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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

STTB: Myanmar, Military, Mansions, and Movies!

by | July 24th, 2013 | 07:10 am
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Let’s start with Myanmar.  Last month I had a post describing that country’s attempt to extricate itself from military ties with North Korea and bring itself into compliance with UNSC resolutions. Not everyone got the memo, apparently.  A couple of weeks ago, the US placed Lieutenant General Thein Htay, the head of Myanmar’s Directorate of Defense Industries, on its sanctions list for alleged arms deals with North Korea.  The US government was at pains to explain that this move was not aimed at the whole Myanmar government, just Lt. Gen. Thein Htay. The Myammar government did not have an immediate comment.

The government of Myanmar would also probably like to avoid commenting on a story that appeared Dong-A Ilbo last week concerning 64 North Korean refugees subjected to forced labor in opium fields and prostitution in an area controlled by one of Myanmar’s numerous rebel groups. (When I consulted fellow traveler Cullen Hendrix as to who these rebels might be, he responded, “This could be any number of rebel groups. Karens, Shan, and Mon all live along that border. Given the location, I’m guessing it’s remnants of the Shan State Army – South, also sometimes called the Restoration Council of Shan States.” Got that?) The government of South Korea, still smarting over the refugee fiasco in Laos, has reacted cautiously, indicating that it is trying to verify the claim which originated from a South Korean NGO. The bottom line, as Steph Haggard observed, as culpable as the Shan or whoever these gangsters are, the ultimate source of this tragedy are the policies of North Korea and China.

A couple of weeks I ago I commented on a Japanese news report that Kim Jong-un reputedly had ordered a reduction of the size of the Korean People’s Army by 300,000 troops, drawing parallels to an episode in 2002. Well, it didn’t take long for the Daily NK to shoot that one down. What Asahi TV probably meant to say was that Kim Jong-un had ordered 300,000 troops to act with Masik Pass super battle speed in the construction of the people’s economy and material livelihood….

Last year I did a post on the South Korean government’s purchase of the historic Korean legation building on Washington’s Logan Circle (photo included). I included the unsolicited proposal that the mansion, which, after all, was once the home of the diplomatic representation for the whole peninsula, could be used as temporary office space for a North Korean embassy when the US and North Korea normalize relations. A couple of weeks ago, recently arrived South Korean ambassador Ahn Ho-young was on hand allow with other local dignitaries to kick off the building’s place on the Logan Circle Heritage Trail.

Lastly, several months ago someone passed along to me a whining review of the movie “Olympus Has Fallen” by the normally entertaining Aidan Foster-Carter in which he bemoaned how Hollywood was picking on the poor DPRK.  This was about the time that the DPRK was putting out a series of odd videos depicting things like missiles hitting the US and President Obama in flames. (It  was also roughly the same time this spring that LSE was going bonkers over the BBC embedding itself in a delegation of students visiting North Korea.  I thought of writing a post titled “Don’t Go Wobbly.” ) The thing that irked me about Aidan’s screed was it appeared that he had not actually seen the film.

United Airlines has the only non-stop service between Washington and Honolulu (where I am currently sitting).  The flight is roughly ten hours, and the entertainment system has been greatly improved.  (From the cabin features I suspect that this was originally a Continental Airlines plane.) So, in the public interest, I watched “Olympus Has Fallen.”

Let’s start with the obvious: this is not a great film. But once you accept the central premises (which are admittedly pretty far-out, I think this was called the willing suspension of disbelief in my high school English class) it is not bad. It is a remake of “Die Hard” set in the White House with more a lot more violence and a lot less snappy dialogue.  (They really should give royalties to the “Die Hard” writers–there were scenes and plot elements taken directly out of that movie, most notably where the our hero Mike Banning tells the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff not to launch a rescue operation, the General does, the rescuers get wiped out, and then the General orders him to stand down.  Banning responds with a second-rate variant on John McClane’s immortal “As###le? I’m not the one who just got b##t-f####d on national TV” line.) There were certain plot elements that didn’t line up but I don’t know if those were in the original film or created in the “editing for airline use” process.

But the thing that Aidan missed by not actually seeing the movie is that the chief North Korean protagonist’s motivation—repeated multiple times—is grounded in actual politics and history. Without giving away the plot, he blames the US for the division of the peninsula and attributes the famine and deprivation in the North to US policies. Taking down the White House (ok, spoiler alert) is part of a larger scheme to force the US off the peninsula, unify Korea, and give Americans in a cold, dark, nuclear wasteland a taste of their own medicine. Not that far from “hostile foreign forces” are the source of all our misery and we will smash the “Yankee bastards,” no?

The odd thing about this movie is that it is really not very good (and incredibly violent), but it has a good cast of quality character actors starting with Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, and Robert Forster. So it’s not a total dog.

Witness to Transformation: we watch these movies so that you don’t have to!

Yippee-ki-yay, moth####cker.