“To paraphrase Tolstoy, all rogue states are rogue states in their own way, but North Korea is the only one to present multiple dangers and on a massive scale.” So writes foreign correspondent Becker (The Chinese, 2000, etc.), who reveals that at least one node on the so-called Axis of Evil is a nasty and dangerous place indeed.
This isn’t news to readers who have followed the curious fortunes of the Kim dynasty, now represented by the despotic Kim Jong Il. Those who haven’t given the world’s premier rogue nation much thought—apparently including much of the intelligence community—will, however, find Becker’s depiction shocking. During a long-lasting famine in the 1990s, for instance, when many North Koreans attempted to sell their children so the kids could be fed, and others killed and ate their compatriots, Kim feasted, drank imported champagne and moved from one palace to another in a fleet of Mercedes limousines. Having raised the cult of personality to hitherto unknown extremes, he demanded absolute obeisance from his people, and anyone who displeased him wound up dead or enslaved. When a party-loyal economist suggested that the Chinese had plenty to eat because peasants worked their own plots rather than collective land, “the secret police came knocking on his door.” Stalin never lived so well, and, even though Becker credits Kim with one or two useful if sometimes weird reforms, this eye-opening account makes it abundantly clear that the dictator needs to “be held personally accountable for his deeds at an international tribunal.” How that will happen is anyone’s guess, though Becker writes that many in the Bush administration advocate military intervention to unseat Kim, perhaps at the risk of North Korea’s lobbing nuclear warheads at the U.S. mainland.
More geopolitically engaged, but also less titillating, than Bradley K. Martin’s Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader (2004). But of much interest to readers who wonder where the next war will be fought.