Editor’s Notes: Propaganda works all too well
The North Korean people don’t know that in many other countries, their leader is considered a pudgy madman with bad hair.
State-run media hails Kim Jong-un as a hero warding off the United States. To the North Korean people, Kim was an accomplished sailor by age 9, and music he has composed is celebrated all over the world (as is his birthday).
What North Korean media say about their current supreme leader isn’t as far-fetched as other things the people have been told. Kim’s father, according to official media, got five holes in one in his first and only round of golf. He also didn’t poop, the people were told.
We might think such claims are full of crap, but it’s plausible to the North Korean people, who start hearing this stuff as children, and have no access to other information.
And, on the central point, that the Kim dynasty (Kim Jong-un is the third in the family line of dictators) has warded off the powerful Americans, the North Koreans have evidence this is true. North and South Korea were created when the Soviets and Americans split the peninsula, which had been controlled by Japan, after World War II. It became a flashpoint for the Cold War, with the United States leading a U.N. force fighting the North after it invaded the South in 1950.
With the risk of direct conflict with China, the U.S. in 1953 accepted the stalemate that exists today. North Koreans are taught that the U.S. tried to destroy their country and the troops still on their border are a constant, existential threat.
Far from being a fumbling kid, as the West is wont to portray him, Kim Jong-un is murderous and wily, having eliminated rivals and created cash streams despite international sanctions, and succeeding in building a fearsome military deterrent.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric aside, there’s good reason no one has shut down the Kim dynasty. The Congressional Research Service just issued a report that, in the event of war, even if North Korea “uses only its conventional munitions, estimates range from between 30,000 and 300,000 dead in the first days of fighting.”
So if a tiny, backward country can hold mighty America at bay, its people might believe that the leader is a genius among geniuses who could drive at age 3, as state media proclaims.
Propaganda does work.
Unlike the North Koreans, though, Americans have a choice. We can explore various sources of information, evaluate them critically and reach our own conclusions.
Many are choosing not to exercise this freedom, though, swallowing propaganda financed by oligarchs striving to destroy anything in the way of their power and profit.
Pizzagate becomes believable, climate change is a Chinese hoax and a Russian effort to manipulate our election led by a former KGB chief is shrugged off as politics as usual. Colleges and professional journalists — educators and truth-seekers — become seen as harmful to the country, because education and truth are enemies of authoritarianism.
This very notion is un-American. Our Founders were thoughtful men of letters who would be appalled at the anti-intellectualism and lack of curiosity growing in the country.
They would be deeply distressed by the unquestioning fealty promoted by the Trump administration. For example, Trump adviser Stephen Miller, early in the presidency, said of a court ruling against a travel ban, “our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
This flies in the face of checks and balances in the Constitution, established precisely to prevent unquestioned, unfettered power in any single branch of government.
Just this month, presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “highly inappropriate” for a reporter “to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general.” Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, the general in question, was shown on video to be wrong about what a Florida congresswoman said at the dedication of an FBI building.
But to this administration and many of its supporters, it is wrong for the courts — or anyone — to question the president. To the president’s spokeswoman, it is wrong to question the military, apparently because it’s the military.
She’s wrong and Miller is wrong. In America, we must not allow a system in which presidents, generals or any others are above scrutiny. If we do permit this, we risk finding ourselves under the knout of pudgy madmen with funny hair, whether they are wily or not.
Randy Essex is editor and publisher of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.