I know I have recommended both these books before, but this review provides some interesting commentary about and history of north Korea. And I think Sheila is going to be in DC this month giving a book talk and I will definitely try to attend. And we should pay attention to this short paragraph (though I think for many of the reasons outlined in both books I do not think China can absorb north Korea economically much more than it already has as long as the Kim Family Regime continues to exist – but it will try hard to exploit its relationship with China to ensure its survival – but in the end it will bite the hand that feeds it.)
Whether such stability will last over the long term is a different matter. Both Jager and Lankov contend that North Korea cannot resist change forever, though they offer different visions of the nation’s likely future. Jager foresees the country’s gradual absorption into an economic sphere controlled by Beijing. Lankov touches on that scenario but stresses the possibility of dramatic political upheaval resulting in the disintegration of the North Korean regime.
August 30, 2013
Land of Mystery
By MARK ATWOOD LAWRENCE
09/01/books/review/brothers- at-war-and-the-real-north- korea.html?partner=rssnyt&emc= rss&_r=1&&pagewanted=print
A quarter-century ago, North Korea seemed to teeter on the brink of collapse. The end of the cold war in the late 1980s and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 suggested that the era of reclusive Communist dictatorships was over. How, asked hopeful observers around the world, could Kim Il-sung’s Stalinist wasteland possibly survive under the pressure of its spectacular economic failures and the tide of democracy and capitalism rising around its borders?
Things got even worse for North Korea in the years that followed. Chinese leaders lost interest in propping up a regime they believed to be doomed. Deprived of foreign support, North Korea descended into a hellish famine that killed between 600,000 and one million of its citizens, an astonishing 3 to 5 percent of the total population, between 1995 and 1998. Perhaps most dangerous of all to the government in Pyongyang, desperate North Koreans responded to starvation by planting private gardens and setting up local markets, displays of grass-roots entrepreneurship that struck at the core of the government’s authority.
And yet North Korea not only survived the 1990s but lives on today with no end in sight. Despite some concessions to economic necessity, North Korea’s essential character remains unchanged, and the family dynasty founded by Kim Il-sung in the 1940s persists without apparent challenge.
How can we explain the remarkable longevity of a regime that, by all rights, should have landed in the dustbin of history long ago? This question lies at the heart of two superb new books. As both studies argue, understanding North Korea, too often dismissed as a merely irrational and reckless pariah, is the starting point for devising sensible policy to manage the dangers that it poses.
Sheila Miyoshi Jager, a professor of East Asian studies at Oberlin College, and Andrei Lankov, a professor of history at Koomkin University in Seoul, South Korea, approach the question in different but equally fascinating ways. In “Brothers at War,” Jager focuses on the international arena, examining how the United States, China and Russia have competed for control on the Korean Peninsula since World War II. More than half of the book provides an elegant and balanced, if not especially innovative, history of the Korean War. Thereafter, Jager enters less familiar terrain, examining why the division of North and South Korea has endured ever since the fighting stopped in 1953.
(Continued at the link below)