the cleanest race


On my first visit to Pyongyang in 1979, handlers and interviewees repeatedly spoke of the North Koreans’ constant need to be on guard against “impure elements.” The unfamiliar term, puzzling at first, turned out to mean the country’s enemies. The implication was that the North Koreans themselves were pure. Indeed, as B.R. Myers argues in his provocative and important new book, a childish fantasy of purity is at the core of the ideology that the North Korean regime has used so effectively to control its people. It is a doctrine that, according to Myers, owes relatively little to Marxism-Leninism, or to Confucianism. It is, rather, “an implacably xenophobic, race-based worldview derived largely from fascist Japanese myth.” Like Japan’s Hirohito, the late North Korean President Kim Il Sung was popularly portrayed as the parent of an unsophisticated “child race whose virtues he embodied.” Each of the two rulers “was associated with white clothing, white horses, the snow-capped peak of the race’s sacred mountain, and other symbols of racial purity.” Each was “joined with his subjects as one entity, ‘one mind united from top to bottom.’ ” Each was “the Sun of the Nation,…the Great Marshal…whom citizens must ‘venerate’…and be ready to die for.”

more from Bradley K. Martin at TNR here.