by Austin Bay
May 25, 2010
In an essay written in 1945 titled "Funny, But Not
Vulgar," George Orwell argued that "a thing is funny when ... it
upsets the established order." Toward the end of the essay, Orwell added,
"To be funny, indeed, you have got to be serious."
Radio Free Asia (RFA) took Orwell quite seriously when, in
2008, it asked North Korean defectors if there was humor in North Korea. RFA
reported they answered with "a resounding "yes."" The
defectors provided jokes that RFA used to spice Korean language programs.
RFA's website provides this particularly rich example:
An Englishman, a Frenchman and a North Korean are having a
chat. The Englishman says, "I feel happiest when I'm at home, my wool
pants on, sitting in front of the fireplace." The Frenchman says:
"You English people are so conventional. I feel happiest when I go to a
Mediterranean beach with a beautiful blond-haired woman, and we do what we've
got to do on the way back." The North Korean says, "In the middle of
the night, the secret police knock on the door, shouting, 'Kang Sung-Mee,
you're under arrest!' And I say, 'Kang Sung-Mee doesn't live here, but right
next door!' That's when we're happiest!"
Military, police, medics and others who work in
life-and-death situations use 'gallows humor' to cope. In Kim's Korea, everyone
copes using gallows humor because a literal gallows waits for them. If they get
to laugh one more night, it's a good joke.
The sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in late
March is no joke, however. The North Korean torpedo that sank the ship and
killed 46 sailors is a wake-up knock from a nuclear-armed police state that
starves, jails and murders its own people, runs a global weapons and narcotics
smuggling ring, and uses assassins, kidnappers, terrorists, ballistic missiles,
soldiers and nuclear weapons to extort cash from neighboring South Korea and
Consider the record. Kim Il-Sung, who launched the Korean
War 60 years ago, waged a low-level war along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) from
1966 to 1976. In 1983, North Korean assassins detonated a bomb in Rangoon,
Myanmar, that killed 17 South Korean officials.
After his father's death in 1994, Kim Jong-Il threatened
violence during the various 1990s nuclear negotiations. This decade, Kim fired
ballistic missiles and detonated a nuke. South Korea and its allies rewarded
the regime's armed tantrums with food and economic aid. Liberal South Korean
presidents dubbed it The Sunshine Policy -- an outreach to North Korea's
suffering people. The policy sought to demonstrate to Kim the benefits of
economic cooperation. Critics like current South Korean President Lee
Myung-bak, however, argued gifts met with insistent belligerence was stupid
The North Korean police state's midnight torpedo knock
completely kills the Sunshine Policy.
Why the torpedo? In a column written three weeks ago, I
suggested that the attack might be a macabre 60th anniversary commemoration of
North Korea's attack on South Korea, one appealing to the malign psyche of
North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-Il. After all, Kim gets his sexed-up jollies
by sending commandos south to kidnap movie starlets whom he then enslaves as
concubines. He's a sociopath who uses violence to get what he wants.
Kim can't handle real sunshine -- the truth. In the 60 years
since the Korean War began, South Korea has decisively defeated North Korea in
the social and economic spheres. Only in military terms, in the base
destructive power of Pyongyang's large armies and nascent nuclear weapons
program, does the North challenge the South. War is all Kim has. Violence is
how he controls his own people -- assassination and threats of nuclear
immolation are how he relates to the rest of the world.
As we enter the summer of 2010, the risk of all-out war on
the Korean Peninsula is quite high, and possibly the highest it has been since
the armistice was signed in 1953. The armistice suspended major combat -- it is
not a peace treaty. The situation is quite serious. It's time to end the Korean
War, and that means ending the Kim regime, not placating it. That's the message
to send Pyongyang. Until South Korea and the Obama administration face that
fact, the wicked joke is on us.