Monday, April 15, 2013

Ending North Korea

I know this blog isn't a political forum, but if you follow my work at all you know I have an abiding interest in seeing Kim Il-sung's personality cult go the same way as Nazi Germany, namely, into the history books. And that interest is directly related to my writing.

My interest in North Korea began some years ago when I had an idea for a story. The plot followed a suspense structure and involved nuclear weapons. After researching the potential settings, Iran, Iraq, etc., it was clear that North Korea was by far the most interesting. That novel was ultimately published as The Silla Project and tells the story of a nuclear scientist abducted by North Koreans for obvious reasons.

In my mind, the novel was a Clancy-style suspense thriller but that isn't the way it came out. Not at all. Like most Americans I viewed North Korea as a land of lunatics who mindlessly worship Kim Which-ever. I mean, how else could such a tyrannical regime survive for so long if the people didn't support it? And I've seen them on TV, going nuts over some pudgy guy in coke-bottle glasses and wearing a leisure suit. I mean, why else would the population turn out in the millions for Kim Il-sung's birthday today, as if nothing was wrong at all? Such nuttiness was a perfect setting for my hero to plunge into darkness then return with guns blazing, bent on a Chuck Norris-level body count. They deserve it. How wrong I was, and it is the collective misperception of the West that allows the Kim Dynasty to continue.

Prior to really writing The Silla Project, I actually spent about four years researching the place; it is that fascinating. An alien planet right here on Earth where, through the most invasive public security apparatus the world has ever seen, citizens are kept in line through terror, intimidation, denial of outside information, universal propaganda, and starvation. Malnourished people can't foment rebellion. Imagine a place where one in four people works for the secret police as an informer. Where any negative comment about the regime by another citizen may be real, or may be a loyalty test administered by an agent. If you don't turn them in you and your entire family could wind up in a re-education camp. If you do turn them in, your neighbor may wind up there. Would you place a portrait of Kim Jong-un in your child's crib? You would in North Korea. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Is getting rid of this horror going to require unthinkable bloodshed?

It is sad that fewer and fewer of us now remember the Soviet Union. Kids today don't even know what CCCP means. If you grew up in the shadow of the Communists we all "just knew" that ending the Bolshevik scourge was going to take World War III. But I remember how it fell, and it was pretty much without a shot being fired. We like to think it was the flow of information across the Iron Curtain that brought down the Soviets but in truth, that didn't happen until the West began to understand the truth. Like with North Korea, the typical westerner, and especially the typical American, viewed Soviet citizens as fanatical nut cases, not worth saving. Why else would they have all those parades when their country was crumbling around them? That was until a series of books and movies finally began to portray them as human beings and the West decided those under the Eastern Bloc weren't willing participants as much as hostages. Chief among these might have been Tom Clancy's Hunt For Red October, primarily the movie version. The same thing needs to happen with North Korea and it is my hope that The Silla Project and other works might help bring it about. 

For whatever reason the mainstream media has little interest in North Korea other than lampooning it on late night television. One would think that one of the major publishers would pick up a North Korean nuclear thriller but, as far as I know, mine is the only one out there. And there have been no major movies set in North Korea since Pork Chop Hill in 1959. There are a few books on North Korea such as The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson or Melanie Kirkpatrick's non-fiction Escape From North Korea, but nothing that's really broken into the mainstream.

If you like a good, strong, non-fiction account of things, I'd suggest Ms. Kirkpatrick's book. If you lean more towards political espionage you would probably prefer The Orphan Master's Son, though the names can get confusing. And if you like a science fiction romance set on an alien planet, I'm going to plug my own book, The Silla Project, to fill that hole. Yes, North Korea is an alien planet and yes, my nuclear thriller is in fact a romance, though approaches it from the more traditional, less 50-Shades direction. And since the story is told primarily through the eyes of an American, the names are a lot less confusing. Let's face it, Korean names can be pretty confusing to Western readers. Any of these books will do a good job of changing the way you look at Korea, though only one of them is up for an award given specifically to the book that most redirects thought or changes the way you see things. :-)

Fortunately, Kim Jong-un is shining a light on his own travesty at the moment giving books like mine more attention than they usually get.  I was actually interviewed on Columbus Ohio's NBC affiliate on Sunday as a rocket scientist, author, and North Korea expert. As I told Colleen Marshall in the interview, North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons aren't the fear. The fear is two armies facing each other with their guns loaded and tanks fueled. Wars have started in situations like this when someone other than a leader does something stupid. Like when Gavros Princip assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and kicked off World War I. And the more the sabers get rattled, the more likely it is that this will happen.

The West needs to get educated about North Korea the same way we drive education on thorny issues like AIDS and guns. Once the free world has a more accurate image then something meaningful will happen regarding the horrors taking place as we sit in our nice, comfortable homes reading blogs on devices still unknown to 95% of North Koreans, using freedoms unknown to all of them. I would predict that one major motion picture set in North Korea and staring Brad Pitt would bring about the end of the Kim Dynasty in less than ten years. And that is far preferable to bringing about the end of North Korea with guns, tanks, and 10 million dead. As they say, the pen really is mightier than the sword. Brad? You'd be a perfect Mitch.

Until next time,

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance that is a finalist for the 2013 Eric Hoffer Awards, Montaigne Medal. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website,

1 comment:

  1. If just 1 star (other than Rodman) would do. Anyone? Phone call from Pres? Not going to happen.