By Eva Bartlett
*all photos/videos by Eva Bartlett
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA — North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) is one of the least understood and most lied about countries on Earth. In Western corporate media renditions, most news about the country is alarmist (of “the North Koreans want to kill you” type), fake (“all men have to have the same haircut,” a story originating from Washington itself), or about the North’s military.
Accounts of the nation’s military prowess and threat generally ignore (as noted here) the presence of the 28,500 U.S. troops occupying South Korea, their 38 military installations, and more recently their Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea — “a U.S. radar system opposed by the Korean people, in the North and South, as well as China.”
On September 19, 2017, in the forum of the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea.
This is not the first time threats against the DPRK have been issued. Colin Powell in 1995 threatened to turn North Korea into “a charcoal briquette” and in 2013 reiterated that threat to “destroy” the country.
Not broadcast in corporate media is the fact that America had already annihilated North Korea, destroying the capital city, Pyongyang, and cities around the country, with 635,000 tons of bombs, including 32,557 tons of Napalm — indeed turning the North into a ‘charcoal briquette’.
Retired U.S. General Curtis E. LeMay, who headed the Strategic Air Command during that earlier war, said that they had “burned down every town in North Korea.” In LeMay’s words, “Over a period of three years or so we killed off, what, 20 percent of the population of Korea, as direct casualties of war or from starvation and exposure?”
Also omitted in news on North Korea are the criminal sanctions against the North, enforced since 1950, making even more difficult the efforts to rebuild following decimation. The sanctions are against the people, affecting all sectors of life (as humorously noted in this clip). Yet, in spite of all odds, the country maintains an enviable health system. As Professor Michel Chossudovsky noted: “North Korea’s health system is the envy of the developing world.” And, according to World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan, North Korea has “no lack of doctors and nurses.”
Further obfuscated in Western reporting are the simulated attacks (what America euphemistically calls ‘war games’) on North Korea twice a year. Involving “hundreds of thousands of troops.” As researcher and author Stephen Gowans noted, “It is never clear to the North Korean military whether the U.S.–directed maneuvers are defensive exercises or preparations for an invasion.”
A purposeful and familiar crime against reality
The absurdly cartoonish “news” one hears in Western media about North Korea is meant to detract from America’s past and current crimes against the Korean people, and to garner support for yet another American-led slaughter of innocent people.
The stories are designed to vilify the leadership and provide no context, while completely ignoring the North Korean perspective. This is standard operating procedure with respect to countries like Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, and wherever America and its allies have set their sights on establishing control (and military bases). As historian Bruce Cumings wrote:
The demonization of North Korea transcends party lines, drawing on a host of subliminal racist and Orientalist imagery; no one is willing to accept that North Koreans may have valid reasons for not accepting the American definition of reality.”
We are meant to believe that the North Korean leader is a maniac, inexplicably hell-bent on bombing America. Utterly deleted from the story is the fact that North Koreans have a different perspective: the right to a deterrent against yet another U.S. annihilation of their country. The right to self-defense.
In response to Trump’s threats of annihilation, DPRK Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ri Yong Ho, on September 23, stated:
The United States is the country that first produced nuclear weapons and the only country that actually used them, massacring hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It is the U.S. that threatened to use nuclear weapons against the DPRK during the Korean war in the 1950s, and first introduced nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula after the war.
…The very reason the DPRK had to possess nuclear weapons is because of the U.S. and it had to strengthen and develop its nuclear force to the current level to cope with the U.S.”
North Koreans as seen through a visitor’s lens
Propaganda and history aside, what we hardly ever see in articles on North Korea is the human side, some of the faces among the 25 million people at risk of being murdered or maimed by an American-led attack.
From August 24 to 31, 2017, I was part of a three-person delegation that independently visited the DPRK, with the intent of hearing from Koreans themselves about their country and history.
As it turned out, we heard also about their wishes for reunification with the South, their past efforts towards that goal, their desire for peace, but their refusal to be destroyed again. Following are snapshots and videos from my week in the country, with an effort to show the people and some of the impressive infrastructure and developments that corporate media almost certainly will never show.
Impact of U.S. travel ban on unfiltered views of North Korea
My visit coincided with the impending U.S. travel ban to the DPRK, which came into effect one day after I left the country.
As a dual citizen holding Canadian and U.S. citizenship, I can still choose to return to the DPRK after September 2017 on my Canadian passport. However, for Americans, the ban means they will only in limited instances be permitted to travel to the DPRK. The U.S. State Department advisory notes:
“Persons who wish to travel to North Korea on a U.S. passport after that time must obtain a special passport validation under 22 C.F.R. 51.64, and such validations will be granted only under very limited circumstances.”
While the U.S. pretends that the travel ban is for the safety of U.S. citizens, the same advisory contains this threat:
Using a U.S. passport in violation of these restrictions could result in criminal penalties. In addition, the Department may revoke a passport used in violation of these restrictions.”
This wording reveals that the intent of the ban is far more likely to prevent the American public from seeing the human face, and positive aspects, of the DPRK.
Indeed, in an August 2017 Forbes essay on North Korea, amid the predictable Western rhetoric were surprising admissions of truths:
Pyongyang looks much more like a normal city than 25 years ago. Then there were no private cars and few government ones. I wondered why they bothered with traffic lights. Today there is traffic. It’s not much by U.S. (or Chinese!) standards. But there’s no longer the ghostly sense of empty boulevards. …Visitors on longer tours with more guides often have more meaningful informal interaction with “real” North Koreans. It’s one of the reasons I believe banning travel to the North is foolish and counterproductive.”
For more photos and videos from the DPRK, please see my Facebook album and my Youtube playlist, and watch my conversation with the creators of the satirical documentary, “The Haircut, a North Korean Adventure.”
This is something former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has visited the DPRK three times, confirmed — saying he had met with Kim Il-Sung in 1994 “in a time of crisis, when he agreed to put all their nuclear programs under strict supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and to seek mutual agreement with the United States on a permanent peace treaty, to have summit talks with the president of South Korea.” Carter maintained Kim Jong-Il pledged he would honor these promises.