Monday, December 23, 2013

Watch Your Back

Some years ago, Mona found a bargain on Christmas stockings. I can't recall the mark-down price, but they seemed like a deal. They even had names on them. The only problem was that the names weren't our names. We still have the stockings. This year I'm "Brian" and she's "Rachel". I hope for our sake they were good this year.

Now, imagine that you live in an isolated country, in which the truth is hard to find and sometimes even harder to understand. The ruler of this nation is just in his twenties, latest in a string of family dictators who have governed with an iron fist for over half a century. The young man has been trained outside of the country's educational mainstream, if at all. His whims are commands to those around him, and not only does he have only scant understanding of life for the country's common folks, he doesn't even know, nor will anyone tell him about these deficiencies.
What's more, the country has, by hook and by crook, acquired nuclear weapons. This means that the world's best known nations frequently attempt to hold talks with the young man regarding his foreign policy which, at least on the surface, is based on an outdated notion of world domination, impossible for such a small, backward country. The young man sees these efforts by other nations as his due.
The nation has had some news leak out just lately. An uncle of the young man, once thought by many to have had a role as a valued adviser, was arrested, convicted and executed within a 48 hour period. Citizens who have any comments on these events are only too eager to join the chorus of condemnation in the harshest possible terms. Hanging, we are told in so many words by these hyper-patriots, was too good (!) for the treacherous uncle.
What must it be like to try to live in North Korea? The spooks can't watch everyone every minute, but guessing when they are watching or listening has to make life very complicated. What's more, today's bedrock of truth might become tomorrow's foundation for treason, so there's the possibility of being too loyal. North Korea is now so different from South Korea that anyone who defects (and it isn't an easy trip) to the latter is required to attend classes which teach the new arrivals what it's like to live in a free country.
It's easy to make fun of Dennis Rodman and his unexplainable connection to the Kim family. He can travel back and forth without difficulty since he is both an American and famous. The comedians can sneer and chuckle at North Korea since doing so doesn't require taking any risk. But watching your back every day to avoid arrest or worse seems at best an exhausting way to go through life. I don't see anything funny in it. 


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