The DPRK: a case of manufacturing consent

Japhy Barrera writes on North Korea, the historic imperialist aggression of the USA and its allies and the ongoing propaganda war against the Asian nation.

Japhy Barrera, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham Branch

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is displayed as a spectacle like no other. In the west, we hear stories of a rogue state the likes of which the world has never seen. It’s natural to be appalled at the thought of such stories being true, but the reality is that those who write them lack a critical understanding of the nation’s history and heightened tensions unnecessarily in doing so.

The DPRK, or North Korea, is a nation of approximately 25 million[1] located on the Korean Peninsula in eastern Asia. They are a socioeconomically isolated nation, focused on self-reliance and defence from imperialist forces. This has been taken advantage of by the United States and NATO, who use the DPRK as a subject for fear-mongering and propaganda. Because the DPRK has no substantial platform to rebut sensationalist claims, the U.S., Britain and others can spout whatever information is best suited to their narrative through their monopoly on prominent international media, with little-to-no consequence.

The motives for having such hostile stances against the DPRK stem back to the 1940s. Imperial Japan had control of Korea from 1910 until 1945 when they were defeated in World War Two. Initially, when Japanese control was relinquished, a socialist provisional government intent on independence was established by the Korean people. The Soviet Union assisted this democratically elected government, working with them to establish human rights and freedoms such as those to speech, press, religion, equality for women, an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, and prohibition of child labour[2].

The U.S. didn’t like that very much. They saw a power vacuum ripe for the taking, and the only other remaining superpower after World War Two, the Soviet Union, ‘taking it’. The U.S. then hurriedly occupied southern Korea, outlawed the existing provisional government, and took control into their own hands. This intervention is what halted the unification of Korea and marked the beginning of The Cold War.

After several arduous years, the North Koreans attempted to retake control of their own country. The U.S. saw that a united Korea under communist leadership would be a threat to their capitalist hegemony, and sent additional forces to stop the North Korean advancement.

Thus, the Korean War began. One of the most catastrophic yet forgotten-about events in history. It’s estimated that there were 4 million casualties in the war, with between 2-3 million being civilians[3]. This is an unprecedented rate of civilian deaths, outweighing that of World War two, The Vietnam War, and others[3]. North Korea undoubtedly got the worst of it, with approximately 15% of its population being wiped out as well as all but two modern buildings still standing in the capital city of Pyongyang by the end of the war[4].

After 3 years of bloodshed, the war was over, but the conflict has continued until this day. The DPRK has maintained their anti-imperialist stance, and as the U.S. and NATO do with others who fail to concede to the capitalist status quo, the DPRK has been internationally blackballed. Economic warfare has been declared on the country. They have been sanctioned out of global trade and support that the vast majority of nations rely on, and as a result, have come to focus on self-sufficiency. 

These sanctions are not the ‘peaceful alternative to military action’ that their advocates would have you believe, either. A 2018 UNICEF report noted that 60,000 children are put at risk of starvation from the blockade on humanitarian relief[5]. This is an observation seemingly lacking in self-awareness, as UNICEF is a subsidiary of the United Nations, which upholds those same sanctions. The blockades also place bans on North Korean exports, stunting their still-recovering economy and placing the burden heavily on the DPRK’s working class[5]. From sanctions as recent as 2016, North Korea’s GDP has dropped from a growth rate of +3.9% to a sharp decline of -4.1% in 2018[6].

Such figures might make you wonder why the U.S. is so eager to point out such harsh conditions in the DPRK when they have unquestionably had the foremost role in causing them. Alas, this smear campaign has been effective in gearing the US people into a valiantly anti-DPRK stance and thus is utilized despite its obvious contradictions.

The DPRK’s dire situation has led them to develop a nuclear weapons program, and understandably so. The United States has approximately 3,800 nuclear warheads in its arsenal[7]; for the DPRK to end its nuclear program (consisting of an estimated 40 warheads[8]) would mean giving up their only leverage in, what is for them, a life-or-death situation. 

A denuclearization deal of this sort was attempted in 1994, whereupon North Korean disarmament the U.S. would give oil and other resources as well as ‘formally assure’ that they would not use any nuclear weapons against the DPRK going forward[9]. The decision by the DPRK to reject the deal proved correct when in 2011 shortly after a nuclear disarmament deal with Libya, NATO intervened and aided in the overthrow of their government as well as the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, their leader. 

The U.S. government has proven time and time again its willingness to go back on their word even in deals that are heavily in their favour. Nowhere in nuclear talks do the U.S. ever offer to denuclearize themselves, instead they put forward empty ‘formal assurances’ which aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

The poor foreign affairs record of the United States should then make apparent why the DPRK would be hesitant in agreeing to a disarmament deal, but western media would make you think otherwise.

The DPRK has become a staple of the 24-hour news cycle, with stories ranging from alleged unicorn discoveries[10] to the seemingly monthly reports that Kim Jong Un is either dead or near death[11]. These reports have no reputable origin and are quite often fabricated by U.S. government-funded media outlets like ‘Radio Free Asia’.

The objective of such stories is quite clear: to undermine and assault the sovereignty of the DPRK and its people. This media whirlwind, fueled by the U.S. government, is buttering up the American psyche to the idea of an invasion as it has done so many times previously. This is where the real danger lies in the farcical spectacle-making of North Korea, it contributes to a campaign that, if successful, would cost millions of lives.

It is the responsibility of the US people, as well as those of Britain. and Europe, to recognize the imperialist nature of their countries and fight against narratives placing blame on the victims of such imperialism. The U.S. war machine is constantly looking to manufacture the consent of its citizens to fight wars overseas in the name of ‘democracy’, ‘peace’, and ‘freedom’, but the reality is far less heroic. United States’ foreign policy is entirely based on an agenda to increase international influence, and serve the interests of multinational corporations looking to extend their reach to every corner of the globe.

Japhy Barrera

Sources

[1] https://datacommons.org/place/country/PRK

[2] Cumings, Bruce (1981). The Origins of the Korean War, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes pg.88.

[3] Lewy, Guenter (1980). America in Vietnam. Oxford University Press. pgs. 450–453.

[4] https://apjjf.org/-Charles-K–Armstrong/3460/article.pdf

[5]https://koreapeacenow.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/The-Humanitarian-Impact-of-Sanctions-on-North-Korea.pdf

[6]https://www.justsecurity.org/67473/sanctions-on-north-korea-are-counterproductive/

[7] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2019.1606503

[8]https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/06/15/North-Korea-could-have-40-nuclear-weapons-Swedish-think-tank-says/6981592226924/

[9]https://web.archive.org/web/20031217175315/http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/Others/infcirc457.pdf

[10]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/30/unicorn-lair-discovered-north-korea

[11]https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/25/kim-jong-un-dead-rumours-circulate-chinese-doctors-sent-north-korea-12610540/

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