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2nd December 2010

Influence and North Korea

“I am who I am because of everyone” was the tag phrase of the old advertising campaign of a certain mobile phone company, and a tag phrase that also I took personal disagreement with, despite it being a very arguable, if pretentious, slogan.

“I am who I am because of everyone” was the tag phrase of the old advertising campaign of a certain mobile phone company, and a tag phrase that also I took personal disagreement with, despite it being a very arguable, if pretentious, slogan.

We are, certainly, shaped by the people around us, but that seems a very narrow minded point of view; I feel that we are cultivated by our own personal response of what others say and do, that our natural disposition is just as important as the world around. The slogan is also extremely cyclical, as it suggests that those who form us are formed by others, and then again those people are influenced by other people, and so on and so on until all humanity becomes the same person. Our own nature must form us; a man fixated on money would want to become a banker over becoming a teacher, whereas a philanthropic man would more likely become a doctor.

The word ‘influence’ really has two levels to it: influence that is forced upon us, and influence that we choose to be shaped by. Everyone has role models, be it footballers, movie stars, or physicists, and we all try to emulate the actions of another at least once in our lifetimes, be it because we are told we look similar to that person, or we sound or act similar, or because we find what they do impressive, and that from this those people will indeed shape our lives.

Still, we are fortunately born in a free state, where newspapers are largely uncensored, and the entertainment industry provides much to distract, delight and inform the public. Yet in a few countries the press is bound to political party policy (Maoist China and the old Soviet Union instantly spring to mind).

Of the current age, North Korea is perhaps the most obscure. The repressed country with the capital of Pyongyang has done remarkable work in oppressing its people whilst in turn making them cherish a leader more interest in aggression against the U.S. than in feeding its impoverished countrymen. If anyone has the time to find a documentary by VBS on North Korea I would implore one to do so, it is what, I suppose, really influenced me to write this article.

North Korea has found itself to be in the news frequently as of late, launching missile tests over Japan, allegedly sinking a South Korean ship, and most pertinent to this article, has held its first party conference since 1980. At this conference the countries hierarchy has made a profound signal in the countries shift in power from Kim Jong il to his youngest son Kim Jong un, who was promoted to a four star general of a military dictatorship.

Of course, for many years Kim Jong il will remain in power (at least until the time of his death) but this promotion is an interesting case, promoted over his older brothers (the oldest, Kim Jong nam, denied a promotion due to an attempt to leave the country to visit the Japanese Disneyland in 2001) Jong un is the son of a Japanese woman and, critically, has had the benefit of a European education.

Though indoctrination of North Koreans is very effective, it is easy to assume from even the small amount of Western influence Kim Jong Un that perhaps there will be a shift, culturally and politically, if and when Jong un assumes power. There is also Jong un’s own problems of a lack of a power base, that within the military (of which he has not served) it is only the influence of his father that secures his place, and there is either the choice to reform, which would perhaps make him popular with the people, or to instigate conflict on its borders, to prove his worth as a general. Even so, the quality of life that his people suffer through should be thought of as an important factor in his regime.

Influence is a powerful thing, as has been said we are formed by those around us, and one hopes that indoctrination is not so effective on a man who has lived in a Western culture, even for a short period. Though it will be a long time to wait to see what changes may occur in North Korea, the last major military dictatorship may see a change in its manner when power has changed hands, and a small, highly aggressive and delusional state may finally look at itself and wonder how spectacularly it has gone wrong.

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