A history of threats fulfilled

North Korea has long followed through on revenge fantasies, making its current blustering all the more worrisome

Topics: GlobalPost, North Korea,

This piece originally appeared on GlobalPost.

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — History offers some guidance on what to expect as North Korea threatens to ”wage a sacred war” against the South Korean government and its supporters. In all the decades since the June 25, 1950, start of the Korean War, the North has not repeated its all-out invasion of the South.

Global Post

That would be more reassuring if the regime had not repeatedly shown its determination to avoid coming across as a habitual bluffer, a paper tiger.

In separate incidents in 2010, after issuing dire threats of “revenge,” it did indeed sink the South Korean naval ship Cheonan and shell the South’s Yeonpyeong Island.

Although short of all-out war, both of those attacks — like others earlier such as the 1968 capture of the U.S. Navy spy ship Pueblo — were major and deadly provocations.

The government of South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and conservative South Korean news media organizations, the two groups specifically targeted by the latest threats, will need to be vigilant.

The current rhetoric stems from North Korea’s resentment of South Korean comments showing contempt for a huge and lengthy celebration commemorating the late North Korean founding dictator Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday, which was April 15.

The centerpiece of the celebration was to be a rocket launch — supposedly putting a satellite into orbit. In the view of South Korea and the United States, it was a test of the North’s developing missile technology. In a major humiliation, the launch fizzled. Taking note of that, South Korean government and media comments also questioned the priority that the North throughout its history has given to circuses over bread, and guns over butter.

“Traitor Lee Myung Bak,” the North’s Foreign Ministry spokesman complained in a statement issued Sunday, “let loose a string of such malignant invectives that can be uttered only by a shark — that the North might spend a ridiculous amount of money for the celebrations of the centenary of the birth of President Kim Il Sung, and that the amount of fund[s] would be enough to buy a large quantity of food.”



In fact, in an April 16 radio address Lee estimated that the regime could have used the money it spent on the birthday bash to buy a six-year supply of corn for its perennially hungry population.

Because Lee and his supporters desecrated a holiday so sacred it amounted to “the great jubilee in human history,” the North’s military and civilians alike “are shaking with irrepressible resentment,” the ministry’s statement said. “They are now eagerly waiting for the issue of an order so that they may mercilessly punish the traitor.”

If there is reason to hope nothing will come of the current threats it is that phrase about waiting for “an order.”

On Friday, the regime packed Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square with neat rows of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians crying passionately for the blood of Southerners. Spokespersons for various groups in the North were quoted as saying that new leader Kim Jong Un had only to give the order and they would follow.

In other words, as has happened quite a few times over the decades, the gigantic weapon of a furious army and people has been cocked, and this time it is up to Kim — a 20-something grandson of Kim Il Sung — to pull the trigger by issuing the order to go ahead if he chooses to do so.

Not mentioning that crucial element of awaiting an order, though, was a message Monday from a unit of the military called the “special operation action group,” which warned that “the special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors.”

“Targets are the Lee Myung Bak group of traitors, the arch criminals and the group of rat-like elements including conservative media destroying the mainstay of the fair public opinion,” said the statement, released by the North’s Korean Central News Agency. (A search of KCNA articles published since January 1996 found no other mention of a special operation action group.)

“Once the above-said special actions kick off, they will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocation to ashes in three or four minutes,” the statement said. The actions will employ “unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style. Our revolutionary armed forces do not make empty talk.”

Among grievances the special operation action group mentioned were South Korean military boasts last Thursday that the South’s newest missiles can reach any part of North Korea — including, in the words of the North’s statement, “striking the supreme headquarters through an office window.”

The announcement included a media target list, for involvement in a campaign to “build up public opinion in favor of the rats’ group.”  The list included broadcasters KBS, MBC and YTN, as well as national daily newspaper Dong-A Ilbo, which it pointedly noted has its headquarters in downtown Seoul.

Dong-A Ilbo explained that what put the newspaper atop the list was an April 17 article quoting a South Korean intelligence source on the results of reading Kim Jong Un’s lips as the young leader spoke with three senior military brass. The lip reading was done from a telecast by North Korea’s Central TV station showing the four reviewing a military parade on April 15.

The paper doesn’t come out and say so, but some of Kim Jong Un’s quotations make him appear like a kid playing under the Christmas tree with his new toys. He “smiled whenever vehicles with ballistic missiles passed, including the new long-range missile, and said, ‘Great. Great.’”

The threatened special actions are supposed to be unprecedented. That would seem to rule out another missile or nuclear test (although either or both could be in the cards separately) or an assassination raid on South Korea’s presidential Blue House, as was attempted in 1968. Since Kim Jong Un’s image polishers have attempted to portray him as info-tech-savvy, a cyber attack seems one strong possibility — although in that case the threatened “ashes” might be figurative.

Meanwhile, whether it follows through with this particular threat or not, the multitasking regime probably has succeeded at least for the time being in distracting a great many of its subjects from grinding poverty and official repression and corruption, channeling their anger away from manifest policy failures and toward external enemies.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>