say about their experiences at even as those are problematic and on the other
hand, those are obviously not normative representations of how North Koreans feel about what’s going
on inside the regime. Brenna Miller
To kind of continue on this idea of what it’s like inside North Korea,so much of what we
know, as you guys have mentioned, has been kind of from the outside looking in or from
people on the margins of society who have kind of left. So what do we know about Pyongyang’s view
of the rest of the world? Has this view changed over time? And what is its relationship, especially with
its neighbors? Dr. Deborah Solomon
I definitely think that North Korea and international relations is a really, really fascinating
subject. And it’s really an area in which we see a
whole range of different tactics over time and really unusual kinds of strategies to
try to get hard currency into the country, and other things like that. And so it really is a very, very fascinating
and unique kind of international relations with the rest of the world. Dr. Mitch Lerner
I think the most interesting relationship, and here’s an example of where history can
maybe inform current policy in a way that it usually is not, that’s relationship with
China. Whenever there is a crisis in North Korea,
our policymakers in our media tends to rush and say it’s China’s problem, China’s got
to control them. And there’s this image of China as being sort
of the puppet master and North Korea as dependent on them and China can control them. And I don’t think history supports that image. If you look at it, and I mentioned these new
materials that we have gotten from inside the communist bloc relatively recently, and
you see the inherent tensions between North Korea and China, this goes all the way back
even to the Korean War, when China really saves North Korea, and yet there’s there’s
pretty clear underlying tension between the Kim leadership and the Chinese leadership,
and their military tensions, there’s diplomatic tensions and it continues over the course
of the next generations. In the late 60s, there’s a series of border
wars, border conflicts fought between China and North Korea. Things are so bad that at one point in the
Cultural Revolution, a group of Chinese ethnic Red Guard, kill a number of ethnic North Koreans
living on the border. Then they put their bodies in a train and
they seal it and they spray paint across it with graffiti, “You’re next, you little revisionists,”
and they send the train back into South Korea. So this is not really a historically positive
relationship. So even today we saw when the WikiLeaks documents
came out, there’s tension, there’s rivalry. Sometimes I feel like China is just as frustrated
with North Korea as the United States is. So the relationship there I think is one that
is dramatically over-simplified. As for sort of a larger picture, I guess I
feel like North Korea is really the ultimate example of a realpolitik. They have been advancing their own self interest
when they were a relatively weak and unstable country by exploiting rivalries and threatening
their neighbors and all in all, with absolutely no loyalty to anyone, no true relationship
with anyone. They have played a weak hand brilliantly and
have used foreign policy as a mechanism to keep the nation stable and keep the Kim family
in power. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
I think it’s probably better to look at North Koreans perspective toward the world. I mean, North Koreans is something like they
are wearing sunglasses. But currently is I mean in 21 century after
all, the second generation of dictatorship now is the third generation. I mean, they are wearing lens of transition. So it’s something like I mean, when you’re
inside the dark interior of the house, you can have very clear lens. So the North Korean regime clearly understand
what’s going on inside the North Korea. But when you’re wearing the transitional lens,
and outside with bright, under the bright sun, they need those shield so they can look
at from their perspective to the world. And you look at the North Koreans as a communist
leading, they may have reddish lens to look at the world. If they want to have some kind of opening
of the market because they are so poor and desperate, and they have no other chance to
be revitalized or leaving their economy. They have to look at the different color of
the land, but this all depends on North Korean regimes, leadership perspective, if leadership
see those clear picture inside the building, they can do. But they definitely keep their transitional
lens to the outside. So we cannot actually see what’s going on
inside because the dark shade of their glasses keeping to look into what’s going on in North
Korea, because that sunglasses block the movements over their lives. So we keep guessing then they try to maximize
our guessing they are winning already. Because panic because North Korea is so unpredictable,
with difficult to develop our strategy while North Koreans just relax and developing their
own strategy and enjoyed sunlight, bright sunlight. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Yeah, I think Youngbae hits on an important point there and that’s the fact that I think
the North Korean leadership really subordinates its foreign policy to its domestic policy. In order to maintain power and stability,
at least for the elites in Pyongyang, they will do anything. And it’s the nature of the, what we think
of as their own predictability, it’s why sometimes they have close relationships with China and
other times they’re blasting China. It’s why they have, in the Cold War, the same
relationship with the Soviet Union. It’s why sometimes there’s outreach efforts
to the south or to other nations, and it’s really all designed to, above all else, stabilize
a regime that is clearly pretty despotic and really has no legitimate claim to power. And so this notion of sort of rallying the
people behind the leadership in it, whether that means to fight off a foreign threat or
because their leadership deserves it, because they are better than certain some other regime
or whatever it happens to be, it’s foreign policy in the service of maintaining the leadership
that currently exists. Dr. Deborah Solomon
Right. And so I think if you look at some of the
forces that are at work in North Korea, I think that there’s definitely within the regime,
they really thrive on isolation. It’s the way that they’ve been able to maintain
the level of control that they’ve maintained, but they also are really targeting a very
specific part of the population, because they really need the elite support in order for
their regime to continue. And it’s really only under this current mode
of leadership that those elites could imagine retaining that high ranking position in government
that they have. Whereas if there was any kind of significant
regime change, those elites know that they would really lose access to power and things
like that. So there’s both this attempt to really limit
and distort information that’s coming in from the outside but also a very targeted and uneven
use of the internal population in order to gain support from the most critical people
within North Korea. Brenna Miller
Most of the information that we have outside is then coming from people who are leaving
and defecting these kind of more marginal groups. And if then most of this foreign policy is
in the service of these kinds of elite groups, then what do we know about how life might
be different for different strata of people in society. Do we have any information about that? Dr. Deborah Solomon
I think we definitely have significantly less than we do almost anywhere else that I know
of. I mean, I often think — I’m watching what’s
happening in Cuba right now, for example, and sort of thinking about how a previously
isolated regime is going to transition into life after Fidel Castro’s death. But I also can’t even begin to compare the
level of connections that Cuba had with the outside world, even under Castro, with the
kind of isolation that’s gone on in North Korea. There certainly are sources of information. But I think that comparatively they are really,
really limited, especially in relation to what we know about China, what we know about
South Korea, what we know about Japan, it’s just night and day. Dr. Mitch Lerner
And while that’s true, I think we can generalize a little bit, particularly with regard to
that question of class strata. The Kim family has always, and certainly the
current Kim, they have maintained power because they have a close relationship with political
and military elites in Pyongyang. There’s maybe a growing sort of middle class
and in an economic sense, it’s very small. And by and large outside of Pyongyang in particular,
things are dramatically worse in terms of economic situations, political influence. So there’s a dramatic divide inside the country,
maybe more striking, I think, then you’ll find in almost any other place, where there’s
a powerful elite based in the capital city and then everybody else struggles to a much
greater degree. Dr. Deborah Solomon
Right, definitely. And and this gives you a sense of some of
the difficulty of gaining information about North Korea, but the fact that everything
that we do have supports this vision of stratification. One thing that scholars have been working
on recently is measuring the strength of pixels of light coming out of North Korea with the
assumption that the more light, the more resources an area has, and it certainly appears that
the tighter sanctions are visited upon North Korea, the more they concentrate their wealth
and resources in very specific areas that are suggestive of the political and military
elite. And they’re really channeling resources away
from the people that are the most vulnerable in society. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Right. And so this is great. I mean, it’s a whole nother conversation but
the question of whether or not sanctions work, right and North Korea is heavily sanctioned
all the time. And, and there may be some who think that’s
good policy, I don’t necessarily think so. And largely because the Kim family has never
shown any reluctance to let pretty much 90% of the population starve to death. And as long as that elite is happy, and they
have enough going on, black market trade and nuclear weapons and opium trade and everything
else, counterfeiting, that they’re bringing enough money to keep that elite population
stable. So the sanctions that go up are hitting the
outskirts of the nation in a way that’s really not going to affect to the political situation. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
Yes, and generally in terms of history sanctions you you see comparative effectiveness, economic
sanctions, especially against the totalitarian regime. I mean, the North Korea is probably the most
organized dictatorship in the world. And when you have that kind of high level
of a totalitarian control, economic sanctions usually backfire. When you have economic sanctions it actually
helps those top leadership and marginalizes most of the people. So it’s actually, if you have a sanction against
a relatively more democratic regime, you can mobilize more mass public opinion against
their government, so you can expect the better outcome from that sanction. But if you have a sanctions in a heavily controlled
totalitarian regime against North Korea, it always benefits the leadership. Mitch mentioned about 20 years ago, the North
Korea had a great famine and some estimate that they lost about 300,000 people because
of famine and starvation and malnutrition. The outcome? Well, they have a successful power transfer
from father Kim Jong-il to current leader Kim Jong-un, virtually no opposition. I mean, people directly support those transfers
of power after massive Western sanctions. So sanctions always works for the leadership,
especially against the totalitarian regime. Dr. Deborah Solomon
Right. And I think that this fuels this idea of the
more isolated North Korea can remain, the more effectively they can really control the
population. Jessica Blissit
So does that help explain a seeming stasis in the economic situation in North Korea,
whereas most other communist countries, their economies have evolved dramatically over the
years? Dr. Deborah Solomon
Well certainly one mode that we’ve seen with communist countries, definitely with China
and with Vietnam, is real move towards capitalist economic policies by the government, a really
conscious move in that direction. And we haven’t seen anything like that in
North Korea. but there’s a lot of evidence that markets
and things like that are beginning to grow in North Korea more than they had been before. And there are more kind of imported goods
from China. For example, I had a professor that brought
back pictures from China relatively recently that had images of, like, knockoff Disney
backpacks, you know, on the backs of school kids on their way to school and he also had
some images of pawn shops in Pyongyang, which is really new and stuff like that. So I think that there are certainly cracks
but there really isn’t this kind of governmental move towards capitalizing the economy. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Deborah is absolutely right in terms of official policy and over policy, the DPRK government,
Kim government, is still a validly anti-free market, anti-capitalist. So in 1984, as Youngbae said, there was this
huge economic famine and that undermined the national distribution system. That was a lifeline for North Korean people,
the government sent them essentially food and supplies every month. Well, that broke down in 1994, in the wake
of this horrible economic catastrophe. And what started to grow since then, and what
has really taken off over the last, I don’t know, five, eight years has been these private
markets. They call them the Jangmadang. And it’s, I think it’s it’s slowly really
creating a sense of market consciousness within the society. And there’s all sorts of anecdotal evidence,
there’s these, as you said, there’s these pawn shops, so there used to be these tiny
little like outdoor markets in villages where people would kind of secretly sell goods. Now they’re, they’re like established centers. It’s like a big warehouse where you go, and
even though the government doesn’t acknowledge it, officially, it actually plays a role in
regulating it. So state officials will sell you like a vendor
pass that you need. It’s really bribes, but you have to bribe
them to get a vendor pass to go in and sell things. It’s also undermining the extent to which
this younger generation sort of looks up to the government as their great provider and
protector. And so there’s all sorts of stories about
this younger generation. There’s many of them who have defected have
written in the New York Times and books and the Washington Post about how their heroes
are no longer the Kim family, there, there are people who are bringing money to society. And then the way that the government kind
of gets tied into all of this is that in order to start one of these private businesses,
you need currency, you need hard currency. And you get that from someone who has connections,
which usually means someone who’s part of the government. So we’re getting the emergence of this kind
of middle class money-lending element that has ties to the government, in some cases
is the government because they’re the only ones with money, and then of course, they
have a vested interest in being paid back, which means they have a vested interest in
making sure these private markets survive. So even though on the surface North Korea
remains this sort of, you know, Stalinist backwards, semi-communist dictatorship. There’s a lot of signs underneath that, that
the market is emerging and may have some influence. Dr. Deborah Solomon
Right and I think definitely the famines really accelerated that process. And I think we can really see the 19-, mid-1990s
as a turning point in that phenomenon. Brenna Miller
So what have us North Korean relations been like, since the Korean War in general, if
we can sort of offer a summary if any? Dr. Mitch Lerner
You know, I can spend a couple hours on this, or I can do it in a sentence which and say,
“North Korean us relations have always really been awful.” You probably want more than that, but to the
extent that there is historical consistency in in any international relationship, that’s
it. And I mean, there’s times when it’s better,
and it’s worse. In the late 60s, we have what we sometimes
call the Second Korean War, where there were some real hostilities between the two sides. In 1994, in a case that most Americans don’t
know, we almost went to war with them again. The Clinton administration was literally hours
from approving a military strike on the Yongbyon nuclear plant. Like I said earlier, the more things change,
the more they stay the same. It’s been a relationship that has been marked
by hostility and rivalry and war in one case and lots of close-to-wars in the other and
I don’t see any sign that things are changing in the immediate future. And without, again, going into too much detail
about sort of internal motivation inside the North, I think I would simply argue that the
Kim family wants it that way, almost needs it to be that way. And it’s the classic sort of communist dictator
strategy, which is to dismiss your own shortcomings by pointing a finger of blame at the capitalist
West. So, no matter how bad things are inside North
Korea, the Kim family has always said, A) “It’s because of the United States” and B) “We need to prepare for that next invasion,
just like they did in 1950. So you know, I’m sorry that we don’t have
consumer goods. And I’m sorry that your son has to go fight
in the army. But we are always preparing for the next war
with the United States.” So it serves a utilitarian function for them. And so it means that to some extent, I think
almost no matter what the United States does, until there is significant change inside North
Korea, there’s not really anything that’s going to affect that relationship in a positive
direction. Dr. Deborah Solomon
And that’s really reflected. I think, if you look at images of North Korean
propaganda over time. One of the things that that stays really consistent
is the ways in which the American military and the Japanese military are portrayed within
these images. It really clearly and explicitly harkens back
to the Japanese soldiers of WW II or the American soldiers of the Korean War. So they’re clearly continually referencing
the colonial period. They’re continually referencing the Korean
War as these moments of victimization that they have to prepare to really be ready to
resist not repeating in the future. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
I believe one thing is very clear in terms of US foreign policy against North Korea. North Korea’s policy against United States
has been very consistent. They want diplomatic normalization, and they
want some kind of guarantee of United States, South Korea, Japan, any allies, the US’ allies,
not to invade into North Korea. So their top concern is always their security,
a Bible with religion. So they want non aggression pact with the
United States, the security guarantee. So that has been consistent from North Korea
seven years strong. The problem of the United States is United
States never ever has a consistent message towards North Korea. The administration after the recession, especially
United States, all those kinds of democratic electionsm and we have different types of
administration. And we have all kinds of different voices
against North Korea. But North Korea always has a single, one,
very coordinated voice, which is, “their strengths, and our failure.” Dr. Deborah Solomon
And I also think about sort of the way that we report on North Korean foreign policy,
for example, is that you get these waves of new reporters that are assigned to North Korea
and they see all of these extreme tactics and all of this different stuff. And they sort of initially report with this
level of shock and this level of real sensationalism. And then usually, by the time they’ve sort
of acclimated to the various cycles of different types of North Korean modes of international
engagement, they get replaced with another wave of reporters and media experts. So it’s really, everybody, and that happens,
again, with administration’s as well, every new administration has a moment of reckoning
with North Korea, but then, you know, they, they have made really different decisions
about how to proceed. And so I do think that it’s really important
to see how, even the state of crisis that we’re always hearing about is actually a really
consistent one. And it’s really the change and how it’s being
communicated that maintains it. Jessica Blissit
So it looks like erratic behavior is actually, from their perspective, it’s erratic behavior
on our part. Dr. Deborah Solomon
This is really speculatory, but I don’t know if North Korea would argue that the US is
behavior is erratic. I think that the North Korean regime is really
skilled at finding pressure points. And that’s how they’ve been able to garner
the level of attention and the level of aid that they have. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Yeah, I think you’re right, though in in looking at it from the other perspective, which is
that that America is quick to fall into this sort of, this trap of erratic behavior, right? And we think of Kim as crazy, and I mean,
there’s all the jokes there’s, there’s a famous Onion headline that that I use sometimes,
use in class, and it says, “Kim Jong-un Worried That He’s Not Crazy Enough to Run the Country
the Way His Father and Grandfather Did.” And it’s just it’s this really simplistic,
sort of, you know, we in the West, and you can see from policymakers all the time, “the
regime is crazy, the regime, you know, who can understand them?” And the reality is their message has been
pretty consistent. And it’s it’s just the United States has a
tendency to look at these dramatic shows, you the kind of things that Deborah’s may
be referring to. You know, you take this really cursory, superficial
look, and it can be unusual and unexpected and the rhetoric is, you know, “see a fire
and we’re going to attack and destroy” and, and the whole work. And you have to kind of go beneath that. And you see that there’s actually some rationality
to it, but you’ve got to move beyond the surface to make that connection. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
I think the ultimate question is, something is coming in North Korea, but always the question
is when? Is something like, any kind of prediction
of North Korea is very risky. North Korea has been very consistent against
the world. Our problem is, we do not have any kind of
coordinated approach against North Korea, from United States from Japan, Korea, China,
we all have divided approach against North Korea. But we all must agree we’ve got, we’ve got
to change North Korea. And that’s what’s missing. The stronger we are, actually, we have more
diverse approach, and they have very consistent response. Jessica Blissit
We will wrap it up on that note. Thank you so much to our three panelists,
Deborah Solomon, an assistant professor of history and political science at Otterbein
University. Dr. Deborah Solomon
Thank you so much for having me. Jessica Blissit
Mitchell Lerner, associate professor at Ohio State University. Dr. Mitch Lerner
Thanks. Jessica Blissit
And Youngbae Hwang, a lecturer at Ohio State University in the International Studies Department
and a faculty member in Korean studies. Dr. Youngbae Hwang
Great pleasure. Brenna Miller
Thanks, everyone. This episode of History Talk podcast was brought
to you by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the
Public History Initiative of the Goldberg Center and the History Department at The Ohio
State University in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Our main editors are Steve Conn and Nicholas
Breyfogle. Our executive producer is David Staley. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. Our audio producers and hosts are Brenna Miller
and Jessica Blissit. Song and band information can be found on
our website. You can find our podcast and more on our website
at origins.osu.edu, on iTunes and on Soundcloud. And as always, you can find us on Twitter
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