Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cold War Dystopia in the Age of Information

BBC News - North Korea: On the net in world's most secretive nation:

'via Blog this'

The BBC has a fascinating article up that paints a bleak picture of life in North Korea with the coming of internet access and cell phones. It's something along the lines of what the Soviet Union might have looked like if that country and Stalin had survived into the Information Age. The article discusses roving internal security units that track down citizens who use non-state sanctioned cellphones (often smuggled in from China), as well as a mandatory operating system that spies on users. Imagine Windows or your Mac OS reporting your online activities to security services with the power to sentence you and your family to several years in a detention camp, should your behavior behind the keyboard call into question your political reliability. Another mandated feature is a script on all North Korean web pages that increases the size of the Supreme Leader's name, whenever it appears.

Red Star OS -- Your operating system is watching you, comrade 

North Korea fascinates me for a variety of reasons. The Democratic People's Republic is something very close to the realization of George Orwell's nightmarish vision in 1984, complete with its own Double Speak and state bureaus that employ prolonged torture and brainwashing techniques to reprogram 'deviant' citizens. I'm also interested in it because so much of the world seems to be intent on ignoring its existence. For over thirty years the its government has run a gulag network comparable to Soviet or Nazi forced labor camps, yet there are still so many individuals and groups, mostly on the left, who are hellbent not on denying the camps' existence, but on putting them out of mind entirely. Which is a real shame, because here in the US it was the left in form of presidents like Truman and a liberal dominated House and Senate that responded to the North's Soviet-backed invasion of the south, and who were determined to block the forcible export of the Soviet Union's totalitarian ideology by embarking on a policy of Containment.

Other reasons are personal in nature. I spent the first of my four years in the Army at a small cavalry camp ten kilometers (six miles) from the Intra-Korean border and the Demilitarized Zone, during the tail end of the great famine, in which somewhere between a-half million and three million North Koreans starved to death -- largely because their government was too proud to accept offers of outside assistance. It was a time when many in the North were so desperate to flee from relentless hunger that they made several hundred defection attempts across the heavily mined DMZ, and it was a period when the North Korean Army hunted its own citizens as they sought to escape.

Naturally enough this is something that influences my writing, or at least it's had an impact on what I find it important to write about. More on that next week...

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