An open-ended stream of explanations is always available to us. The limitation is never resources (because all resources only become so by virtue of what people actually know) but only knowledge. It is never going to be pretty, but we can begin to step ourselves out of Karl Popper’s swamp, and to do so at ever greater speed. Progress of this kind in any one area, is also intimately linked with knowledge and progress in other areas; if technology continues to lead the way in this regard, as it does today, then progress in politics and morality will follow closely behind. The only dangerous thing we can do, is to think that some solutions are beyond our reach. “What lies ahead of us is in any case infinity. All we can choose is whether it is an infinity of ignorance or of knowledge, wrong or right, death or life.”
Walking in from the imperial structure of the Forbidden City, with its shaded walkways and tight lanes, the change in atmosphere is sudden – like stepping out of your front door and finding yourself on the African Savanna; a pride of lions staring back at you in contemplation. It is a study in the psychological impact of space. Once through the arches of Tiananmen Gate – The Gate of Heavenly Peace – your pace slows along with your confidence. With every step you feel more vulnerable, naked, and on display.
Across the coastlines of western Japan, starting in the 1970’s, a terrifying horror story was playing out. Lone fishermen weren’t coming home, women out on regular evening walks were lost forever, and young lovers were disappearing; engines still idling in their abandoned cars. Many of the vanished were dismissed as runaways, people deserting unwanted families for a new life, or even suicide. It wasn’t through incompetence that police forces failed to piece this together. Drawing a link between missing people, from different beaches, from different islands, sometimes hundreds of kilometres apart, just would have stretched credulity too far. And this still wouldn’t have got anyone to the implausible truth that the North Korean regime – directly guided by Kim Jong-il – was kidnapping Japanese citizens in the hope that they might become – or failing that help to train – his next generation of covert agents.
“For my father (1928 - )” reads Michael Pembroke’s brief dedication, “who was there”. It is a raw, honest and principled motivation for writing a book… but not an intellectual one. ‘Korea: Where the American Century Began’, teases to do something impressive, but finds itself stuck in this first sentence; unable to kick free from the author’s antipathy toward what, and who, he blames for his father’s ‘being there’.
More than just unfettered access to the leader of North Korea, Yo-jong could, quite conceivably – considering some of the recent social changes inside her country – be next in line for succession if something were to happen to her brother. As close as she is to Kim Jong-un, this must also worry her. In her short adult life, Yo-jong has witnessed a veritable revolving door of family members being exiled or killed for simply being in the position she is now. Her uncle, Jang Song-taek, just like her, had built-up a huge portfolio over the years. And just like her, he had, through international diplomatic excursions (to China), become a statesman in his own right, and someone who foreign leaders had begun to see as an alternative centre of power; as a potential replacement for Kim Jong-un.
Through the circus of it all, and the Machiavellian fear, Yo-jong had lost one of the last remaining certainties in her life. The people that ‘shared’ her social circle, were always coming-and-going. Exile assassination, even defection was common – her aunt defected in 1998 – but for a child that had spent so much of her life in isolation, only ever flirting, when permitted, with new crowds, this was different. Seven years after burying her mother, her father was now dead; she was starkly more alone in the world. Looking around her, there was very little remaining. Her two eldest siblings were becoming strangers to her, Jong-chol, her eldest maternal brother was suddenly in the uncomfortable position of having to lay low, so as to not risk undermining the transition of power (he did not return to North Korea for the funeral). And Jong-un, understandably busy running the country, had also recently married a modern-minded wife, Ri Sol-ju, who not content to play the traditional Korean house-maker, was increasingly becoming political, accompanying the new leader on official visits.
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was created in the hope of overcoming the barrier that state sovereignty, as a principle, had become to actions of humanitarian intervention. It was imagined that as mass atrocity crimes were coming to the attention of the international community, that, on the whole, they were willing, able and eager to intervene in order to stop the violence in question. Holding them back was sovereignty as both a legal and normative barrier. This was always a bad explanation for the pervasive lack of humanitarian intervention; accordingly R2P, as a bad solution, has failed almost entirely. The problem is, and always has been, that when faced with mass atrocity crimes, the international community is plagued by a near-permanent lack of political will to action.
As the months and years creep by, you become increasingly desensitized to the noise. He still screams, and provokes, and seeks a reaction, but you have learned to drown him out. Sure he is unpleasant, and occasionally a threat, but what else is there to do other than ignore him?
This becomes such a normal part of your daily life – and having seen it for so many years – when people hear the threats your neighbour makes, and witness his erratic behaviour, it is now often You that acts as mediator, and downplays the problem. A strange contradiction forms: people looking in from a distance, are more interested, and more concerned, by your neighbour and his antics, than you are.
After enough people had died, and there was finally enough food to go around, North Koreans moved-on and quietly left the potato revolution behind them. And the propaganda followed. The imagery stopped, the film industry moved on to new things. But the lasting impact wouldn’t be insignificant. North Korean propaganda had road-tested a range of new techniques, the lessons learnt from this would lay a solid foundation around future campaigns, and with it the regime as well.
The famine came fast, but it had been quietly building for years. Leeching off their Soviet big brother, and pushing through a series of fast-gain agricultural policies worked… until it suddenly didn’t. As the Soviet Union began to collapse, so did North Korea. By 1994, it was all over, nothing could be done; a famine so deep and wide-reaching that it needed its own moniker – the ‘Arduous March’ – had settled over the country.
Like other types of humanitarian intervention before it, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has suffered in practice from a pervasive lack of political will. This represents a failure of moral motivation, but also a failure to accept the often steep political, material and human costs associated with intervening to try and halt mass atrocity crimes. In order to ease this second barrier to intervention, we need a reform agenda that will limit the prevalence, intensity and duration of mass atrocities as well as the crisis situations that make them possible, thereby reducing the various costs associated with any specific intervention. This can be achieved through certain aspects of the work of cosmopolitan philosopher Thomas Pogge.
Hardest of all to swallow, he tells a different story about your years of separation. He thinks you could have ended his imprisonment if only you had reached out to him, and tried a little harder. Looking around at the life you have built in his absence – and the friends you have made – he accuses you of abandonment, and a lack of commitment to him.
Soon, with very little in common, you are both passing your days in silence, pretending the other is not there; wishing that you had never been reunited. But there is no going back now. So when people ask how things are in your marriage – not wanting to admit to your regrets – you smile and tell them things are great!
With ‘North Korean House of Cards: Leadership Dynamics under Kim Jong-un’, Ken Gause blends old, established details, with large leaps of inference. And in doing so he falls into many of the same problems that other authors on the topic have done. Raw speculation doesn’t carry the same opportunity costs in North Korean studies as it does in other academic fields, for obvious reasons.
Azzam consciously deconstructed his faith, labored over its scripture, and tried to reinspire its history. He built it back up in a way that only led to violence. He was carefully setting bombs that would take time, would lie dormant yet eventually explode across the Muslim world. Modern terrorism belongs to Abdullah Azzam, and his words echo among groups like ISIS: “We shall continue the jihad no matter how long the path, until the last breath and the last beat of the pulse — or until we see the Islamic state established.”
As counterintuitive as it might sound, “sustainability” and the commitment to “problem avoidance” rather than “problem solving” are, at least according to David Deutsch, very dangerous ideas. And in this regard, our near-universally pursued policy direction in response to the problem of global warming—that of trying to limit carbon emissions by means of limiting economic activity—is also very dangerous because it represents, at its core, a commitment to both those ideas. e best explanation for why we are making this mistake is the “debtor-creditor” and “pleasure-driven” conception of punishment, as it is explained by Friedrich Nietzsche
Indian Maoism – or Naxalism as it has come to be called – is the largest terrorist movement in India today. Built upon layers of political, social and economic grievance, it is an insurgency that has gripped the country since independence. However, although Maoism may have had its origins fighting against injustice, it has since evolved into a predatory movement, with a malleable attachment to ideology; a movement that pursues violence for its own sake, is happy to self-cannibalise dissenting elements, and often actively works against the interests of the communities it claims to be fighting for.
In the centre of Pyongyang, as a monument to the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, stands the Juche Tower – a 150 metre high red flame, reaching into the sky. But, as it now hangs gangrenously from its Songun host, Juche, as an ideology, is dead! And just as with the communist insignia before it, the tower will likely be removed at some future date, in the dead of night, never to be spoken of again. Now all the talk is of ‘military first’ – of leering enemies, looming conflicts, missile launches, nuclear tests, and threats of war. And it has to be. It is the last thing that justifies the lingering scarcity, the daily suffering, and the memory of the famine – it is the only thing keeping the regime alive.
It all boils down, apparently, to a misunderstanding of what ‘meaning’ actually is. There just isn’t a ‘nausea’ at the heart of life –as Sartre described it –driving people ever closer to the roof’s edge. ‘Meaning’ –as it so happens – has a rather unsexy, sober backstory: apparently it’s just a process of finding challenges, creating knowledge and solving problems. Which is exactly why they want to bring us with them, to avoid a situation where all the problems in our lives are outsourced to more competent beings. The only danger for us,they say, is to remain as we are. Though as they wrapped things up, I did sense a certain smug undercurrent bubbling to the surface: ‘If life is meaningless’they said, ‘then suicide must be also’.
Consumed by the idea of protecting the house, the dog begins searching evermore desperately for potential enemies. It begins to turn its attention inward. Every sniff of unease, doubt, or argument inside the house, is ended by the dog’s bite; terrorising either party out onto the street with the same practiced savagery that it was once taught – never to be allowed back in.
It creeps up on you slowly, but eventually, you are, once again, alone inside the house. Just you, your principles, and the dog. It catches your glance and jumps to its feet. Stepping forward closer to your face, ears erect, it tilts its head to the side trying to get a read on you. It pauses… then it begins to growl.
Then you discover he has been phoning around town, airing the details of your relationship, and trying to isolate you from your own friends and family. He convinces other people to chastise you on his behalf, and to try persuading you that you are a fool for leaving him. And then you find out he is contesting the divorce. Instead of letting his calculation that you will be worse off without him play out, he actively begins trying to, in his own words, 'make you suffer'.