The death of Kim Jong Il, on Dec. 17, caught the attention and imagination of the capitalist media hucksters. His death, which wasn’t reported for two whole days, was in many ways symbolic of his life. It was a life that, through the lens of the Western media, was obscured by secrecy and unflattering portrayals. This distorting lens is designed to sell American workers on U.S. intervention in Korea.
The passing of Kim saw an avalanche of mocking obituaries in the capitalist press. Many of the characterizations, in fact, were down right racist. The U.S. propaganda machine is notorious for villainizing its enemies—particularly when that enemy is not white. This was often seen in the mocking depictions of Kim Jong Il, with the frequent unflattering references to his height, supposed sexual deviancy, hairstyle, accent, and clothing. He was presented as a modern day Fu Manchu—an Asian super-villain with the most sinister plans.
This depiction of Kim underscores a perennial fear of the East as a “yellow peril.” The racist villainizing of Kim Jong Il will no doubt continue with his son, and apparent heir, Kim Jong Un. At the end of the day, regardless of whether these stories are true or not, they are a distraction from the real issues.
The orientalist portrayals of the Kims is often extended to North Korea and the Korean people themselves. American workers are fed a steady diet of anti-North Korean horror stories, while the capitalist press is careful to never mention the U.S. violations of its agreements with North Korea, or the presence of U.S. nukes in the region. Instead, a considerable degree of fear has been drummed up about North Korean missiles and a possible nuclear attack, both exacerbated by the alleged mental instability of the Kims.
This is reminiscent of the war mongering carried out against Iraq in 2001 and against Iran today. Furthermore, the people of North Korea are often depicted as intimidated, pacified, mindless automatons. This is especially apparent in commentary concerning the authenticity of their mourning. Whether it is authentic or inauthentic is less relevant than the history and context of these expressions of grief.
Lack of history and context also make it hard to imagine why the Korean people would find any comfort in their leadership and state. However, there ample reasons why the people might fear the United States as an aggressor. This fear is exploited by the North Korean state, but U.S. foreign policy has never been sunshine and friendship. The U.S. virtually destroyed the country in the Korean War and has essentially blockaded it economically, diplomatically, and politically since.
There is no denying the fact that North Korea is indeed a brutal Stalinist dictatorship that represses its own people and puts the interest of the ruling bureaucracy and its armed forces above all else. Nevertheless, it is not the job of the United States to police the Korean peninsula. The world’s major manufacturer, distributor, and user of weapons of mass destruction—of the nuclear, chemical, and biological varieties—has no right to make demands on any nation. It has no right to dictate the internal policy of any country, period.
Only the Korean people themselves should determine their country’s policies, and overthrow their governments—both North and South. It is the Korean people alone who can create a just solution to the problems they face, on both sides of the DMZ.
U.S. imperialism does not have the right to intervene, and its bully tactics will never improve the lot of the Korean people. Rather, its policies are geared towards increasing its own power and position in East Asia to the detriment of the working people of the entire region.
> The article above was written by Heather Bradford and Adam Ritscher, and first appeared in the January 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.