North Korea's Flunkeys

North Korea lobbed 180 rounds into South Korea last week, killing two South Korean Marines and two civilians. It was the first strike against South Korean civilians by the North since the Korean War, leading to worries over a resumption of a hot war on the peninsula. The prison-state labeled the barrage a “self-defensive measure,” and maintained that the event showed North Korea “exercising superhuman self-control.”

The idea of American journalists or intellectuals parroting Kim Jong-Il’s line seems preposterous. Indeed, there isn’t a respected contingent within American media or academia that buys the propaganda of North Korea. After the eradication campaign against dwarves, a cult of personality that imprisons defacers of Dear Leader’s image, the bread-and-circuses mass gymnastics spectacles, and other general weirdness, few in the West see the DPRK as anything but a pariah.   

But more than a half century ago, when North Koreans transgressed the 38th parallel, a few Americans bought their propaganda.

W.E.B. Du Bois compared Kim Il-Sung’s invaders to George Washington’s Continental Army. “We believe that the things for which the North Koreans are fighting are exactly the things for which Americas fought in 1776, the French fought in 1789, and the Haitians fought in 1800,” Du Bois wrote in 1950, “that is, autonomy and self-rule.”

I.F. Stone spun a contemporaneous book-length conspiracy theory, The Hidden History of the Korean War, on the conflict. Therein, Stone conjures a plot by South Korean strongman Syngman Rhee, ousted Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, shady U.S. intelligence operatives, and other anti-Communist elements to goad North Korea into war.

“The invasion neither proved nor disproved the South Korean allegation that the North struck first nor the North Korean allegation that they counterattacked after repulsing invasion at three points,” Stone equivocated. “The North Koreans may have been lying. On the other hand the South Koreans may, as alleged, have deliberately provoked the war by three feints across the border.” The book suggests that its author believed the latter, that the South started the war and their American allies knew of the provocation in advance. 

Singer/actor/activist Paul Robeson depicted American involvement in Korea as the exportation of Jim Crow. “American intervention in Korea is the culmination of a wicked and shameful policy which our government has ruthlessly pursued with respect to the colonial peoples of the world,” he claimed in a 1950 speech at Madison Square Garden. “The Korean War has always been an unpopular war among the American people,” Robeson remarked in January 1953 after winning the Stalin Peace Prize. “We remember the unforgivable trickery in the use of the United Nations to further the purposes of ‘American Century’ imperialists in that land.”

Whether the product of common sense becoming more common or by learning through decades of experience, people just don’t believe anything the North Korean government says anymore. Why do people still believe in the people who believed in North Korea?  

The tallest public building in Massachusetts, UMass-Amherst’s 26-story red-brick library, is named in honor of W.E.B. Du Bois. Penn State and Rutgers boast cultural centers in honor of Paul Robeson. With no irony intended, Ithaca College presents “Izzy Awards” to independent media and Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism awards an “I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.”

Serving as an apologist for tyranny apparently has its benefits.