Is Juche an ideology, a scam, or a very strange religion?
- North Koreans are known for fanatical dedication to their tyrannical rulers.
- Some have argued that this is because the ideology of Juche is less an ideology than it is a religion.
- Several elements of Juche were clearly influenced not by Marx, but by Confucius.
The religious elements of Juche<p>More than a few scholars have pointed out that Juche has more than a few religious parts to it. It includes a national savior with superhuman traits in the nation's long-dead founder Kim Il-sung, an elaborate series of rituals, the promise of immortality through the eternal continuation of the social system you are a part of, an ordained class of officials who carry out the orders of the divine, and a large group of people who seem fanatically dedicated to its teachings.</p><p>It is also <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/berkley-center/030101LeePoliticalPhilosophyJuche.pdf" target="_blank">infallible</a>, or so it tells us.</p><p>The regime has also ritualized several aspects of its rule in ways not dissimilar to how major religions create ritual themselves. Major festivals such as the <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/23943356?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Aa55e3f93f130284f2f2752dd3ac6d821&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents" target="_blank">Arirang Mass Games</a><strong> </strong>have been compared to religious events filled with symbolism glorifying the regime, complete with elaborate dance numbers, gargantuan images of Kim Il-sung depicted as a savior, and ham-fisted metaphors describing the Korean people as the children of the eternally caring leader.</p><p>You can understand why anthropologist <a href="http://www.anthropology.or.kr/eng/02_faculty/faculty01.htm?&pd_no=41" target="_blank">Jung Hyang Jin</a> dubbed the festival "The High Mass of Juche." </p>
Where does it get these ideas from? They seem unusual for a political ideology.<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="z17Ppooe" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e1d747ad163196f1b5cde225193eff0"> <div id="botr_z17Ppooe_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/z17Ppooe-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/z17Ppooe-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/z17Ppooe-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>While some of these ideas are clearly intended to create a cult of personality around the leaders, the religious influences are apparent to students of Eastern thought.</p><p>Dr. Alzo David-West points to <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/23719456?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents" target="_blank">several studies</a> that explain how Juche shares many key elements with Confucianism, including its "structures of authority, bureaucracy, hierarchy, familism, filial piety, man-centeredness, mentalism, moral education, patriarchy, and respect for elders." It's no wonder why <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=yKN_q-TqYYgC&pg=PA423&lpg=PA423&dq=%22Confucianism+in+a+communist+bottle.%22&source=bl&ots=BhmNe86LUQ&sig=ACfU3U2Glg95MFiXN7mhqYqyncanWkaBSA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjG9fml_pviAhXSJt8KHXuOC1QQ6AEwAnoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Confucianism%20in%20a%20communist%20bottle.%22&f=false" target="_blank">historian Bruce Cummings</a> referred to the ideology as "Neo-Confucianism in a communist bottle." </p><p>Dr. David-West also argues that Kim Il-sung understood Confucius better than he grasped Marx or Hegel and that it would make sense for him to endorse an ideology that was essentially a repackaged version of what the population was already familiar with and turn its tenets and traditions toward the state. Historian Charles K. Armstrong deems this effort successful, as Juche even managed to steal filial piety, a core virtue of Confucianism, and redirect its use towards worship of the state and supreme leader.</p><p>Those leaders are also more than just the brains behind the revolution that will lead Korea to greatness. </p>
The sacred tenets of Juche concerning the Great Leaders<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ2NjM4MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQxNjE0MH0.zE3AUcJecVfc0i7wAsiJKHoB0bnK7c_eyAm5kGW0UoU/img.jpg?width=980" id="b1b80" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ae667c86c78a3cd8bd5b566411ad80d0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
North Korea says Kim Jong-il was born on Mount Paektu, an important place in North Korean mythology, but there's evidence to show he was born in Soviet Siberia.
Image: Wikimedia Commons<p>Some of the things that the North Korean state tells people are a little out there but are held to be divine truths. These tend to relate to the greatness of the Kim family, whose rule is justified through Juche's other tenets.</p><p>For starters, Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North Korean state, is revered as a nearly God-like being. Koreans are taught that he nearly single-handedly drove the Japanese out of Korea during World War Two, and come up with all manner of great ideas for rebuilding the country all by himself. The Georgian calendar was replaced with the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korean_calendar" target="_blank">Juche era system</a>, which begins on the date of his birth. The cult of his personality is all-pervasive, and he is regarded as the "Eternal President" whose powers are executed through the living. </p><p>His son Kim Jong-il is often reported to have invented the <a href="https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2611998/Bizarre-lifestyle-North-Korean-women-convinced-burgers-local-treat-Lady-Gaga-MAN.html" target="_blank">hamburger</a>. No, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2011/dec/19/kim-jong-il-things-never-knew" target="_blank">seriously</a>. It is said his birth took place on a sacred mountain accompanied by a double rainbow and the swooping of majestic birds. Perhaps most impressively, he once nailed 11 holes-in-one in a single game of golf. His 17 bodyguards all confirmed it. This would make him one of the <a href="https://www.thoughtco.com/golfer-records-his-51st-hole-in-one-3971649" target="_blank">greatest golfers of all time</a>.</p><p>The current leader, Kim Jong-un has had less time to build up a personality cult. He does enjoy several large signs and monuments dedicated to him and is referred to as a military genius even though he never served. It is said he is able <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/12/11/not-even-north-koreas-kim-jong-un-can-control-weather/939609001/" target="_blank">to control the weather</a>. His authority remains absolute and has been codified in law. The veneration of all three Kims, both in life and in death, has been compared to the treatment of imperial Japanese emperors who were regarded as divine beings. </p>
Religion is such a strong word. Is it the right one for a political system?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7m5UNzji" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="873f9fa454acd285432f199867615135"> <div id="botr_7m5UNzji_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7m5UNzji-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7m5UNzji-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7m5UNzji-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Many observers are willing to use the word 'religion' to describe Juche. Eun Hee Shin, a South Korean author, has made the best case for this. He famously dubbed the ideology an "indigenous national religion."</p><p>While affirming that Juche began as a political philosophy in the 1950s, he points out that by the 1990s it had taken on a distinctly religious tone. In addition to the full implementation of a doctrine, formalized ritual, and priesthood that make it appear somewhat similar to any major organized religion, Shin explains that the worship of Kim Il-sung took on religious elements as a result of the expansion of his personality cult:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> "[North Koreans] believe in him as 'Father' in the sense of being the national provider, healer, and even savior." </p><p>His ideas are backed up by interviews with North Korean <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/23943356?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Aa55e3f93f130284f2f2752dd3ac6d821&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents" target="_blank">refugees</a>. One of them explained their faith in the leader as such:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> "[Kim Il-sung] is the one, the only one who saved our nation. He is just the same as God that I now believe in. Without God, I cannot exist. Even if I have become a Christian, my faith in God is not yet as strong as my love for him…' Why do we love him?' Your question does not really make sense to me…He is the only one we know of."</p><p>Others disagree with this interpretation and argue instead that it is a political program with religious elements. They say that while it is true that Juche has more than a few spiritual aspects to it, this is nothing fantastically different than what dictators have done since forever. A rather intense personality cult does not, they claim, a religion make. </p><p>Regimes and ideologies of both the left and right, and North Korea shows traits of both, have done things like this before. Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and socialist critic of the USSR, once argued that Marxism could be understood as a religion and often referred to "Bolshevism" as akin to Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. He didn't mean that it was a religion in the standard, theological meaning of the word, instead that it comprised a total system for understanding life, the universe, and everything. <strong></strong></p> If we take this looser definition, then Juche does at least have religious elements and could be fully understood as a religion.
This is neat and all, but do people buy this? You'd have to be half crazy to buy this stuff!<p>That is a matter of some debate.</p><p>On the one hand, it seems evident that some people are fanatically dedicated to the Kim family. In this clip below you can see the reaction of elderly North Koreans to finding out their cataract surgeries (provided by foreigners) were successful is universally to praise and thank the Kim family for giving them their eyesight back.</p>
Documentary: Inside Undercover In North Korea 5 of 5<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9822fc15164ffa96b8455091cb26f820"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/p7RtFZCpyv0?start=178&rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Is it the key to understanding why North Korea acts like it does, or an elaborate sham?
- North Korea is an anomaly among nations, but is there a method to its madness?
- Juche, meaning "self-reliance", is the official ideology of the country which supposedly informs its actions.
- Some observers question the sincerity of the ideology, dismissing it as mere propaganda.
The official ideology of North Korea<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ1MjQzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIxNTIxN30.XuT2re5uKkMHxbxMkdjkvV9fV-2aHdZRvsiJ-t8RMpY/img.jpg?width=980" id="5352e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0ecc3f6ce3f9fc8dc2b701a5b2287f30" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
This mosaic in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, depicts the triumphant homecoming of Kim Il-sung after he supposedly liberated Korea from Japan.
Why do they even need an official ideology? Was Marxist-Leninism not good enough for them?<p>There are two reasons why North Korea saw the need to create a whole ideology for half a country.</p><p>The first was the need to remain neutral in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Soviet_split" target="_blank">Sino-Soviet split</a>. By devising its own form of communist rule, the North Koreans dodged the issue of needing to choose between Soviet Marxist-Leninism or Chinese Maoism and could continue to enjoy the good graces of both of its neighbors.</p><p>The other motivation was the need to legitimize Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. By creating a Korean form of communism, Sung could claim to be on par with leaders such as Mao, Stalin, or Lenin by having his own ideology. This is partly why Juche includes concepts which are collectively referred to as <em>Kimilsungism</em><em>.</em><em></em></p>
Is this sincere? Or is Juche just a complicated term for "Whatever the boss wants?"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ1MjQ1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NzgwMDM2NH0.gnEnu5ph1UgCE1tQoKaSXh3zKJhuYCjhDGAF9_CG0dU/img.jpg?width=980" id="c8d46" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="546e9b60986d7c66983c687094fc85fa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The official portraits of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, and his son, the second leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il.
Eugene Gholz, the associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, posits that President Trump's decision to suspend U.S. military operations on the Korean peninsula negates decades of foreign policy.
Eugene Gholz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, argues that President Trump's decision to suspend the U.S. military's training exercises on the Korean peninsula is a lot more nuanced—and a lot more strategic to foreign policy—than perhaps many people realize. Will South Korea be left in the lurch if the US suspends military exercises? Hardly. Eugene is brought to you today by The Charles Koch Foundation. The Charles Koch Foundation aims to further understanding of how US foreign policy affects American people and societal well-being. Through grants, events, and collaborative partnerships, the Foundation is working to stretch the boundaries of foreign policy research and debate by discussing ideas in strategy, trade, and diplomacy that often go unheeded in the US capital. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.
What's really involved in snuffing out a country’s nuclear capabilities—and is that the right war to be waging?
The United States tries hard to keep nuclear weapons away from countries it considers foes. Given how close the world came to nuclear armageddon during the Cold War, and recent threats from so-called “rogue states" like North Korea, it may seem like an essential goal. But America's strategy for thwarting nuclear proliferation may be reaching a point where the costs outweigh the benefits.
There's a deep psychological reason that America treats nuclear weapons like a spoiled child hogging all the neighborhood candy. Are we too paranoid to see it?
Nuclear weapons are an odd conundrum for the world (and indeed the human species) as of late. Remnants of WW2 and indeed the Cold War, they're mostly used now as a kind of insurance policy for the safety of a country. It's like keeping a loaded gun. And like guns, America (no surprises here) has a whole lot of them and (just like a gun) they don't want anyone they don't like to have them. America is even willing to have preventative wars so that other countries don't develop nuclear weapons; which in turn breeds resentment and even more countries that resent us... who then in turn develop more nukes. It's a vicious cycle. And it may not end well. The Charles Koch Foundation aims to further understanding of how US foreign policy affects American people and societal well-being. Through grants, events, and collaborative partnerships, the Foundation is working to stretch the boundaries of foreign policy research and debate by discussing ideas in strategy, trade, and diplomacy that often go unheeded in the US capital. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.