Saturday, November 07, 2009

Joshua Stanton: Red-Baiter?

Professor Elaine Kim
UC Berkeley
(Image from East Bay Express)

Robert Koehler of the The Marmot's Hole has posted a short blog entry siding with Joshua Stanton of One Free Korea against Christine Ahn, who accuses Stanton of 'red-baiting' her in having called her a "North Korean apologist" several years ago.

The accusation comes in an article favorable to Ahn published in the East Bay Express, one of the papers that I used to read for free back in my Berkeley days and now discover that I can read for free online . . . not that I'm much inclined to.

And just to ensure that you get both sides of this story, you can read Joshua's so-called 'red-baiting' of Ahn from several years ago as well as his recent response.

The East Bay Express article isn't just about Ahn, but also about several left-leaning activists pushing for peace and negotiations with North Korea, including Professor Elaine Kim, coordinator of UC Berkeley's Asian American Studies Department, who tells us:
Many Americans also may be unaware that North Korea's economy was doing quite well during the 1960s and 1970s, even surpassing that of its southern neighbor. But a reduction in trade with the Soviet Union, and the impact of the American embargo and sanctions, helped freeze North Korea's development. "The reason they don't have energy for all their infrastructure is . . . the US and its allies who embargo them don't allow them to trade with anybody the US trades with," said Kim. As a result, for example, there are streetlights, but no electricity in them. Many North Koreans are extremely slight and seemingly malnourished. "This is a crime," she noted. "Talk about human rights -- this is a crime against humanity that was allowed to happen. And they're trying to say that it's because Kim Jong Il is a dictator and wants to keep everybody enthralled, that's why it's like that?" she asked, incredulously. "Hello! Let's have some reality here."
Professor Kim may be well-intentioned, and I'm no expert on North Korea, but even I can see manifest flaws in her argument just from my having kept up with the news in the daily papers for the past 30 years. The North's economy in the 60s and 70s was being subsidized by the Soviet Union, so it looked as though it were "doing quite well" when it in fact was decaying like all communist economies modeled on the Soviet one. Moreover, it was already clearly declining in the 80s despite continued Soviet subsidies. Finally, when the Soviet subsidies stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, the North Korean economy didn't just 'freeze' in its development, it immediately went into a very steep decline and effectively collapsed despite the North Korean state's coercive power for mobilizing the workforce. This collapse is not because "the US and its allies . . . don't allow . . . [the North] to trade with anybody the US trades with," a statement that is obviously incorrect, for North Korea has extensive trade with China, one of America's biggest trading partners. As for the lack of electricity to the North's city streetlights, a bit more of it might be available for city lighting if the electrical grid weren't constructed primarily to serve the ruling elite, whose mansions receive much of the available power. And as for malnourishment, this is due to North Korea's state-run agricultural sector, a Soviet-model system that just doesn't work and that has fundamentally collapsed. The North could feed itself if it allowed a free market in agriculture, but the ruling elite isn't willing to relinquish any control for fear of losing complete control. And yes, it is "because Kim Jong Il is a dictator and wants to keep everybody enthralled." Let's do "have some reality here."

Joshua Stanton may be brusque in his statements about North Korea, but he offers an honest reality check.

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At 7:11 AM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

That state-run agriculture dept. has more important crops than food to grow--mainly narcotics while the people of North Korea starve.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the comment, John.

I recall reading that the North Korean regime manufactures amphetamines, but I've not read about crop-based narcotics. Do you have a link on that?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:43 AM, Blogger kushibo said...

Elaine Kim wrote:
Many Americans also may be unaware that North Korea's economy was doing quite well during the 1960s and 1970s, even surpassing that of its southern neighbor.

I think she's getting this from Bruce Cumings, as many chinboista leftists and their supporters do, or at least the same sloppy source as Bruce Cumings.

I once had the opportunity to review for publication a historical passage written by Bruce Cumings. "Lazy, sloppy, and agenda-driven" did not even begin to describe how bad it was.

He made the claim that "even in the early 1980s its [North Korea's] per capital GNP was about the same as the South’s," to which I pointed out to the (non-Korean) editor that this was simply not true. I cited a PBS link to a timeline on NK that stated: Per capita GNP, once equal to South Korea's, falls by 1979 to one-third of the South's.

At 7:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Kushibo. I had always wondered about those statistics.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:06 AM, Blogger kushibo said...

My understanding, however, is that at least in the early 1960s, before Park Chunghee's economic plans started kicking in (around 1965), North Korea did have a higher GDP than South Korea.

Supposedly decent standard of living in the DPRK is what attracted some zainichi Koreans in Japan to repatriate themselves to North Korea.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The North may indeed have been more powerful economically in the 50s and 60s. Stalinist-style heavy industrialization carried out by the state can rev up an economy, but such a policy warps the economic system over time and ultimately destroys it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:17 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, John. I had forgotten about those reports.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:42 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

No problem. I recall that there were some better ones/links, but I'm a bit busy trying to get ready for my vacations right now--something that average person in North Korea will never know.

Sometimes when I start to feel sorry for myself or am having a rough day at my job, I just think about those poor souls stuck in the gulags to the north and those in other such situations around this globe of ours, and then I realize just how fortunate and blessed that I really am.

There are alot of problems in the free world, but freedom is definitely a big plus in the "pro" column in the U.S. I wonder if these morons realize that they would not have the same type of response from the government of North Korea if they were incountry railing about the North's horrific actions against its own people--they'd be off to the gulag before the ink dried.

At 3:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Such people as Ahn take the virtue of self-criticism and make of it a vice.

It's not really criticism of self, since self-doubt never comes to mind, and it's not really true criticism either since no critical reflection takes place, just reflexive criticism.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:17 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

You might want to catch the latest episode of "NCIS." The episode is titled "endgame" and the story is straight out of the north. I don't think China will be too happy with it either, as they often look the other way or profit from the little dude when he is doing something rather unsavory and this is pointed out in the episode.

There are a number of reasons why this TV series is currently the number one drama in the U.S. right now and being topical is one of them.

At 2:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John, I'd never heard of NCIS until now. It sounds interesting but probably doesn't appear on any channels that my wife and kids get here in Korea. I don't watch much television anyway. I know that some good programs are available (e.g., The Wire), but I can't find the time for them -- too much grading, proofreading, editing, and evaluating.

Jeffery Hodges

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