North Korea Has A Serious Problem, But The Problem Is Not That Its Dictator Is A Baby

New Yorker cover of Baby Kim Jong-eun

Here's the January 18 2016 cover of the New Yorker magazine. What is happening here? Why are we being asked to view the leader of North Korea as a baby?

North Korea has very serious problems, but none of the problems are that its dictator Kim Jong-un is a baby. In fact, the country's poor leadership is probably an effect rather than a cause of its problems. The traumas this war-torn nation has suffered in recent decades would probably hobble a leader as great as George Washington, if such a leader was in Pyongyang. It's hard to govern a broken and impoverished land while fighting a hostile global alliance and fending off the effects of 120 years of historical disaster.

This history is not well-known, but it should be. The 25 million people who live in North Korea have suffered through the equivalent of a slow-burning holocaust since the 1950s. Many people think the Korean War was something that happened to America, but in fact 2.5 million innocent civilians died in this war, along with millions of soldiers, many of whom were enslaved and forced to fight. The Korean War never ended, and the paranoid cultural sickness that always accompanies a brutal civil war has been poisoning North Korea for the last sixty years. If North Korea is a baby, this baby has a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder. This baby needs some emergency care.

But, well ... we don't laugh at sick babies, or at handicapped people, or Holocaust survivors. So why do we laugh at North Korea?

More importantly, why do we citizens of the nations of the world continue to support and enable the constant escalation of military pressure against this nuclear-equipped, over-militarized and obviously traumatized nation? Why is there not a major global movement for a peaceful new approach to the crisis of Korea?

Here at Pacifism21, we're kicking off a series about this problem, because we think we ought to be able to help raise the level of public understanding. We will discuss the history of modern Korea, and walk through the various steps that led to the division of a nation into two warring halves. We'll try to determine what the actual causes of the current crisis in North Korea have been, and we'll look at some ways this crisis might be improved. We welcome your participation in the discussions that will follow each article we publish.

I'm happy to be joined in this effort by Finn Harvor, an expert in Korean culture and history who lives in Seoul and teaches at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. I've enjoyed Finn's original artworks and creative projects (some of them featured here) for years. One sentence from his first contribution speaks loudly to me: "The present state of journalism [regarding North Korea] is so dismal, so caught within the trap of its own biases and paucity of insight, that this journalism has itself become a danger".

This page will serve as an index page to the entire series, which will continue to grow in the next few weeks. Let's jump in ...