Belief in North Korea's claims
December 8, 2014 5:52 AM   Subscribe

The Kim dynasty in North Korea makes explicit claims about the family's divinity and recounts absurd propaganda about their accomplishments. Do the Kims believe any of it? How many North Koreans believe them? Do the Kims think anyone in the rest of the world does?
posted by quarantine to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Do the Kims believe any of it?

When you're the ruling of family of an entire country that holds the power of life and death over millions, it's hard not to let it go to your head.

How many North Koreans believe them?

Enough to keep the Kims in power.

Do the Kims think anyone in the rest of the world does?

This is probably not high on list of things to think about.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:19 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's anecdotal, but here's a brief account of a North Korean defector. It suggests that true believers among rank and file party members and military exist (the author refers to being "brainwashed") but the reality of things once you are outside the governing system quickly sours the perception.
posted by AndrewInDC at 7:26 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could try watching documentaries to get a sense of the answer. It really isn't cut and dried.

I've watched a few documentaries about it and still don't have an answer.

There was a military guard who defected. He seemed to describe it as you fake-believe (or don't even think to question it) until one day you just don't believe any more. And when you don't, you hide it and still act as though you do. So from the outside, who's to say what you really believe. It really is a case of doublethink.

Striking was one documentary where people got their sight back (via a doctor flown in from outside N. Korea, to correct issues created by their foul living conditions to begin with, which were caused by their 'dear' leader in the first place). Once people had their sight, the first thing they were allowed to see was a picture of Kim Jong Il, and they fell to their knees weeping in gratitude for this miraculous gift of sight that Kim had given them. Was it real? Or a display? Or some bizarro mix of both?

There was another documentary about a young girl whose family escaped to South Korea. For years after leaving, she was afraid to think bad thoughts of "dear" leader, because she believed he could read her mind and would hurt her from a distance, even in South Korea. If that ain't fucked up, I don't know what is. It took her a long while to realize that he doesn't have that kind of power.

People act as though they believe because they are terrified. When Kim Jong Il died, the public wept histrionically, probably a mix of showmanship and fear. They've been oppressed and infantilized and terrorized, so the death of a leader is sad in a way, since they've never known self direction. Plus they also better weep or they're executed or sent to concentration camps.

I would say watch as many documentaries as you can to get a sense of the answer. Different people believe differently, at different times.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:59 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Brandon Blatcher: How many North Koreans believe them?

Enough to keep the Kims in power.
Does not follow. If you will kill me unless I agree CRAZY THING YOU SAID is true, and I was born and raised under that threat, I will certainly agree CRAZY THING YOU SAID is true - regardless of my beliefs.

The military/police force of the government keeps them in power, not faith in divinity.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:10 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Given what tends to happen to dissidents in North Korea, or at least to the ones who are found out, it would probably be very difficult to find out how many North Koreans really do believe the propaganda. How willing would you be to say you don't believe X, when the wrong people finding out that you said that could mean your whole family got sent to a horrific prison camp? We get some information from defectors, but there's an obvious selection bias there.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:21 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The answer about people weeping at the funeral on Kim Jong-Il reminded me of David Remnick's book Lenin's Tomb. The death of Stalin is a focus for the personal stories of many of his subjects in that book about the end of communism in the USSR. Some people wept and felt genuine lost at the the death of Stalin, others were secretly relieved. One person (I'm going on memory, don't have the book in front of me) saw a group of drunks celebrating off in an alley, and the scales fell from his/her eyes (can't remember who told it).

I'm guessing that there exists a great variety of feeling about the subject. Any religion has true believers, semi-believers, skeptics and anti-theists, so Kimism probably does, too.
posted by feste at 8:27 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Kims themselves probably wouldn't believe supernatural stories about themselves that happened after they could form memories.
posted by Small Dollar at 8:29 AM on December 8, 2014

Whether Kim Jong-Il himself believed the hype was a question raised by his kidnap victim Shin Sang-Ok, who recalled being taken to a party where Kim gestured dismissively at a group singing "We Love The Dear Leader." Kim said something like, "all of that is bullshit."
posted by johngoren at 11:50 AM on December 8, 2014

I don't know much about North Korea, but I've read a lot about the Soviet Union, and I would be cautious about assuming cynicism on the part of anyone involved (though of course many people are cynical). It was commonly assumed on the part of Westerners, even experienced Kremlinologists, that the people who ran the country in its later decades, after the True Believers had largely died off, must be cynically feeding the country propaganda about communism while knowing it was all bullshit, but when the country fell apart and secret files were opened up, it turned out that in fact they actually did believe their own bullshit. People are amazingly good at rationalization and doublethink; you might say it's what we do best. I'm not saying the Kims do believe anything in particular, just saying one should not assume they don't.
posted by languagehat at 2:47 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The documentary following the eye doctor (mentioned by St. Peepsburg) is called National Geographic: Inside North Korea and is currently available on U.S. Netflix and on YouTube.
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:52 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

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