“Nothing in the modern world compares with North Korea”

Nothing in the modern world compares with North Korea, though it gives us some clue about how life must have been under the pharaohs, in Imperial Japan before Hiroshima, or in the obliterated years–conveniently erased from memory by blushing fellow travelers–when Josef Stalin was revered as a human god.
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The main feeling the visitor has in Pyongyang is one of pity at the pathos of the place–its hopeless, helpless overestimate of its own power and importance, the deluded ignorance of millions of people carefully protected from any inrush of truth about themselves, their country, and their rulers. Every radio and TV set has been carefully neutered, its tuning dial soldered so that it can receive only the transmissions of the North Korean state. There is no access to the Internet except for a tiny, select few. Cell phones are confiscated from visitors upon arrival, though the very senior elite are believed to possess and use them. The newspapers are comically constipated accounts of speeches by the Dear Leader, long-ago angling contests, and uninteresting visits by junior dignitaries from countries ruled by dubious governments, which you would struggle to find on a map.

It may well be even worse than it looks. Pyongyang is a show city, inhabited by a favored layer of privileged and chosen people, who know that misbehavior of any kind could lead to exile to places we cannot even imagine. I have seen the miserable coal towns of China, which are open to visitors and have at least been touched by the prosperity flowing through the People’s Republic. They look like 19th-century pit villages in Britain. But even I cannot conceive of the dreariness and overpowering gloom of their North Korean equivalents, hidden away in the northern mountains, which no Westerner ever sees.

Prisoners in Camp Kim: Strange, secretive, and desperately poor, North Korea tests the limits of social control.” By Peter Hitchens, The American Conservative, November 19, 2007

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