What is this?

Hi! My name is Ulrik, and this is my student blog. My posts will be based on tasks and subjects given to the class by my English teacher Ann. I am currently in my third year at Sandvika High School, Norway.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Object Of Power

A comparison between Orwell's 1984 and North Korea

What is the cause that makes humans rule over other humans, their fellow man, in inhumane ways?  Whether it is behind a red flag, hammer and a sickle, or behind the hatred of the swastika- the human race has throughout history struggled towards the perfect society, that with no weaknesses, that will last a thousand years. Every single time we have tried this, we have failed- we look back, and we say “How on earth could they think like that?”

When George Orwell wrote 1984, he wrote a warning. He wrote a warning against the totalitarian and “perfect” oligarchy. The book was published in 1949, one year before Orwell’s death. Just a few months earlier, a new nation took shape. I will write more about this state, because the similarities between this state and Orwell’s 1984 have since 1949 increased dramatically.

In 1984 we meet Winston Smith, and the fictional country “Oceania”. Winston works in the Ministry of truth- where they, of course, works with the complete opposite. In Oceania, English Socialism (or INGOSC as it is called in “new speech”) is the ruling ideology. The Party, ruled by “Big Brother” controls everything, and Winston’s job is to correct the history- an important part of the system.  "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." (Orwell, 1949)-  That, is the slogan of the Party.

When the Party is consistent and keeps “correcting” the history, the population of Oceania are kept at bay. To eliminate people from history, or give someone the credits for something they did not do, is not something Orwell came up with in his book. We are well known with Soviets censorship and their correction of history- Whether it was old photos of former Party-members who for some reason were no longer in the Party, or historical events not suiting the Soviet cause. Of course, some people could look at the photograph and say “that’s not how it was”, but how can they prove it? If someone or something is written out of history, then it is completely removed; every single newspaper obliterated, and lost in oblivion.
The birth of INGSOC in Oceania happened in the same way as the communism in Soviet and North Korea; the need of a revolution, risen from the ashes of war.
Juche (the idea of being self-provided) is the ideal idea in North Korea. In Oceania the “telescreens” yells out propaganda on how the rations are at an all-time high (even though they are decreasing), and how the factories are producing more than ever before. This is not unlike North Korea at all, where the state-radio is giving the same message to the population. The state-radio is of course the only legal station, and the only one which the North-Korean radios are able to receive.
The US, the enemy, is referred to as the source of all evil. If the economy is wavering, or the nation suffers from hunger or epidemics, the US are being held responsible.
The exact same situation is the case in Orwell’s Oceania. Eurasia is the menace to society, and if something is going badly, Eurasia is to blame.
This is a considerable difference from Oceania, where the majority belongs in the proletarian class.
 Another essential difference, of which it is important to notice, is that The Party in North-Korea, unlike The Party in Oceania, never talks about the class system anymore- it is actually uncertain whether or not the people themselves knows which class they belong to, until they are sentenced for it. We do however assume that those living in Pyongyang belong to the core class, and that they are fully aware that there is a whole other reality outside of the city.
In North-Korea, “thought crimes” are real, and the labour camps and “re-education” camps are well known to the outside world. We are aware of six political prison camps, with over two-hundred-thousand inmates, and about ten re-education camps with over one-hundred-thousand-inmates. Although, having one camp called “prisoner camp nr 25, and another called “re-education camp nr 77”, the numbers are probably much higher.
In the eighties and nineties, former guard and now defector Ahn Myohn-Chol[4] worked in Labour Camp nr 22, or Hoeryong concentration camp as it is called[5]. In his testimonies he describes conditions which can only be compared to that of the camps we saw in Europe during the existence of Nazi-Germany. He tells describes how one third of the inmates in the camp (Hoeryong had around fifty thousand inmates in 1990) had severe damages to their bodies such as missing eyes, missing ears, bashed knuckles, and cuts all over their bodies. He tells how the inmates looked like living skeletons, how these “skeletons” were forced to carry out hard labour, and he describes public executions of elders no longer fit for work. The food in the camp consisted of 300g of corn each day- if the prisoners got hold of meat; it came from rats running around in the camp. When inmates died, they were burned in ovens. 
In order to understand the scale of the camp, it has to be mentioned that it is 25 square miles, and has over one-thousand guards armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades. A guard is never punished for killing a prisoner, and surrounding the camp is a huge system of electric fences and minefields.  New reports suggest that this particular camp was closed in 2012, and that every inmate at that time (thirty-thousand) was starved to death. There are two other camps in the same scale still being operational; Yudok and Pukchang. As mentioned earlier, the sources are few. [6][7]
This is shown extremely well in 1984, where everyone simply accepts that sooner or later, they will be caught- and that thought crimes must be punished. One character in the book, Tom Parsons- the co-worker of Winston- becomes tremendously proud when his daughter chose to report him for thought crimes, since he spoke bad words about The Party in his sleep. It is highly likely that similar cases are taking place in North-Korea.
When ending up in a North-Korean camp however, there are probably few who end up loving The Party. But on the other hand; if you do not know of the outside world, maybe not even the world outside of the camp, maybe you end up loving The Party after all?
It has been rebellions in the North-Koreans camps, but the last one ended up with over ten thousand prisoners being mowed down by machineguns.[8]
Anyhow, the similarities between the North-Korean camps and those of Oceania are not few- they are alarmingly many.
In 1984, we are told about “Big Brother”, the leader of The Party; the Party is the leadership, and on the top of the hierarchy is “Big Brother”. Whether or not Big Brother exists is irrelevant, because he is there; on the posters, in the books, in people’s minds. In North-Korea, there is a similar scenario going on: the Korean Labour Party, The party, is led by the father of the revolution Kim Il Sung- despite the fact that he passed away in 1994. He is looked upon as the eternal leader of the nation, and a crime against the nation is a crime against him- denying his very existence is a crime in itself, just like denying the existence of Big Brother is a crime in Oceania. It hangs huge pictures of Kim Il Sung everywhere, and ceremonies celebrating him is on the daily agenda. Members of The Party, if it is North-Korea or Oceania, live in luxury, while the rest of the people suffer. The current head of state in North-Korea, Kim Jong-un lives like a god, and he enjoys it. Whether or not he is a marionette being controlled by others in The Party is unknown, but there is without doubt others in The Party that has a lot of power. Heads of state comes and goes, sometimes through purges, just like those Orwell writes about in 1984. Not even within The Party can you feel safe.
I do not believe it is possible to understand the process which has taken place over the last sixty years. The nationalism that rose after the Second World War, the need for socialism, and the enclosure that took place after the Korean War; it has been the perfect recipe to the perfect oligarchy- perfect to The Party that is.
The reason why I am using the Soviet communism as an example is that if you want to understand North Korea, you have to understand the Soviet Union. Without Soviet lurking in the background, North Korea would probably look quite different today. 

North Korea became an state in 1949, well backed by the Soviet Union. A few years earlier, 1945, the allied forces had seized control over the Japanese-occupied Korea. The northern part fell under Soviet command, and the southern under American. The following years, the north became more and more independent, before they eventually became an independent state. The Soviet forces backed out of the north and the Americans from the south. North Korea, with Kim Il Sung as leader (a character that has several similarities with 1984 and “Big “Brother”), saw their chance to attack South Korea- and the Korean War started. After this war, North Korea has become the most closed country in the world, while South Korea has moved in the complete opposite direction.

The formation of the North Korean state and the outbreak of the war, in many ways looked upon as North Koreas revolution, has secured them an enemy image for eternity. To the North, it is them and the US, communism against capitalism. To  the North-Koreans the war against USA is continuous, and the propaganda keeps telling them about the “final stage” of the war, which soon will reach it heights, and the rearmament has been going on for ever(at least on paper).

During the 1960’s, North Korea adopted the Songun-doctrine[1], a doctrine that ensures the military full priority. Songun became the national-doctrine in 1994, after Kim Il Sungs death. Before the Songun-doctrine, North Korea practised (and still practises) the Juche-doctrine[2], a doctrine that, at least in theory, puts North Korea in the centre, and declares that they, and no one else, is to be responsible for their provisions- which exclude the possibility of import. The Juche-Doctrine also declares (if we interpret a speech by Kim Il Sung) that North Korea are, in the same way Nazi-Germany looked upon them self, ├╝bermenchen (better humans/over humans). When looking at North Korea today there are several similarities to Nazi-Germany, like the race-ideology, and their view on “Non-North-Koreans”. It is a very complex view which is hard to comprehend, but that can be connected with the Japanese-occupation, and the years of conflict.  

Juche and Songun have many parallels to INGSOC, and form the basis for a comparison between Oceania and North Korea. The whole idea that the military should be prioritized before anything else is something we read a lot about in 1984- The war against Eurasia rages, and they are in extreme need of soldiers and war material. After a while, it turns out that the war against Eurasia is not nearly as comprehensive as the Party claims, much like the war against the US is described by the Party in North Korea.

But this enemy image; why is it necessary? What is the purpose with the intentional creation of Eurasia, or the US, as an enemy? You will see that it creates unity and solidarity within the people, and gather the people in the fight against their enemy. This especially happens in the time of a great crisis, which is something neither Oceania nor North-Korea has been without. The people are being convinced that if they (or when, as they say) defeats this enemy, then everything will be solved. The North-Koreans has this conception that the Songun-system is an absolute necessity- if they do not have Songun, how can they defeat the US? And if they do not defeat the US, how can they ensure their own existence? 

We could ask ourselves if any of these states has any intention of winning a war- and the answer would of course be no. Oceania is using the war as an eternal source for propaganda, and North-Korea is doing the same. The only essential difference is whether or not the North-Korean population knows that there is no real war at the moment, or if only certain parts of the population knows; It is very uncertain how much information that reaches the people, but we can assume that most people are aware that there is no huge armed conflict going on- unlike Oceania, where everyone believe there is war
North-Korea is, similarly to Oceania, divided in classes. While in Ingsoc-Oceania there is the upper class (the inner party), the middle class (the outer party) and the lower class (the proletarians), North-Korea uses the so called “Songbun-system”[3]. Songbun is a system which divides the people into three very similar classes: “The core class”, “the uncertain class” and “the hostile class”. It is uncertain how many that are in each class, but most people belongs to (if we use a speech held by Kim Il Sung in 1958 as a source) the middle class, about 55% that is.

From the very beginning North-Korea has had a severe judicial system, if it can be called that at all. People are, just like in Oceania, sentenced without any obvious reason. In Oceania, the concept of “thought crimes” is central. Negative thoughts about The Party will be revealed, and those thinking them will be punished.
We have very few sources from these camps: there are reports based on satellite imaging, and a handful of statements from eye-witnesses- both from former guards, and former inmates.

But what is the purpose of these camps? What is North-Koreas motivation? There is not much keeping you from being taken to a camp; criticizing The Party, or just being part of the lower class, can be enough. The degree of your sentence varies from crime to crime, but you will most likely end up spending the rest of your life in the camp without a reel sentence anyways. To punish the family of the prosecuted, known as Sippenhaft in German, is common. The intention of this is probably as simple as just oppressing every doubter of the system. If they punish every doubter, then they are ensuring a dehumanisation of the doubters, and a comprehensive brainwash of the remaining; it contributes in the creation of a twisted understanding of reality among the population. 

Oceania’s labour camps are equivalent with those of North-Korea, with one difference that is; In 1984, Oceania has reached a point where they are trying to torture the prisoners until they fall in love with The Party, before being executed (or in some few cases released)- and they are successful.

North-Korea has, just like Oceania, a system which is based upon snitching- that neighbours reports neighbours, and that brothers report sisters. This is something we know from Soviet, Nazi-Germany and Iran- just to mention a few. The secret police is extremely effective in these countries, and the police known as “The thought Police” in Oceania reflect in the North-Korean “Bowibu”- a police we know very little about, except that they are responsible for the practical work with the concentration camps, and the police-system of the country.[9]

So, it is clear that the fate of the inhabitants of both North-Korea and Oceania is being decided by The Party- but what exactly is this “Party”?

You could ask how on earth North-Korea ended up being a state that is at best comparable with a fictional state from a book. What exactly is the agenda of the North-Korean government? Is there, or has there ever been socialism there? And why has the world for over sixty years just watched them develop like this?
It is important to understand that since the end of the Korean War, the world has done everything in its power to pretend like North-Korea is not a real state- and North-Korea has done everything in their power to follow the “Juche” idea, to be independent. North-Korea has found themselves being in a sort of “Germany 1938 mode” since 1953- just completely closed- and they have buried themselves deeper and deeper in the sand.  

The Party exploited the hatred against the US and South-Korea, and they have cultivated it further. In sixty years, they have made sure that few of those who lived in Korea before the war is alive and they have erased the history from the history books. 
They have made sure to do exactly what is being done in George Orwell’s 1984; they have made the population helpless and one-hundred percent dependent of the state. The Party clutches on to an ideology that does not work at all, other than to keep the population hungry, and at bay. Maybe they are doing it by conviction, or maybe they are doing it simply because the system itself has created an evil circle. How do you stop it? If you ask any question, you will be shot- probably because someone else is afraid of being shot.

And no; of course there is not a hint of socialism in North-Korea. Their system is something of its own; call it communism, fascism, Nazism or Ingsoc- it is still wrong. You will just end up putting a name on a system that may have started with an idea of soviet-communism, but that ended up with something completely different. 

The state controls everything. Not for the benefits of the people, but for the benefits of The Party. Correction; The Party controls everything- because The Party is the state.  They follow their own twisted Juche/Songun ideology, an ideology that reflects in Ingsoc; Oceania in the center, self-contained and with focus on military force- North-Korea in the center, self-contained and with focus on military force.

Why these nations have ended up like this, and what goes through the mind of their leaders other than power, can only be guessed. They have most likely become victims of their own system. The current leader of North-Korea is number three in the line, and to him the system probably goes without saying. What can be done? I do not think anyone can answer that question. O’Brian, a character in 1984, says that the proletarians will never rise up, and that they will never bring The Party to its feet.  That is probably more than the words of a man sickened with power; when North-Korea has been able to keep the system running for so long, just like Oceania, then the possibility of a new revolution is simply not there. The states have utterly control over the population, and the main focus is simply to maintain control. O’Brian puts it like this: Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. “ (Orwell, 1949)


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juche. (u.d.).
Harden, B. (2012). Flukten Fra Leir 14.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoeryong_concentration_camp. (u.d.).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_enforcement_in_North_Korea. (u.d.).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisons_in_North_Korea. (u.d.).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songbun. (u.d.).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songun. (u.d.).
Orwell, G. (1949). 1984.
Yodok Stories (2008). [Film].

[1] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songun)
[2] ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juche)
[3] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songbun)
[4] (Yodok Stories , 2008)
[5] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoeryong_concentration_camp)
[6] (Harden, 2012)
[7] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisons_in_North_Korea)
[8] (Yodok Stories , 2008)
[9] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_enforcement_in_North_Korea)

1 comment:

  1. Great article, thank you for sharing. This is a topic you really know a lot about and I like how you compare George Orwell's 1984 and North Korea today.