When corruption is the only hope

Thursday, 28 March, 2013

What would the late, lamented Christopher Hitchens have made of the latest dispatches from North Korea in which the mad dictator and his minions are photoshopping hovercraft and cutting the military hotline with the South? In Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays he had this to say:

“Playing pool with Korean officials one evening in the Koryo Hotel, which has become the nightspot for foreign businessmen and an increasing number of diplomats (to say nothing of the burgeoning number of spies and journalists traveling under second identities), I was handed that day’s edition of the Pyongyang Times. At first glance it seemed too laughable for words: endless pictures of the ‘Dear Leader’ — Little Boy’s exalted title — as he was garlanded by adoring schoolchildren and heroic tractor drivers. Yet even in these turgid pages there were nuggets: a telegram congratulating the winner of the Serbian elections; a candid reference to the ‘hardship period’ through which the country had been passing; an assurance that a certain nuclear power plant would be closed as part of a deal with Washington. Tiny cracks, to be sure. But a complete and rigid edifice cannot afford fissures, however small. There appear to be no hookers, as yet, in Pyongyang. Yet if casinos come, can working girls be far behind? One perhaps ought not to wish for hookers, but there are circumstances when corruption is the only hope.”

Putting the past and the present into perspective, Walter Russel Mead observes: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that under Kim III the Norks have become even wackier and more obstreperous than before. Little has changed on the US or South Korean side to provoke the latest wave of theatrics. The biggest changes are in the region itself: Japan has embraced a tougher foreign policy, and China has begun to grouse very publicly over its wayward ally’s behavior. In fact, the main target of the latest tantrum is probably Beijing, not Seoul or Washington. North Korea is trying to remind its ally that it can make Beijing’s life very unpleasant if it doesn’t get all the support it wants.”

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