How Gullible Are North Koreans?
“Inside North Korea” chronicles the work of a Nepalese eye surgeon on a mission to cure North Korean cataract patients. Near the end of the documentary all the patients are gathered in a room; one by one, they remove their eye patches and, for the first time in years, are able to see. Kowtowing in front of the portraits of the North Korean ruler, Kim Jong-il, and his revered father, Kim Il-sung, they thank them and sing their praises.
What is wrong with this picture? Kim Jong-il is not the reason these patients have been treated. Kim Jong-il is the reason they had not been treated up to that point. North Korea’s health care system is in shambles, as are the rest of the social services and the economy more generally. In the mid-nineties a terrible famine struck the country, killing hundreds of thousands of people-while the dear ruler was gorging himself on cognac and other imported delicacies. Yet people still seem to worship him and his dead father, thanking them for every good thing that comes their way rather than blaming their dear leader (daddy) and dear ruler (sonny) for how rarely anything good comes their way. As Barbara Demick puts it in her wonderful book on the ordinary lives of North Koreans: “North Korea invites parody. We laugh at the excesses of the propaganda and the gullibility of the people.”
North Koreans believe that they live in one of the most advanced nations in the world. They believe that when Kim Il-sung died angelic cranes tried to take him but were foiled by the devotion of the mourners. They believe that Americans are evil warmongers bent on invading their country. In spite of all their suffering, they still trust a government that has been enslaving them for decades. People who take the guy who is slowly killing them to be their greatest hero have to be extremely gullible, right?