Episode 5: "The Interview" and North Korea in the News
In this episode of East Asia for All, we discuss a pressing topic in the news lately: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un. North Korea-U.S. relations have already been deeply strained since the 1950s, when the U.S. military committed war crimes against civilians during the massive destruction of the still unresolved Korean War (see Minisode 2, North Korea: Memes, China, and Nuclear War for a detailed discussion of the Korean War and its legacy). In the 65 years following the military stalemate, the U.S. has unilaterally imposed sanctions against the North Korean state and insists upon continued military exercises near the North-South Korea demilitarized zone.
Recent controversies have rocked Kim Jong-un's leadership, furthering the portrayal of Kim as a maniacal dictator in the media. In February 2017, Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was mysteriously assassinated in Malaysia. In November 2017, experts confirmed that the North Korean military developed an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) able to reach any part of the mainland United States.
The events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, however, dramatically shifted this narrative. North Korea sent a large delegation of athletes and marched with the South Korean team in the opening ceremony. Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un, made history as the first member of the Kim family to visit South Korea during the Olympics, and even extended an invitation to South Korean president Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang.
During the delegation's visit, media outlets lauded Kim Jong-un for his skilled diplomacy, a marked shift away from portrayals of him as bumbling and incompetent. In this episode, we discuss these shifts in representations of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, and the complex and tense relationship between the U.S. and North Korea. We also discuss at length the role of U.S. president Donald Trump in this relationship, who wrote inflammatory tweets calling Kim "rocket man" and promised to meet North Korea with "fire and fury."
During the recording of this episode, Kim invited U.S. president Trump to talks, which Trump then accepted in March 2018. Their historic summit on June 12, 2018 in Singapore, was met with both skepticism and hope in the Korean peninsula and abroad.
We are very pleased to have Dr. Christine Hong, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz in Literature and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, join us on this episode of East Asia for All. Dr. Hong is a scholar and expert on North-South Korea relations, involved in the peace movement, and has written on North Korea-U.S. relations in the era of Trump. Tune in as Dr. Hong helps us unpack the 2014 film The Interview, recent changes in representations of Kim and North Korea in the U.S. media, and how Americans can utilize this moment as a chance for empathetic reflection.
You can find this podcast on the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or listen to it below.
References and Further Reading:
- "Why Do North Koreans Hate Us?" The Intercept, Mehdi Hasan
- "U.S., South Korea, Japan boost military exercises to send message to North Korea," CBC
- "North Korea's Military Capabilities," Council on Foreign Relations
- "North Korea to Send Olympic Athletes to South Korea, in Breakthrough," New York Times
- "Olympics Open With Koreas Marching Together, Offer Hope for Peace," New York Times
- "Kim Jong-un's Sister Turns on the Charm, Taking Pence's Spotlight," New York Times
- "North Korean Leader, Known for His Bluster, Reveals Diplomatic Skills," New York Times
- "Trump accepts invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un," The Washington Post
- Donald J. Trump on Twitter, October 1, 2017
- "Trump threatens 'fire and fury' in response to North Korean threats," The Washington Post
- "The Trump-Kim Summit Statement," New York Times
- "NBC apologizes to Koreans for Olympics coverage that praised Japan’s brutal occupation," The Washington Post
- "Nuclear Posture Review," Nuclear Threat Initiative
- "U.S.-South Korea military exercises are on, despite Trump’s planned meeting with Kim. Here’s what will happen," The Washington Post
- "In North Korea, Chinese tourists take a trip down memory lane," The Washington Post
- The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Samuel Moyn
- The Korean War: A History, Bruce Cumings
- Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Chalmers Johnson
- Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization, Kuan-Hsing Chen
- The Game of Their Lives (film, 2002)
- Crossing the Line (film, 2006)
- Comrade Kim Goes Flying (film, 2012)