Sunday, February 7, 2010

well this is charming.

In a stunning demonstration of a lack of self-awareness, Christopher Hitchens labels North Korea "A Nation of Racist Dwarfs" in a recent piece for

He does make some good points - but ultimately, I'm afraid, succumbs to pervasive hypocrisy. I don't see how Hitchens' rhetorically charged description of North Koreans - labeling suffering North Koreans "a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others..." - is any different from North Korean propaganda used to dehumanize "Western imperialist pigs" in the inculcated minds of North Koreans who buy into the party line about the Western world.

By utilizing such loaded language in discussing the situation in North Korea, Hitchens actually talks at odds with his implicit goal: he wants, it seems, to make the reader sympathetic to the plight of the North Korean citizenship, physically and idealogically abused. But employing such lurid descriptions - attention-getting though they may be - evokes revulsion and distaste rather than empathy and compassion. Reading through his piece, it seems that Hitchens believes, somehow, that the oppressed North Korean citizenry, having adopted the worldview of their government by coercion, now presents a threat to first-world/Western hegemony. This is akin to victim-blaming: rather than addressing the oppressor (the North Korean regime) as the instability inherent in the oppressor-victim system, Hitchens' language aggregates the system and creates a monolithic problem out of both the oppressor and victim. Rather than attempting to heal the victim by removing the influence of the oppressor (admittedly an incredibly [impossibly?] difficult task), such an approach removes the problem by simultaneously denying the victim's innocence/suffering and (hopefully) removing the oppressor.


  1. i think you missed the point of the article. it is a book review and he is basically assessing the authors claims: is NK really as terribly scary as Myers makes it out to be. Hitchens is saying, yes, yes it is.

    Hitchens is basically voicing (rather sensationally) what most NK watchers have always known and been afraid of: how many generations deep in social and mind control before it is to late? The point is how a brutal, racist dictatorship reaches into the lives of people and warps them.

    And mind you, as Hitchens alludes to, racist and politically charged identity labels are not just a NK v. West issue; it works internally as well. That is the only way prison-states survive: the people in policing agencies must buy the lie that political and racial enemies don't deserve to live (cf. some of the reports from camp guards who fled NK and have talked about their experience).

  2. I'd like to think that I did get the point of the article, but I have issues with the sensationalistic tone of Hitchens' commentary. Like I said, he has good points, but I'm afraid the language obscures or even works contrary to his point.

    You've much more understanding of the NK situation than I, so I definitely defer to you.

  3. I can see the sentiment behind it, but usually with Hitchens, I have to consider the fact that he can be quite...abrasive at times. I am not defending his use of such charged language, but he does tend to be grating everytime he opens his mouth (or uses his pen/keyboard). As weird as it sounds, I usually enjoy his quite acerbic tone, and his (very) venomous wit at times. Although I disagree with some of the presentation, I agree that he is just adding his personal credence to the views expressed in the book, however you wish to take that.