About the Author
View more articles by Chad O'Carroll
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Few Iraqis will forget the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in April 2003, when an American M88 armored vehicle played a major role in pulling down one of the most symbolic representations of Saddam’s previously iron grip on power.
But while questions continue to be asked about just how spontaneous the event actually was, the imagery – and subsequent effects of Washington’s controversial policy of de’bathification – often prompts questions about what will happen in the event of a similar change of political system in North Korea.
B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race, told NK News in 2012 that the situation experienced in Iraq after the fall of Saddam would be an unlikely outcome for North Korea. And because South Korea still has statues of its own former dictators, Myers said the same should be expected in the North:
“Let me go on the record as being the first person to predict this – I believe that after reunification North Koreans are not only going to hold on to those statues but will also say “Hey you guys, you’ve got your statues of Park Chun-hee and so on…we want to keep our statue of this guy.” But Kim Il Sung’s stock is also going to rise in South Korea as well, because Korean nationalism depends on nothing so much as the perception that the colonial period was the worst period in Korean history”
Other scholars such as Andrei Lankov have gone further, suggesting that parts of North Korean society might even become nostalgic about their former leaders, wilfully forgetting the worst parts of the system and – struggling to fit in with a unified society – fondly remembering the days when Kim Il Sung’s regime provided three meals per day.
But what do former citizens of North Korea think?
Understandably, many who defect have extremely negative views on the cult of the Kims, but perhaps surprisingly, not all want the absolute destruction of statues and propaganda that you might otherwise expect.
They should be removed because the Kims caused the deepest pain, one which can’t be forgotten, and we can’t remind them of that pain. Ultimately, I’m sure that the North Koreans will remove those things no matter what we decide here today.
Those idols cause psychological trauma. They are like hate facilities. I don’t think the outside world should make the decision on this issue, though.
It should be decided by North Koreans themselves. They will certainly burn and destroy everything.
The era of socialism in North Korea amounted to a most unfortunate generation – one that should be remembered for posterity in both Koreas. People resented one another for ideological reasons, going so far as to massacre hundreds of thousands of their kin. Brothers had to murder one another; father and son were forced to fight against each other. Decades of excruciating pain for millions of people – all for ideology. It was an extreme process of idolization that was unprecedented even in the days of absolute monarchy.
When I first entered the free world, I felt a huge emotional shock when I saw the true face of North Korea. It was hard for me to accept the terrible things that people – including my parents and myself over the previous 20 years – were subject to for the sole reason that they were born in North Korea. We came to experience and observe first-hand what is human breeding.
The remnants of this idolization are the results of foul ambitions and should be discarded to a trash heap. But some of these things should be conserved for posterity as a lesson to future generations – to teach them the value of freedom, just how beastly it is to be brainwashed, and to show the extent of the cruelty and evil of mankind.
The unaccounted horrors in North Korea will all be revealed one by one, and we need to archive this as humanity’s reminder of the value of freedom and of the potential cruelty of mankind.
After the Soviet collapse, most of the statues of Lenin and Stalin were taken down. Same for the statue of Saddam Hussein, which was promptly discarded. Once North Korea opens up, it will follow the Soviet Union and Iraq.
The enraged people will certainly seize these things and toss them to the trash heaps. But instead of eliminating everything, we should keep and preserve a few things. We should make a museum to let the people know of the horrendous past of North Korea, for the people and for the future generations of North Korea.
This issue is absolutely dependent on what the North Koreans think is best. But it is an undeniable fact that the North Korean regime was part of Korea’s history and our future generations must learn this history. So, I feel the need to preserve some of them under government control in future.
For example, Kumsusan Palace of the Sun is far too big to leave as is right now. I think it is necessary to destroy most of it except the glass coffin and building containing Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il’s dead bodies.
The Korean Revolutionary Museum and Central History Museum in Kim Il Sung Park should also be saved as they are now. If the Juche Tower passes safety inspections then it should be kept the way it is.
We need to remove everything that was built for the purpose of deification. As far as I know, there are more than 35,000 statues built all over North Korea to deify Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. You can never forgive a regime that spent all its money on deification while starving its own people.
We should move toward unification under a democratic government. We should choose our own unification process rather than imitating other countries such as Germany. Then, we should call a referendum to decide what to do with these instruments of propaganda.
If Korea is unified under a democratic government, North Koreans will judge all those statues and inscriptions severely and ruthlessly.
That said, we will regret it if we remove everything of historical value.
I think there will be people who will call for the removal of everything, but not everything historical is pretty, is it?
I believe it wouldn’t be bad to use it to warn future generations of dictatorship. Of course, we don’t need to keep all of it but we don’t need to remove all of it, either.
In order to prevent a repeat of this history, some of the deification of Kim’s family should be preserved for educational purposes.
However, most of the items should be removed without a trace.
I think that the people would, naturally, want to take down the statues. However, even I don’t know if they will also get rid of all of it. If Kim Jong Un chooses change now, I don’t know whether or not that possibility will arrive some time in the future. I wonder if it wouldn’t resemble people missing Mao Zedong in China or the post-communist era in Russia.
If North Korea collapses by itself I think the possibility is high that everything will be destroyed at the time of collapse. However, if the North Korean bureaucracy chooses change, then I think that possibility is small.
Actually, things are different in North Korea than in the case of Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Russia still exists as one country after the collapse of the USSR.
But in the case of Korea’s unification, North Korea will collapse and disappear.
No statues, books and inscriptions of the Kim family deserve to be preserved.
Lenin and Stalin were actual revolutionaries and on a totally different level than the Kim family.
When the North Korean government was established in 1948 they brainwashed their people with a false history and deprived the entire population of their human rights. The Kim family massacred so many innocent people to control the country. If anything got in their way in even the smallest way, they would ruthlessly remove it, creating prisons that were full of immeasurable suffering. Furthermore, they split disabled persons off from their families and ruthlessly killed them all.
These are all truths that mankind cannot erase from history.
The Kims have committed crimes that were unprecedented in human history. They are contemptible, damnable people who tied up millions of citizens through brainwashing tactics and deprived them of their right to think and speak for themselves. Why hasn’t the world stepped up to prosecute them and why hasn’t God cursed this family yet?
Their roots must be severed from the world completely in order to undo their damage.
The statues and paintings need to be kept for the purpose of educating people of the dangers of dictatorship.
But it will be difficult to keep them all, simply because there are too many of them.
We will need to conduct sufficient research and consider the requests of people, but it seems clear we will have to get rid of most of them.