Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Monday, November 22, 2004

North Korea Update

I should begin by quoting Dave in Arlington: "What the hell does anyone know about these guys?" I don't mean to sound like I'm doing much more than guesswork on North Korea, colored perhaps by a little wishful thinking.

Last Thursday, before beginning my weekend, I did a link round-up and analysis of strange stories coming out of North Korea. My "analysis" was primarily a series of possible interpretations of some bits of news coming from Kim Jong-Il's communist utopia. Today's update is basically me looking for more scraps of information and trying to come up with something like a coherent picture of what's going on. But it's all guesswork, really.

First, via CNN, North Korea is denying that any pictures were ordered taken down. Not surprising, but it proves nothing, really, because when the only people with any information a) control the media and b) have a vested interest in not telegraphing impending political shake-ups, you can't exactly take their pronouncements at face value.

Also, via Ace, there's this story showing a before and after shot with Dear Leader's picture missing. Ace dismisses the "they're having it cleaned" theory by wondering aloud whether the North Koreans have more than one picture of the guy. I would also observe that it's not like Kim's picture is gone and that's the only change; someone actually recentered the picture of his dad. And note that this evidence conflicts very directly with North Korea's recent denial that any pictures were taken down. Could it be a Photoshop? Sure, even I could do that one, and I'm not very good. But to what end?

More from the CNN article linked above: "But South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday that Rodong Sinmun, the main newspaper of the North's ruling party, referred to Kim by the honorific titles 'Great Leader' and 'Great Commander,' indicating that he was still in charge."

Perhaps so, but it's sort of non-responsive to the claim that the honorific was dropped from radio broadcasts. Still, it's an interesting tidbit, and hard to jive with the simple theory that either the other Party leaders or the military has taken over and are using Kim Jong-il as a puppet - they could drop the honorific from the paper as easily as from the radio.

So I'll refine my theory to allow for two possibilities:

A. The government has split into quietly dueling factions, with one controlling the print and the other the radio media. But it seems too likely to me that if the Party were to factionalize, and the rebelling faction not achieve total victory nearly instantly, all the rebels would be quickly shot. A rebellion under these circumstances only works if all or nearly all top party officials are in on the deal, and if they completely neutralize Kim and his supporters from the get-go.

B. We just saw the only outwardly visible vestiges of an extremely short-lived attempted rebellion. Unfortunately, I think this is more likely.

Update: Kim Jong-Il has a personal web page, full of all kinds of interesting facts and stuff. Don't miss this one.