Over the last 20 years various international media have several times issued a sensational report: The North Korean leader, they say, is a fan of Adolf Hitler. The most recent report of this kind came from the outlet New Focus. New Focus asserted that Kim Jong Un had distributed a limited print of Hitler’s Mein Kampf amongst the political elite and that Choe Pu Il – the general leading the Ministry of People’s Security – said to his subordinates: “Stop focusing on ways of making money in the markets, and mold yourselves after the Gestapo. In the Kim Jong Un era, the Ministry of People’s Security is the most powerful section – be proud.”
This – along with all similar reports – looks like a hoax to me. Apart from the idea of the head of the criminal investigation agency wanting his subordinates to resemble the Gestapo – and not the Kriminalpolizei, its analogue in Nazi Germany – there are several more reasons not to trust the message of Hitler being loved by the North Korean elite.
WORST OF THE WORST
First, the image of Hitler in North Korea was initially copied from the Soviet Union, and Moscow’s view of the Führer was almost identical to that of the West: Hitler was a brutal and extremely malevolent dictator, responsible for World War II and the deaths of millions. The only difference was that the Holocaust was presented as just another crime of the Nazi regime, while in the West it is generally viewed as the central crime.
No attempts to whitewash Hitler’s regime were made by the North Korean media – ever
Soviet war films were and are shown in the DPRK; for example, recently the North Koreans bought the new colorized version of the famous Soviet series Seventeen Moments of Spring and broadcast it in the country. No attempts to whitewash Hitler’s regime were made by the North Korean media – ever. Moreover, in December 2014 the Rodong Sinmun showed photos of a South Korean anti-government demonstration, in which the current South Korean president was compared to Hitler. Of course, should Hitler be a positive figure, such photos would be impossible to find at any of the DPRK’s sites.
Some people assert that Kim Jong Il was a secret fan of Hitler, reading Mein Kampf in his palace, but never manifesting this in public. However, Song Hye Rang, Kim Jong Il’s sister-in-law, said in her memoirs that nothing like this was ever hinted at – and she, being the mother of a son murdered by North Korean intelligence agents, had no incentive to whitewash the regime.
True, nationalism has indeed become a part of North Korean ideology and the DPRK media do assert the “primacy of the Korean nation” from time to time. First, however, nationalism is not necessary racism, and the DPRK never uses the expression “Korean race” or “our race” in its nationalistic propaganda. Second, let us look at how the North Koreans justify their nationalism. When Kim Jong Il published his work “Let Us Strengthen the Spirit of Primacy of the Korean Nation” in 1989, he specifically stated that the nationalism he is talking about was not a biological one. Further, he dismissed biological racism as “reactionary” and “bourgeois.” According to Kim Jong Il, the Korean nation is, indeed, a superior one – but not because it is biologically better – but because it had the honor of venerating the Great Leader Kim Il Sung – the unsurpassed great man, who created a socialist paradise for the people.
There have some statements in North Korean media that can be viewed as racist. For example, on April 27, 2006, the Rodong Sinmun asserted that “the concept of the multinational and multiracial society is the concept of national destruction,” and attacked the xenophilic policies of the South Korean government. However, this thesis never became mainstream and has not been actively used by the DPRK ever since. This continues under Kim Jong Un.
The second argument is simple – but is strangely avoided in all discussions. Hitler was not just a racist – he was a man who believed in the supremacy of one particular race, Germans. Why then should a Korean nationalist support him? It makes as much sense as a black supremacist suddenly becoming a fan of the KKK. Furthermore, the Neo-Nazi community is unlikely to accept a “Mongoloid fan of the Führer” as their brother and hailing Hitler would likely cause the ultra-left supporters of Pyongyang to review their point of view towards the regime.
JUSTIFYING A LIE
Let us now suppose that the story of the Kims loving Hitler is a fabrication – and suddenly everything becomes very logical. Who is the icon of evil in the modern world? It is neither Pol Pot, nor Leopold II of Belgium – it is Hitler. Many different propagandists say that someone “loves Hitler” and comparisons to Hitler are so common that they have even given birth to the Internet meme of Godwin’s Law. It would be logical to assume that these recent publications fall under this category. Usually false news about North Korea comes from misunderstandings, or rumors being presented as facts, but sometimes we should not rule out the possibility of direct falsifications as well.
Quite a few people in the world think that when they attacking such an oppressive autocracy as the Kim dynasty, all measures are justified
And here we come to a rather delicate problem. Quite a few people in the world think that when they attack such an oppressive autocracy as the Kim dynasty, all measures are justified. Tell people that Kim loves Hitler, that Jang Song Thaek was eaten alive by a horde of hungry dogs, that Kim Jong Un’s wife Ri Sol Ju worked as a porn star – anything to bring down the horrible dictatorship. I would like to address these people with a simple message: don’t. What you are doing does not weaken the regime, it strengthens it.
Anti-regime lies will almost certainly be exposed as such – and the regime’s supporters will use them to weaken the message of the victims. Look at Holocaust deniers. What is their usual line of reasoning? They find some relatively non-credible point in testimonies of Holocaust victims or in Holocaust-related research – and then proceed with describing the Holocaust as “a conspiracy by Jews.” The result of lies directed against the Kims would be exactly the same. You will hear that since Jang Song Thaek was not eaten alive, therefore no one is tortured in North Korea, and because none of the Kims loved Hitler, therefore the North Korean regime is a welfare-oriented democracy for the people. And there would be some people who will believe them – just as some people believe the Holocaust deniers. Is that the effect you desire?
Picture: Fyodor Tertitsky
Over the last 20 years various international media have several times issued a sensational report: The North Korean leader, they say, is a fan of Adolf Hitler. The most recent report of this kind came from the outlet New Focus. New Focus asserted that Kim Jong Un had distributed a limited print of Hitler’s Mein Kampf amongst the political elite and that Choe Pu Il – the general leading the
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.