Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Art of Narrative Propulsion: Mistranslating North Korea’s “State of War,” and Conjuring Chinese Troops on the North Korean Frontier

Some interesting analysis of north Korean propaganda.  Videos at the link as well.

The Art of Narrative Propulsion: North Korea’s “State of War,” and Conjuring Chinese Troops on the North Korean Frontier


Kim Jong-un radiates hypnotic grace at an impressionable young Mangyongdae cadet | Image from Korean Central TV, modified by SinoNK

Whizzing bullets, flying missiles, falling bombs, the fog of war: none of these things aid accurate reporting. But what happens when that fog is little more than a rhetorical device in a broader propaganda narrative? Can or should the media be picking, choosing and reporting verbatim on stories peddled by a state-run news agency of KCNA’s ilk? Or should they, as Professor Andrei Lankov put it in an Australian news report that whizzed around the social network-o-sphere last week, just ignore the entire thing?

For where are the signs of an impending conflagration on the Korean peninsula? Is North Korea mobilizing its forces to the inter-Korean border? Do two missiles caught on satellite images offensive postures make? Are camera-toting anti-imperialist tourists in pin badges prohibited from flying into Sunan Airport, much less forbidden from flying out again? None of these things, it appears, are the case. 

Meanwhile, the diplomatic corps in the North Korean capital has thumbed its communal nose at the idea, suggested yesterday, that its members might even consider leaving North Korea since “their safety cannot be guaranteed in the event of war.” Perhaps they treated the notion as what, thanks to a pithy utterance from he of “The Cleanest Race” fame published in the New York Times last week, SinoNK has taken to calling a “Myers Conditional”: a uniquely implausible hypothetical concept predicated on an extraordinarily unlikely event. 

North Korea, it is abundantly clear, is a past master in public relations. And, because they know well that newspapers can hardly afford not to report on the latest KCNA missive, and are equally well aware that just by putting “special” (특별) in front of “declaration” (설명) they can double down on the fog and double up on the column inches, the tensions rise. Adam Cathcart quadruples the size of our data set.- Christopher Green, Co-editor

The Art of Narrative Propulsion: Mistranslating North Korea’s “State of War,” and Conjuring Chinese Troops on the North Korean Frontier 
by Adam Cathcart

Recent events around the Korean peninsula have generated a tidal wave of op-eds and analysis. Interpretation is important, but so too is having data that is reasonably comprehensive, and reasonably accurate. Prognostication is fine, and the attempt to discern patterns is admirable. But we must occasionally turn toward the difficult task of cleaning up and assessing what we already know, and what we think we know.

This essay will endeavor to take on two data points of potential significance: 1) The DPRK’s own pronouncement of March 30, which helped to escalate and channel Western attention to Korea significantly, and 2) the subsequent rise of a rumor that Chinese troops were moving toward North Korea in force.

North Korea in “State of War” |  News flash: Scholar B.R. Myers thinks the quality of Western analysis of the DPRK is, to put it bluntly, junk. Why?

It’s an undiplomatic point to make, but the inconvenient truth is that most North Korea-watchers in the United States don’t speak Korean and don’t read Korean. They’re not able to read even the legend on a North Korean propaganda poster.

Rather than quibble with the man by brandishing an essay by Bruce Cumings in an act of intellectual bullfighting, let’s take his criticism seriously. Be proactive and dive into the Korean, because North Koreans tend to make pronouncements in Korean, and those texts might be different from the ones we read in English.

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