North Korea’s Amen Corner in Academe

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

For about a century, public intellectuals, especially those who teach, have been looking for philosopher kings. When the objects of their affections turn out to be thugs, they rarely admit it.

“In the twenty-first century, generalized affirmations of socialism, Marxism, and anti-capitalism remain widespread among Western intellectuals without anyone specifying when and where those ideas were, would or could be realized,” Paul Hollander writes in his new book, From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez: Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship. “It is difficult at the present time to find academics intellectuals ready to identify and locate such a system.”

“Bruce Cummings, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, is a rare exception. He personifies this implausible position, affectionately disposed as he has been toward the last remaining highly repressive totalitarian system, North Korea.”

Cummings has written of North Korea, “There is another way of thinking of this country: as a small, Third World postcolonial nation that has been gravely wounded, first by forty years of Japanese colonialism and then by another sixty years of national division and war, and that is deeply insecure, threatened by the world around it.”

Hollander notes that in this deeply insecure communist dictatorship, “The number of inmates in the extensive system of prison camps was large and remained stable; in 2011 it was estimated to 154,000 or higher and ‘the ratio of political prisoners to the general population’ was somewhat higher than corresponding figures in the Soviet Union during the last years of Stalin’s rule.”

“There was an estimated one informer for every fifty adults of the population, or 250,000 to 300,000 paid police informers. Obligatory military service for males is between seven and ten years. Last but not least, between 1945 and 1951 when this was possible, approximately 1.2-1.5 million people, or 10-15 percent of the entire North Korean population, fled to South Korea.”

The author drew on the memories of Andrei Lankov, who did manage to defect from North Korea. Hollander, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, himself defected from Hungary when it was under communist control.