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The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (Melville House Publishing) [Paperback]

B.R. Meyers
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012 Melville House Publishing
Understanding North Korea through its propaganda

A newly revised and updated edition that includes a consideration of Kim Jung Il's successor, Kim Jong-On

What do the North Koreans really believe? How do they see themselves and the world around them?

Here B.R. Myers, a North Korea analyst and a contributing editor of The Atlantic, presents the first full-length study of the North Korean worldview. Drawing on extensive research into the regime’s domestic propaganda, including films, romance novels and other artifacts of the personality cult, Myers analyzes each of the country’s official myths in turn—from the notion of Koreans’ unique moral purity, to the myth of an America quaking in terror of “the Iron General.” In a concise but groundbreaking historical section, Myers also traces the origins of this official culture back to the Japanese fascist thought in which North Korea’s first ideologues were schooled.

What emerges is a regime completely unlike the West’s perception of it. This is neither a bastion of Stalinism nor a Confucian patriarchy, but a paranoid nationalist, “military-first” state on the far right of the ideological spectrum.

Since popular support for the North Korean regime now derives almost exclusively from pride in North Korean military might, Pyongyang can neither be cajoled nor bullied into giving up its nuclear program. The implications for US foreign policy—which has hitherto treated North Korea as the last outpost of the Cold War—are as obvious as they are troubling. With North Korea now calling for a “blood reckoning” with the “Yankee jackals,” Myers’s unprecedented analysis could not be more timely.

Frequently Bought Together

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (Melville House Publishing) + Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea + Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag
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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing; Reprint edition (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554344
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554349
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 17.8 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Electrifying... finely argued and brilliantly written. --Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Provocative... A fascinating analysis. --Dwight Garner, The New York Times

A scary... close reading of domestic propaganda [that] goes a long way toward explaining the erratic behavior and seemingly bizarre thought processes of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. --The Wall Street Journal

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling, ground breaking, fascinating 23 April 2010
Brian Myers is an American academic based in Pusan who has a remarkable and original (at least in Anglophone scholarship) thesis of what North Korea is. The standard media line is North Korea remains the last hardline Stalinist dictatorship in the world. Whilst China, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba remain as constitutionally communist regimes, they are relatively mild in their human rights abuses, and they are to varying degrees pursuing economic reform along Neoliberal lines. Many scholars continue to call North Korea before the collapse of the Soviet Union a National Stalinist dictatorship, with its own Korean eccentricities certainly, the bizarre personality cult for one. Other circumstantial features like the huge army can be explained as a result of the elder dictator Kim Il Sung's drive to reunify the country militarily if the opportunity were to present itself. The Stalinist features of the country include its command economy and its opaque state socialist political structure headed by the Korean Workers Party (KWP). The KWP from the 1960s claimed to follow its own `Juche Idea', originally described as a creative application of Marxism-Leninism to Korean conditions.

Today however, the state might still make references to socialism but all references to Marx and Lenin in official discourse have long since disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The replacement in this ideological void is Songun or Military-First Politics as it is rendered in English. What this amounts to in practice is the worker is no longer the `vanguard of the revolution'. This is no longer a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but a military dictatorship, led by the `Ever Victorious, iron-willed Brilliant Commander, Chairman of the National Defence Commission General Kim Jong il'.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thinking outside the box 25 Dec 2010
B.R. Myers has written a controversial book on North Korea, "The Cleanest Race". Myers (no friend of the North Korean regime) believes that Kim Jong Il still has widespread popular support, and that Kim Il Sung had even more. This observation, if true, would explain a lot of things. Why is North Korea one of the few Communist regimes which has neither reformed itself (like China) nor collapsed (like most of the others). Myers believes that the Korean Workers' Party has survived by skilfully manipulating nationalist sentiments among the North Korean population (like Cuba?).

In fact, Myers goes much further than this. He argues that the North Korean regime has never really been Communist or Marxist. Rather, it has always been a nationalist and racist regime, more similar to fascism than to Communism. Its legitimacy isn't based on securing a high standard of living through a centralized planned economy, but rather on preserving the moral and racial purity of the North Korean people. Such a goal is possible even in isolation and relative poverty. Myers does believe that the regime is heading for a legitimacy crisis, but it will be based on the failure of its nationalist goals, rather than on the fact that South Korea has a higher standard of living.

Most of Myers book is a detailed analysis of North Korean propaganda, especially the bizarre personality cults of "the Great Leader" Kim Il Sung and "the Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il. The cult of Kim Il Sung, according to Myers, is based on the Japanese emperor cult of Hirohito before Japan's defeat in World War II. The cult has strange "matriarchal" traits. The leader is a slightly androgynous, effeminate mother figure, embodying Korean virtues such as spontaneity, childishness and purity.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly 9 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed Professor Myers' book. We in the West like to think of North Korea as a Stalinist state, but it's not, really - Myers portrays it (very convincingly) as a weird kind of National Socialist matriarchy, with Kim Il Sung as God the Mother. Through a very thorough examination of North Koreans' paranoid racism and xenophobia, Myers casts fresh light on the utterly schizophrenic North Korean soul. My only criticism would be that it could be longer and even more detailed - but then again, it'd probably just be even more depressing if it was. Definitely worth it for any casual Nork-watcher.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting theory but incomplete account 9 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
B R Myers’ main hypothesis is that North Korea is not best understood or defined as a Marxist-Leninist communist, Confucian, or Juche philosophy state, but in terms of ‘pure race’ nationalism. The question then is whether these categories are mutually exclusive? Russia was both a communist state and fiercely nationalist. The DPRK explicitly operates a socialist economy (see its web site) with state ownership of the means of production. The Singapore state also patronises its population in a child-nation model. Myers’s thesis would require South Korea to be equally ‘pure race’ in its philosophy, since it shared the same pre-1945 roots. Myers’ singular thesis is therefore unconvincing, but research on the interplay of these factors would be interesting.

Myers claims that the population embraces this nationalist racist ideology, but he gives no account for the 200,000 political prisoners incarcerated in harsh labour camps. Or of how sufficient intellectual awareness to operate any economy can co-exist with such extreme naivety. Neither does he explain the nature of the power elite behind the parent and dear leaders.

I learned a hypothesis from Myers’ book, but I felt I hadn’t learned anything more about North Korea. More social data would be both interesting and essential to Myers’ theory, but perhaps it’s simply not possible to gather?
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