There has been recent news about how officials throughout North Korea are searching for the perpetrators who wrote leaflets and defaced walls with statements disparaging Kim Jong Un. Graffiti has been noted in major cities in the North, including Pyongyang, Chongjin, Hamhung, Pyongsong and Sariwon over the last few months.
The most widely known incident occurred in the village of Posong in Samsu County of Ryanggang Province, just across the Yalu River from China’s Jilin province. There on New Years Day, someone had prepared a leaflet in Chinese characters with the phrase, “Kim Jong Un is a son of a (rhymes with ‘witch’).” The leaflet was posted at the Posong train station on a wall right under a portrait of Kim Il Song. Due to holiday traffic, news of this occurrence has now spread all across the country.
This is not the first time resistance or strong dissatisfaction has been observed or reported in the North. A list of such incidents starts not long after Korea was divided at the end of World War II when both North Korea and South Korea were formally established in 1948. After UN forces crossed into North Korea during the Korean War in late 1950, they were surprised to discover a homegrown rebel faction – a force that may have numbered as many as 22,000 strong – fighting along the Yalu River near the West Sea in opposition to Kim Il Sung.
AN IMPRUDENT QUESTION
Here is where the story gets interesting. Once discovered, the U.S. advised and supported those rebels, referring to them as White Tigers, and one of the Americans involved was a young U.S. Army officer by the name of Merrill Newman. Fast forward to the fall of 2013, when a retired American businessman, that same Merrill Newman, visited North Korea and asked his handlers if he could meet with any surviving members of the United Nations Partisan Infantry Korea (UNPIK) unit, the formal name for the infamous White Tigers, Newman’s old military unit.
Was Newman trying to see if he could kindle some present-day underground resistance group on behalf of the U.S. government? The idea is not as far-fetched as one might think
North Korean officials ultimately made the connection, and on his last scheduled day in the country just as Newman was about to takeoff on his journey home, he was taken from the plane by an armed guard and detained for 42 days. After signing an apology – that he eventually repudiated – and having a senior U.S. official intercede on his behalf, Newman gained his release. Since then, he has been notably closed-mouthed about the entire affair, a silence from which certain suppositions can be inferred.
Was Newman trying to see if he could kindle some present-day underground resistance group on behalf of the U.S. government? The idea is not as far-fetched as one might think, for Pyongyang certainly gave it serious consideration – and is it not a good strategy to think like the enemy? Regardless of whether Newman was truly innocent or indeed guilty, this goes a long way in explaining why the North is so sensitive to foreigners running loose and in contact with everyday citizens.
RESISTANCE IS NOT NEW
There have been several spontaneous outbreaks of protests and resistance over the years. The belief that North Korea is a homogeneous group of well-indoctrinated and well-behaved citizens is inaccurate. Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing through to today, there have been several occurrences of armed clashes between North Korean officials and fed-up citizens that resulted directly in the deaths of perhaps several thousand protesters over the course of time. Additionally, there were mutinies of military units in the 1990s and 2000s, mostly on the East Coast but a few in the Sinuiju area in the extreme northwest of North Korea across the border from China.
Since the 2000s, missionaries and underground churches have been significant conduits of information into and out of North Korea, as well as facilitators of the defection by large numbers of dissatisfied North Koreans. The fact that nearly 30,000 defectors alone have been successful in escaping to South Korea speaks of a discontent that cannot be ignored. This does not take into account the perhaps thousands of others who have made it to China and have blended into the ethnic Korean-Chinese population there.
The courageous person or persons stating that Kim Jong Un is of rather ignoble heritage is not the most recent offense. Kim is rightfully concerned about this, but not only for the personal insult about his family pedigree. He likely recognizes that this is a direct threat to his regime and therefore ultimately to his personal existence. The fundamental reason is that protests and resistance – even when unsuccessful – vitiate the veneer of invincibility and belittle the perceptions of legitimacy.
Add to this the recent news about the entire staff of a Korean eatery in the Chinese coastal city of Ningpo defecting to South Korea and one can see that Pyongyang’s hermitic seal is leaking a bit. Most recently is the NK News report that a senior military officer has deserted the North. The impenetrable wall erected by the Kim dynasty is being breached from the inside.
South Korea and its allies must exploit this weakening
WORKING TOWARD THE OBJECTIVE
South Korea and its allies must exploit this weakening. Toward that end, there is a need to establish an underground resistance, much like there was in parts of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II and subsequently in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Who might be the best candidates for leading such efforts? Perhaps at the top of the list are brave defectors willing to return to the North for the sake of their brethren. Other groups at or near the top might be Korean-American aide workers, businesspeople and perhaps even church evangelists – those who have interaction with North Koreans throughout the country.
Pyongyang has undoubtedly already thought of this and it is the reason why the North is adamantly opposed to run-of-the-mill North Korean citizens coming into contact with foreigners of any stripe. On the other hand and of more importance to the West and its regional allies, this may be the logic behind the U.S. government allowing Americans to “visit” North Korea.
The question becomes one of whether the U.S. government is taking advantage of this – as it certainly ought to. It is nearly impossible to tell without exposing any such operations – if they do exist – that of necessity would need to remain undercover. One can only hope that – if true – the various agents are fully aware of the risks they are taking – and that they can count on having U.S. negotiators ride to their rescue if and when required.
Merrill Newman image: NK News
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