The long awaited latest chapter to Erich Weingartner’s conversation with the fictional North Korean Patriot has finally arrived!
The North Korean Patriot, a figment of Erich Weingartner’s imagination and composite character crafter from a quarter of a century of experience interacting with both North and South Koreans, is a regular feature in the CanKor News Report.
Part 13 – by Erich Weingartner, Editor, CanKor, 16 October 2009
Erich Heinz Weingartner: Mr. Pak, I really wish there were a better
way to communicate with you. It’s been too long since we last talked.
Pak Kim Li: I called you once in May.
EHW: Yes, and although I have hardly traveled at all this past year,
you call me on the one day when I’m out of town.
PKL: Perhaps I should tell you what has been happening lately.
EHW: I know what has been happening lately. The front pages of
newspapers the world over have been reporting what’s happening lately!
Is there no way I can call or email you other than by leaving a
message at the DPRK UN mission?
PKL: You can email me to the Ministry’s address.
EHW: Whatever method I choose, it takes a dozen censors to come to a
decision as to whether or not to forward my request to you.
PKL: You exaggerate.
EHW: I just want to register my complaint, that’s all. I thought by
now they had enough confidence in me — and in you, for that matter.
PKL: I got all your messages. But as I am trying to explain, I have
EHW: So it was YOUR decision not to communicate with me? I suppose it
makes sense. You can’t possibly be happy about your country’s recent
PKL: What are you talking about? What has my country done that I
EHW: Intercontinental ballistic missile test, underground nuclear
test… shall I go on? When we first began with these interviews in
2006, just after your military developers had tested an
intercontinental missile, I got the distinct impression that you did
not share your colleagues’ enthusiasm for military solutions.
PKL: You got the wrong impression. What I regretted was the need for
our country to pursue military options under pressure from our
enemies. What I regretted was that my country is not allowed to live
in peace. In my opinion it would be better to settle our differences
through peaceful debate and friendly competition. Unfortunately, it is
my country’s fate to be surrounded by friends we cannot trust and
enemies that seek to destroy us. And by the way, none of this has
anything to do with why I was unable to communicate.
EHW: If that is the case, I stand corrected… and curious. Were you
working on former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang by
PKL: Mr. Erich, don’t assume you know us just because of your
intermittent contact with us for the past 25 years.
EHW: My apologies, Mr. Pak. What have you been up to these past
PKL: If you will just let me explain, you will wish to congratulate
EHW: You’ve been promoted?
PKL: I have been fathered.
EHW: Come again?
PKL: I have become a second father!
EHW: Your wife had another baby? That’s fantastic! My goodness… Yes,
of course! Congratulations are in order… to you and even more so to
your wife. Boy? Girl?
PKL: Girl, just like I was hoping.
EHW: You never mentioned your wife was pregnant!
PKL: You never asked! You ask me about politics, economics and
military matters; you talk to me of religion, philosophy and ideology,
but you never ask any relevant questions about my life.
EHW: I thought your wife didn’t want any more children. I was afraid
this was too personal a topic… too sensitive an issue for me to
PKL: You remember when the New York Philharmonic Orchestra visited
Pyongyang last year?
EHW: How could I forget?
PKL: Well… my wife, as I told you, was deeply moved by the
experience. It gave her renewed hope. She decided we should have
EHW: So you plan your family in accordance with the political climate
in your country?
PKL: As you know, my wife suffers from depression. This became acute
after the death of our first daughter during the arduous march of
EHW: The famine years… Yes, of course I remember it well. What a
tragedy for your entire family!
PKL: She said that if she could not protect her children, she would
never again want to give life to a child.
EHW: But she changed her mind…
PKL: When President Kim Dae Jung came to pay respects to Chairman Kim
Jong Il, she was swept up in the great wave of hope that washed over
the entire Korean Peninsula. She felt that now there was a future for
our children. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige.
EHW: And the result was that handsome and no doubt clever and talented
young man who calls you father. I am sorry I was never allowed to meet
him, but my wife and I were pleased to meet your wife at that dinner
party we hosted in our apartment… So you’re telling me the visit by
the New York Philharmonic Orchestra had a similar effect on her?
PKL: As you know, my wife is a pianist. She lives in a world where
emotion is an important asset to her art.
EHW: Whereas you live in a world where emotion is a liability.
PKL: Not really. Even in the political world, emotion can be an asset.
It is a positive force to love your country and hate your enemies.
Emotions are tools for good not only in the arts. But in both cases,
they need to be guided and trained. A musician can express true
emotion only if she possesses the skills required for that expression.
When my wife plays piano, she disappears as a person. She becomes the
music she plays. Her skill and her emotion dissolve into one reality.
That certainly wouldn’t be the case if I were the pianist! <laughing>
You would never be able to guess my feelings if you heard me play the
EHW: And when you play at politics? Would I be any better at guessing
your emotion? When you say that UN Security Council sanctions are a
declaration of war, or when you threaten to turn Seoul into a sea of
fire, am I supposed to cringe with fear, or should I shrug my
shoulders and take it as a sign that it is your side that is afraid?
PKL: Of course you should always take us at our word.
EHW: But what is the emotion behind those words?
PKL: Without the required skills, emotions can become a dangerous
disturbance in the political realm. Technical training is necessary
for acquiring musical skills. In a similar way, we need guiding
principles in politics to even know what it is we are feeling, let
alone learning how to express those feelings. That is where my
countrymen have the advantage. Our Juche idea explains why we feel the
way we do. It expresses our feelings through our revolutionary
EHW: How can an ideology possibly know what you are feeling, or worse
yet, what you should be feeling? We call that brainwashing.
PKL: Of course you call it brainwashing, because you have no interest
in understanding. You come to our country with an individualistic
mind-set. You read or hear our slogans poorly translated into English,
and you judge them to be formulaic and hollow. Since you don’t
understand the deeper meanings, you conclude that only a brainwashed
person could respond emotionally to our precepts, or base his entire
life on them.
EHW: Mr. Pak, the election slogan for the Supreme People’s Assembly
was “Let everyone vote in agreement!” How much emotional content does
PKL: About as much as Mr. Obama’s election slogan “Yes we can!”
EHW: OK, bad example.
PKL: You should come to one of our mass rallies and hear the people
shout and sing…
EHW: I have done that, Mr. Pak, on a number of occasions!
PKL: Let’s not call them “slogans,” if that’s a perceptual stumbling
block. I know that word has negative connotations in the capitalist
world. Don’t think of them in the same category as Coca Cola ads.
Think of them as proverbs: the collected wisdom of the brightest minds
our country and society and political system has produced. When we
shout or sing these — in unison — together with thousands of our
countrymen… you can feel the hair rise up on your arm.
EHW: That’s exactly my problem. I attended one of your rallies with a
German colleague. When he witnessed the jubilation of tens of
thousands at the appearance of your leader on a balcony, he had
visions of millions of Germans shouting “Heil Hitler!” with
outstretched arms. After your nuclear test 100,000 people packed into
Kim Il Sung square In Pyongyang, shouting “Let’s smash the USA!” in
unison while punching their clenched fists in the air. Would you not
call those “emotions that have become a dangerous disturbance in the
PKL: Not at all. Loving your country and hating your enemy — these
are healthy emotions. When we shout out our anger at the aggression
aimed against our country, together and in public… when what we feel
is echoed by tens of thousands of our compatriots… that is when we
come to know — to experience — the reality of our collective will.
That is when we come to know that together we will overcome our
enemies. And in that moment, feeling and knowing are one and the same.
EHW: Except that they are not one and the same. What you describe is
what Sigmund Freud called crowd behaviour. Your wife didn’t just react
to the inter-Korean summit or the New York Philly visit as part of a
crowd. She made personal, life-altering decisions. And you obviously
PKL: Of course. I was thrilled! I always wanted two children, one of
each. Look, it is a good thing when our personal decisions reflect our
country’s needs — even a necessary thing. For us, the needs of our
people and the needs of our country are one and the same.
EHW: And for the past six months your country needed you to stay home
to take care of your wife and your new baby. I didn’t realize that
fathers could take maternity leave in the DPRK.
PKL: My work has prevented me from taking a vacation in several years.
My boss ordered me to stay home. Visits by foreigners had pretty much
stalled in the weeks and months after the nuclear test. I was allowed
to work on translations at home… which I very much enjoyed, of
course. It was a good time to have a baby.
EHW: …on a personal level at least. Is your wife still happy with
her choice? Is she still hopeful about your country’s future?
PKL: It was good that I could spend time with her. Her post-partum
depression was rather severe again. But if you are trying to extract
some political metaphor from my wife’s personal misfortunes, I warn
you to be careful.
EHW: I wouldn’t do that, Mr. Pak. But this can’t be a very hopeful
period for either of you. Your leader’s illness, the renewed tensions
following missile and nuclear tests, UNSC sanctions, worsening
relationships with all your neighbours…
PKL: It is certainly not the kind of progress we had in mind. That
much I admit.
EHW: Then why this turn of events? Why antagonize the only US
President in recent history who promised to extend a hand to those
countries which were previously treated as enemy states?
PKL: We have learned by bitter experience not to trust the worlds of
American presidents. Mr. Obama needs to satisfy American conservative
forces in order to push through his domestic policies. When dealing
with us, he needs to show how tough he is. So he reverts to abusing
the favourite whipping boy of all US administrations since the Second
World War. That happens to be us. His Secretary of Defence is the same
one appointed by Bush. Those who work in the State Department on
Korean issues are the same as under Bush.
EHW: He appointed Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State. Her husband came
closer than any other US President toward a rapprochement with you.
Had his term lasted any longer, he would probably have been the first
US President officially to visit Pyongyang.
PKL: He just did visit Pyongyang. And President Carter did before him.
EHW: I meant while still in office.
PKL: That was ten years ago. Those were different times. We also do
not forget that at the beginning of his term, Bill Clinton was closer
than any previous US president to launching a nuclear strike against
us. Mrs. Clinton still has presidential ambitions, so she is using us
to appear stronger than Obama. On her first visit to our arch-enemy
Japan, she called our system a “tyranny”. She hinted that the Obama
administration is considering putting us back on the list of states
sponsoring terrorism. She is using us as the scapegoat. She even said
that we have a “succession struggle” going on in our country!
EHW: Surely that must be something you are concerned about as well.
PKL: There is no “succession struggle”.
EHW: Your leader suffered a major stroke last summer. Does it not
concern you that no successor has been named?
PKL: These are all fabrications of south Korean intelligence in order
to prop up another unpopular leader, south Korea’s Lee Myung-bak.
EHW: There are many who think that the recent events in your country
have something to do with fears about the health of your leader. If he
were to die suddenly, the lack of a successor could undermine the
unity of your country. According to this interpretation, whipping up
anger within your population at an external enemy and flexing military
muscle is meant to discourage internal divisions.
PKL: Where do you get such nonsense?
EHW: The usual sources: in addition to the news media, I stay in touch
with numerous academic colleagues. We are all trying to make sense of
the recent turn of events. Last summer you blew up the cooling tower
of the only nuclear reactor you possess. It seemed that the Six-Party
Talks were finally showing progress. And that was during the
administration of Mr. Bush, certainly not a friend of yours. Now you
have detonated another underground nuclear test, not to speak of the
spent nuclear fuel rods you are in the process of uncanning. Your
government even declared it would start operating the uranium
centrifuges that you previously claimed you did not possess.
PKL: All of this is in response to the hostile sanctions against us
perpetrated by the UN Security Council under pressure from your Obama
EHW: I’m a Canadian. It’s not MY administration. But don’t forget that
the UN acted in response to your ballistic missile test…
PKL: …which was nothing more nor less than exercizing our legitimate
right to put a satellite into orbit. There is no international law
against that. Where are the sanctions against south Korea which has
just done exactly the same thing? When south Korea launches a
satellite into orbit, nobody seems to view this as a threat. Yet after
our launch, Obama said, “Rules must be binding, violations must be
EHW: He was speaking about the non-proliferation regime…
PKL: …from the comfortable position of president of the nation with
the largest nuclear arsenal in the world!
EHW: Mr. Pak, I know all the arguments. The name-calling has been
going around in circles for decades. Surely you don’t want this
uncertain history to continue for yet another generation. Is this the
future you wish for your two children? Whatever is the truth about
your satellite launch, whatever is the real purpose for the nuclear
test, you must agree that these actions — coming at this precise
period of time, after such a hopeful start last summer, after the
election of a US President who seems genuinely interested in solving
past conflicts — you must surely have anticipated that these actions
would antagonize your enemies and alienate your friends. I always
thought of your leaders as shrewd negotiators. I always marvelled at
their ability to orchestrate events in order to get what they want.
But right now I am puzzled: why at this moment would you wish to unite
your enemies against you? How can that be good for you? I feel I am
PKL: What you are missing, what you are always missing, is our
perspective, our perception of what we need — what will benefit our
people and our children!
EHW: Have you ever considered that your perception may be faulty? You
have had the opportunity to travel the world. You of all people should
be aware of the cost your children will have to bear — are already
bearing — as a result of the wasteful “military first” policy pursued
by your government. Your people have sacrificed so much for such a
long time, and yet they have been left far behind the rest of the
world in terms of economic development and social benefits.
PKL: Do not lecture me, Mr. Erich, and especially do not make
theoretical comparisons based on your ideas of “development”. I have
seen the world, and what I saw was an American empire that has
exploited the global economy for the sake of its own excesses. It is
wasting resources at an abominable rate, while millions of children
die of starvation and disease the world over. And for all the wealth
that your overstuffed Western conglomerates have stolen, the President
of the United States — supposedly the most powerful man in the
world — is not even able to provide health care to his own people!
The very people who elected him!
EHW: Have you noticed how every time I question your country’s
policies we end up discussing the faults of the USA instead?
PKL: I assure you, capitulating to foreign powers will not ease the
suffering of our people.
EHW: Neither are your current policies easing the suffering of your
people! What you call “capitulation” I call doing business. I call it
getting a grip on reality.
PKL: What would you have us do that would not be capitulation?
EHW: It’s time for your leaders to face facts. It’s time for you, Mr.
Pak, to face facts. Think of your children!
PKL: I AM thinking of my children! Did you reflect even for one moment
what would be the consequences to my children’s lives if your desire
for our regime’s disappearance came true?
EHW: Any change in your policies away from military threat would be
greatly rewarded by all those who have crossed you in the past. And if
you would give up your misguided nuclear weapons ambitions, the
richest countries of the world would write you a blank cheque. Or here’s
a thought: if you are really concerned about succession, how about
calling a general election for the next leader so that Kim Jong Il can
enjoy a restful and well-deserved retirement in his declining years?
PKL: Before I give in to the temptation to debate your surrealistic
flights of fancy, I wish to point out that you have completely missed
the point as far as my children are concerned. Do you really believe
that any regime acceptable to our enemies would allow our leader a
restful retirement? For that matter, do you think a faithful servant
of the old regime like me will ever even reach retirement? How many of
us do you think will lose their jobs or even their lives according to
EHW: All the more reason for you to make a deal! Even the conservative
ROK President Lee Myung-bak is proposing a “grand bargain”. At this
point you could pretty much dictate your terms!
PKL: We ARE dictating our terms! It is your side that refuses to
accept our terms.
EHW: Just give up the damn nukes! Everything else is negotiable.
PKL: If we gave up our nukes, there would be nothing left to
negotiate! Look, if circumstances were really as you believe them to
be, and if the Americans were really interested in solving the Korean
“problem”, the only way they could disarm us is by convincing us that
there is no reason to fear them. Put yourself in my position. Would
you be convinced? Believe me, my family’s current situation is vastly
preferable to any alternative scenario that I can “realistically” —
your word — that I can realistically imagine. For now, please just
let me serve my leaders — my regime — the best way I can. Speaking
of which, I thought this time we were going to talk about my own
concept of god.
EHW: It seems to me your Leaders are your god!
PKL: Our Great Leader Kim Il Sung was the closest approximation to god
that we have had in human history. Juche teaches that man is the
master of all things. But man has not yet fully reached the pinnacle
of what it means to be a man. That ideal of the perfect man will
always be just out of reach, because man is always in a state of
evolution. That ideal of the perfect man…
EHW: …or woman.
PKL: That ideal of the perfect human being is what I would call my
EHW: But can that god save your children from the DPRK regime’s
apocalypse? The Platonic “god as ideal” concept is fine as a
philosophical construct. But does that help in the here and now?
PKL: That is where the Great Leader comes in. We know who god is
because we Koreans have the great fortune to have our own model of
such a perfect man. He is not god, but looking at his example and
following his precepts will point us in the right direction toward
EHW: But you can’t have a relationship with perfection. You cannot
rely on perfection. You cannot communicate with perfection. How can
fallible men like you and I ever relate to an ideal that will by
definition never exist? If my doomsday predictions ever came true and
your regime faced its inevitable demise, what lesson would you teach
your son about the Juche god?
PKL: I would tell my son then what I already tell him now: that he
must find his own excellence. Every person has within him a seed of
perfection. That seed will grow if it knows its place, if it is given
the right environment and nurture. You have to find within you that
place which resonates most purely with the ideal. When something
inside your spirit tells you this word or that word of the Great
Leader is true, when you experience the love of family, ancestors and
nation, when your heart sings with appreciation on hearing your mother
play the piano, when you feel your heart explode at the beauty of your
loved one, when you feel compelled by your love for all your
compatriots and your leader to take your place in the great design of
the revolution, that is when you will find your own personal seed of
excellence. That seed is the meaning of your life. That is the seed to
which you must dedicate your life. That is your personal contribution
to the architecture of perfection. That seed is a unique part of god
within your heart. And that seed is also your designated place in the
heart of god.
EHW: Mr. Pak, I thank you for this conversation.