11 May 2005

Bush Reads Up on DPRK

Apparently U.S. President George W. Bush is reading The Aquariums of Pyongyang, according to Yonhap, and telling his aides he is reading it (perhaps so that they can spread the word?). Now, it is nice to see Bush taking an interest in actually reading about the countries he calls bastions of tyranny and may or may not be planning to invade.

If you haven’t read the book, it is an interesting (if somewhat dated) read, both for the obvious exposition on prison camps and the criticism of the North Korean political system and for other smaller, less noticeable insights into everyday life and thinking in North Korea.

The comments on the military being a path for upward mobility (p. 236) correspond with Chapter 10 of Helen-Louise Hunter’s Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, which also discusses the military not only as a source of social and academic growth, but also the path for more and better food, and a source of national agriculture and infrastructure development.

Now I understand this distinction is fading, and there are reports of the military losing some of its privileges and status, but it remains one of the strong social and economic forces in the country – for good or bad.

One other quick read the president may want to consider is Michael Breen’s Kim Jong Il: North Korea’s Dear Leader, which is a largely anecdotal portrayal of the life, actions and mind of Kim Jong Il. A quick read and a little less dated than Hunter’s, though certainly not from the same source material (a North Korean defector in her case).

As for me, I am currently reading the three-volume set The Korean War published in English by the University of Nebraska Press. It is written by the Korea Institute of Military History, (which I believe is based at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul), and gives the updated Korean view of the war. It is a good compliment to any of the U.S. official or anecdotal histories, as it also offers the occasional success of the South Korean forces rather than simply dismissing them as bumbling extras (particularly note the anti-tank suicide squads, as the United States gave the fledgling ROK military no anti-tank mines and no anti-tank weapons that could pierce the T-34 armor).

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