AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Close, but no cigar

Posted by ampontan on Friday, January 29, 2010

IN THE CORNER, the blog at the National Review website, Jonah Goldberg quotes a Melanie Kirkpatrick review of two books about North Korea.

In attempting to understand North Korea, Mr. Myers argues, outsiders almost invariably get it wrong. The country’s dominant ideology is not Communism or Stalinism or Marxist-Leninism. Nor is it Confucianism or even the regime’s governing doctrine, called Juche Thought, usually translated as “self-reliance.” The real North Korean worldview, Mr. Myers notes, is based on a belief in the unique moral superiority of the Korean race.

So far, very good to see some real insight about Northeast Asia for a change. But then:

The closest analogy is the fervent nationalist ideology that governed prewar Japan and influenced North Korea’s founding fathers. Having grown up in colonial Korea, they embraced Japan’s propaganda methods after coming to power in 1948. Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — the North’s full name — even had himself photographed, Hirohito-like, astride a white stallion.

This doesn’t quite make sense. He says the closest analogy is the prewar Japanese ideology, but then talks about propaganda methods rather than ideology.

Perhaps that’s because the propaganda methods are those of the Japanese, but the ideological strain of Joseon racial purity was already thriving long before the Japanese got there.

It turns out that Mr. Myers is B. R. Myers, a professor at Dongseo University in South Korea. A foreigner in South Korea parroting the Korean Peninsula’s anti-Japanese line? Big surprise there.

Mr. Myers misses out on the cigar for two reasons.

1. He failed to mention that while these tendencies exist throughout the region, the undisputed East Asian champs in this weight class have always been the Chinese. They still are.

2. He missed the part of Japanese intellectual history in which the Japanese nationalists of more than a century ago used as one of their justifications for the annexation/colonization/merger with Korea the idea that the Japanese and the Koreans were the same tribe to begin with.

Ah, well. Some progress is better than none.

Afterwords:

“Almost invariably”? An ideology “governing” a country, rather than people?

Is there an editor in the house?

40 Responses to “Close, but no cigar”

  1. slim said

    I think you really have to read BR Meyers uniformly excellent work, and this book in particular, before making snap judgements based on short excerpts and on the nationality and ethnicity of the author.

  2. soma36 said

    If we are talking about racial purity as the uniting ideology, rather than nationalism (of which ethnicity is but one component) then I find it a bit hard to believe that the Chinese are worse than the rest of Asia – han nationalism was always much more focused on notions of cultural superiority and only very loosely tied to ethnicity given the diversity in that country.

    That said, I agree that the follow up comment makes almost no sense – I think we could come up with quite a few more reasons why it logically does not. For a start off, argue what you will about the importance of the emperor to state ideology, hirohito “worship” never approached the level that the ‘character’ worship did/does in Korea, or in China for that matter.

    Possibly somewhat similar to the differentiation that we make in parliamentary democracies between ministers as people and the position of the minister (ie the public servant is loyal to ministerial authority and the exercise of this power, not to the person itself and can thus choose to not follow orders if the request exceeds that authority), Japan has a very strong historical tradition of doing so for the institution of the emperor – how else would you explain hirohito’s less than all powerful ability to influence militaristic developments in Japan. Someone bloody well tried to shoot the person carrying his surrender message at the end of the war. Not to mention that throughout Japanese history it was almost always someone else exercising the emperor’s authority, rather than the emperor himself. Laughable to suggest that a whole nation “learns” to assume racial superiority from another – no helped needed as you suggest!

  3. Robert said

    Second what Slim says.

  4. Sperwer said

    I concur wit Slim. Your dismissal of Myers’ work based on double hearsay and ignorant ad hominem cheap shots is irresponsible and way below your usual well-argued points regrading Japan-Korea issues.
    ————-
    “Dismissal of Myers’ work”?

    You are dismissing the first part of the article in which I give him credit. Look at the first word of the post’s title again.

    “Double hearsay”

    I’m quoting the person who interviewed him. That’s only once removed. “Hearsay”? Did she make it up?

    He says the closest analogy for the North Korean “ideology” is Japan, but then doesn’t talk about ideology at all, just propaganda.

    Myers may be a hell of a guy, but you’re not addressing what he said.

    It would be interesting to hear a defense of the statement that NK’s racial purity ideology was derived from pre-war Japan. Were they uno mundo rainbow unicorns prior to 1905?

    – A

  5. Here we go again ... said

    Dongseo University is a not only a new private university business but also a Christian one with links to similar private Christian universities in the US etc.

    Excuse me if I step on some toes here but, to date, my experience of any mix of Christianity into NE Asian (in both Japan and Korea) has been strikingly negative … if not actually frightening. But then perhaps meeting a White who actually grew up in a so-called Christian country with a Christian education bring up “issues” for “natives” that has been converted into what are at time highly cultic religious forms.

    Don’t they get that Christianity’s incursion into Asia really was a tool of the colonialists splitting and subjugating the people?

    I know nothing of this gifted gentleman, and he has an interesting background, but would I expect that to be an environment in which free thinking and free expression is fostered … not for someone with a Korean wife and family to support.

    What he has said is probably mild enough but how it is being translated by the usual suspect is, well, ‘the usual’. Anything to roll out the old warhorses equating Japan to the F-word.

  6. Sperweractual said

    “Dismissal of Myers’ work”?

    You are dismissing the first part of the article in which I give him credit. Look at the first word of the post’s title again.

    “Close”, but no cigar?… Myers has been making the point about the ethno-fascist character of the Nork regime for years. What’s new about his current work is that it aims to show the roots of the NORK ethno-fascist ideology in Japanese models that it assimilated and adapted in a more detailed fashion than his earlier study of Nork literary and cultural policy borrowing from Japanese fascism, which touched on the same theme. You are dismissing the major contention of the current book.

    “Double hearsay”

    I’m quoting the person who interviewed him. That’s only once removed. “Hearsay”? Did she make it up?

    You refer to a National Review comment on a NYT book review (not an “interview”), in other words a report about another persons’ report of what Myers’ book says.

    He says the closest analogy for the North Korean “ideology” is Japan, but then doesn’t talk about ideology at all, just propaganda.

    Myers may be a hell of a guy, but you’re not addressing what he said.

    It would be interesting to hear a defense of the statement that NK’s racial purity ideology was derived from pre-war Japan. Were they uno mundo rainbow unicorns prior to 1905?

    Nice trick, accusing me of doing what it is of which you are guilty – i.e., not addressing what Myers actually said, as opposed to what Kirkpatrick says about his book. If you want to have Myers’ account of how, in what manner and to exactly what extent ethno-fascism in North Korea has its roots in (among other places) Japanese ideology, read the book. Not having done so, and instead trying to denigrate what you only suppose are his views by the unsubstantiated ad hominem characterization of him as “another foreigner in South Korea parroting the Korean Peninsula’s anti-Japanese line” just undermines your own credibility.

  7. Aceface said

    “If you want to have Myers’ account of how, in what manner and to exactly what extent ethno-fascism in North Korea has its roots in (among other places) Japanese ideology, read the book. ”

    Not exactly sure what ethno-fascism is all about.Is that something relative with Islamo-fascism?

    I haven’t read the book either,but I’ve read similar argument in Japanese translation of Gregory Henderson’s”Korea,The Politics ofVortex”and there,the Japanese translator was writing short afternote quoting from his conversation with Henderson that he see similarity between Kim regime and pre-war emperor system.
    You don’t really need to read any thesis based on impression if you know Japanese history and certain knowledge on North Korean regime that this argument is plain comparison between apple and orange.

    Can’t exactly tell how much we can trust life history of Kim Il Sung,but he left colonial Korea with his dad in 20’s,which wasn’t exactly fascist years.Plus Emperor worship in Japan never had the iconographical variety of Soviet Russia nor Mao’s China.I’ve seen lots of North Korean-esque paintings in Mongolia,which suggest the origin comes from the same source.Soviet Union,that is.

    I also agree with Ampontan here.Whenever Korean admits “Japanese influece”of any kind,it’s always something negative and needs to be removed at all cost to protect national purity of a sort and I can understand the reason why.Japanese militarism did influence ROK and it’s remains are still evident(Reading Chosun Ilbo always reminds me of Asahi Shimbun of the 30’s)

    But Japanese influence in DPRK?Well,many Koreans studied in Japan at the time did become Marxist for obvious reasons,but apart from that,I doubt any Japanese influece could have survived the Korean nationalism in DPRK.

    I’d imagine trendy discourse of denouncing North Korean regime in South Korea these days needs to differentiate itself from anti-communism propaganda of Park/Chung years.So comes thesis like Kim Il Sung,the poorman’s Hirohito.

    North Korea seems to me laying somewhere between Albania and Romania of communist years.It’s just the debunked socialist state with Korean characteristics to my eyes.

  8. Sperweractual said

    I haven’t read the book either,but I’ve read similar argument in Japanese translation of Gregory Henderson’s”Korea,The Politics ofVortex”and there,the Japanese translator was writing short afternote quoting from his conversation with Henderson that he see similarity between Kim regime and pre-war emperor system.
    You don’t really need to read any thesis based on impression if you know Japanese history and certain knowledge on North Korean regime…

    Great, more strawmen and deliberate ignorance of the book in question. Carry on…

  9. Aceface said

    Well,you can always enlighten me either on the book or the thesis,instead of posting in the usual expat-in-Korea-on-the-web manner Sperweractual

  10. Sperwer said

    Do your homework, grasshopper, then we can talk.
    —————–
    Ah, so. You come here and complain that people are wrong, but when asked to explain why they’re wrong, you can’t even be bothered to back your own assertions up.

    That’s a novel debating tactic.

    Odd, though. It should be a simple matter for you to expose what you called “deliberate ignorance”.

    By the way, the one rule around here is that you cannot call other commenters names. (Well, I also take a dim view of persistent trolls, but that’s different.)

    Feel free to call me any name you like. Imaginative invective can be entertaining. Too bad so few people are capable of it.

  11. Aceface said

    You know,I expect this kind of strict academic attitude when you guys talk on anything relates with”Japan”next time at Marmot hole.

    Anyway,”purity of race”wasn’t exactly the national ideology of Japan at the time since Japan was already then a muti-ethnic empire and wanted to expand it throughout Asia and build “The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere”.DPRK’s regime never intended to become an imperial power in East Asia,thus the idologies of the two oppresive regimes different.

    But you are right on one thing.I haven’t read Myer’s book and you are one of a few commenter at Marmot hole that leave comments that are readable.So I shall follow your advice and leave the good man and his good work alone.

  12. Sperwer said

    Thanks for your belated recognition that I’m not one of the usual suspects at Marmot’s suffering from “Seoul” Syndrome, let alone one of the nutizen Korean apologists/Babbits. 🙂 Do read Myers’ work; it’s worthwhile, in part because it’s quite nuanced and takes account of the issues you raise.

  13. Sperwer said

    Ah, so. You come here and complain that people are wrong, but when asked to explain why they’re wrong, you can’t even be bothered to back your own assertions up.

    That’s a novel debating tactic.

    Novel? As the proponent of a certain view of what Myers’ work says, the burden of proof is on you to substantiate it. I pointed out the deficiencies of your case, which is all the rules of debate require. Rhetoric 101.

    Odd, though. It should be a simple matter for you to expose what you called “deliberate ignorance”.

    All I meant by “deliberate ignorance” was the all too obvious failure of other commenters here to inform themselves of Myers’ actual position, BY SIMPLY READING HIS BOOK, before undertaking to criticize it. What’s to expose? Res ipsa loquitur.

    I will refrain from hurting your delicate sensibilities in the future.
    —————–

    I will refrain from hurting your delicate sensibilities in the future.

    This suggests that you aren’t reading what people write very closely.

    So does this:

    As the proponent of a certain view of what Myers’ work says

    I’m not a “proponent” of any “view” about Myers’ work. I presented a suspicion, based on what he claims, and what that claim means he is either overlooking or dismissing.

  14. Aceface said

    ”I will refrain from hurting your delicate sensibilities in the future”

    Do it now then,Sperwer.Tell us your take on the issue,so that we don’t have to criticize the book that we haven’t read.

  15. Sperwer said

    I’m not a “proponent” of any “view” about Myers’ work. I presented a suspicion, based on what he claims, and what that claim means he is either overlooking or dismissing.

    YOU introduced the notion of debating rules; I simply followed up by using the appropriate technical terms. It doesn’t really matter what terms you want to use. The fact is that you presented a certain (mis)characterization of Myers’ book (originally propounded by others) as the basis for impugning it because of its (assumed) failure to deal with certain issues that such (mis)characterization led you to conclude (without having bothers to look at the book itself) Myers’ had overlooked [relying on really impertinent (and mistaken) ad hominem slurs to further your “argument”]. That is, at best, intellectually sloppy (and, insofar as the ad hominem is concerned, disingenuous) … I’m so accustomed to this sort of stuff from the usual suspects at Marmot’s that it no longer phases me, but it’s a real disappointment to see it here.

    This suggests that you aren’t reading what people write very closely.

    I read what you said carefully enough to note your permission to call you any name that might qualify as “imaginative invective”, but also that that followed on your pulling admin rank in the first place. 😉

  16. Sperwer said

    Aceface:

    Noted. Please stay tuned. I’m still re-reading Myers’s book (for another purpose) and will provide a proper book report when I’m done with that project. How’s that?

  17. Aceface said

    Fair enough.This exchange can be end up like “I don’t believe in god””Just read the bible,it’s all in there”kind.

    “I’m so accustomed to this sort of stuff from the usual suspects at Marmot’s that it no longer phases me, but it’s a real disappointment to see it here.”

    Well,maybe the situation can be changed for good if all of us follow some rules and we can start doing so by paying more respect to the guy who run the house.

  18. M-Bone said

    I skimmed the first part of the book and while I can’t review it, I can at least comment on why I didn’t find it interesting enough to finish.

    What Myers is doing has actually been controversial in other spheres of academia lately – note the recent debates about the influence of Nazism on radical Islam. Yes, some people in the Islamic world were interested in Nazism, yes, there are superficial similarities between elements of radical Islam and Nazi philosophy. However, the “paper trail” to establish these connections has been very weak and I don’t think that Myers has done a decent job in this respect either.

    Institutional and propaganda similarities don’t equal causation in historical argument, and Myers fails to engage with something that Aceface referenced above – the multi-ethnic character of Japanese empire, the enthusiastic welcome of Koreans and others into the Japanese military officer class, the rhetorical stress on Asian brotherhood (detailed well in Oguma Eiji’s “A Genealogy of Japanese Self Images” which has even been translated into English), the restoration of the Manchu dynasty and the marriage of a member of the Japanese imperial family to Puyi’s heir, the list goes on and on.

    Myers suggestion of direct links ignores a lot original Korean ethno-centric principles (which are given short shrift in the book, perhaps because he does not read sources written in classical Chinese) and he downplays what seems like a much greater Stalinist impact.

    What I find most disturbing is that Myers is trotting out the Japan comparison to make an argument that NK will never yield, suggesting in effect that Japan as well was an irrational fascist juggernaut and downplaying the economic roots of the Pacific War.

    Myers operates on predictive models of North Korean behavior, which has ingratiated him to the foreign policy community. But his “Japan was like that, North Korea is like it to, so this will happen” line of reasoning shows his lack of credibility as a historian. Historians don’t use the past to build behavior models predicting the way things will be 20-30 years into the future but Myers is more interested in self-aggrandizing suggestion than causation.

  19. M-Bone said

    I should also add that Myers isn’t a practicing historian – he is a scholar of literature and his insights into NK propaganda on that level look solid. I just think that he is out of his depth when dealing with the history of thought/ideology. Literature scholars draw textual connections without documentary evidence (rope burns on the hands = stigmata in Old Man and the Sea, for example) but you can’t do this in history, especially when throwing out the other interpretations of Japanese imperial ideology in the established scholarship.

  20. Sperwer said

    Myers operates on predictive models of North Korean behavior, which has ingratiated him to the foreign policy community.

    LOL. At a dinner he attended shortly before leaving his post as Asst Secy State for East Asia and Chief US Rep to the Six Party Talks, Christopher Hill met Myers for the first time, although by then Hill had been directly involved in Korean affairs and often present in Korea for at least ~ 5 years. After talking w/ Myers he turned and very snappishly inquired of one of his minions with words to the effect “Why am I just learning about this guy for the first time now?” For an allegedly self-aggrandizing influence-seeker, Myers has been remarkably unsuccessful.

  21. tomojiro said

    Interesting discussion

    I heard many times about the comparison of NK with the “Great Japanese Empire”, but I couldn’t find any author / researcher who could give a solid link between the two.

    “What I find most disturbing is that Myers is trotting out the Japan comparison to make an argument that NK will never yield, suggesting in effect that Japan as well was an irrational fascist juggernaut and downplaying the economic roots of the Pacific War.”

    When the nuclear problems came out for the first time in the 90ies, I remember a Japanese journalist (Shigemura, then a journalist for Mainichi Shimbun) using the same rhetoric in TV discussion to convince Japanese watcher of the danger of NK. But honestly I couldn’t find any other who provided a solid historical evidence for this.

    Post WW2 South Korean Militarism and the link (or continuation) between “The Great Japanese Empire” is well documented and well known. I would be very interested if someone could actually establish the link between NK and “The Great Japanese Empire”.

    Well after reading M-bone’s very good comment, Myers book seems not that promising.

  22. M-Bone said

    “For an allegedly self-aggrandizing influence-seeker, Myers has been remarkably unsuccessful.”

    The American left has a foreign policy chatter establishment as well. Myers has at least been able to self-aggrandize himself into writing NYT op-eds and giving talks at think tanks. Anyway Sperwer, do you have any comments about what I said about content or methodology? You did read the book, right?

    Anyway, either he has historical evidence that meets the standards of the historiographical community or he doesn’t. If he has it, it isn’t in the book.

  23. Sperwer said

    M-Bone:

    Myers isn’t a man of the left, in any conventional PC sense – although he has some odd dietary preferences, to which an Orwell might object.

    Getting stuff published in NYT, the Atlantic etc., and getting invited to speak to various organizations (I’ve heard Myers @ The Royal Asiatic Society, Seoul Branch) doesn’t (necessarily) make one self-aggrandizing. Your clear suggestion that it does perhaps implies more about you than him.

    For the rest, see #16. But as a kind of preview, I’m more favorably inclined than you to Myers’ work, including the stuff you rather pre-emptorily seem to suggest is “merely” literary. In his earlier work on NORK literature, for example, and contrary to your claim of his failure to establish causal linkages (as if that were the only purpose or justification of historical writing – read any Hayden White or Paul Ricoeur? – which you also confusingly and inconsistently reject when attacking Myers, as bogusly predictive?), he pretty convincingly demonstrates the origins of a lot of NORK literary themes and cultural policy generally in earlier Japanese models – which is not to say that he “blames” Japan for them (or suggests that the Japanese paradigms the NORKS adopted and adapted exhaust the entire range of Japanese literary and cultural trends at the time in question).

  24. tomojiro said

    “In his earlier work on NORK literature, for example, and contrary to your claim of his failure to establish causal linkages (as if that were the only purpose or justification of historical writing – read any Hayden White or Paul Ricoeur?)

    Well, anybody involved in historiography should try first to establish first hand evidential causal link. Or prove and base his argument of careful historical evidence. That IS the alpha and Omega of historiography, I guess. Hayden White and Paul Ricouer matters after first hand materials are found and recognized as such among experts. I guess all in this thread are interested in this kind of first hand materials. When did Kim Il-sung decided to build his country after the “Great Japanese Empire”. Or is there any strong sounding second hand material which actually indicated that he was directly inspired by the Japanese Empire model and that he actually builds his country on this model. If so what is the material and evidence?

    “he pretty convincingly demonstrates the origins of a lot of NORK literary themes and cultural policy generally in earlier Japanese models”

    Well cultural policies are just cultural policies. You can find a lot of similarities between NAZI cultural policies and many (if not all) post WW2 communist state.

    I guess, most people in this discussion are more interest in direct evidence, which could actually establish the link between Kim Il-sung’s political ideologies, his motivation, and actually his political accomplishment if that was directly influenced by the model of the “Great Japanese Empire”.

    Any suggestions after reading Myers?
    ————————————–

    You can find a lot of similarities between NAZI cultural policies and many (if not all) post WW2 communist state.

    Tomojiro: There’s a reason for that.

    “There is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it. There is, above all, genuine, revolutionary feeling, which is alive everywhere in Russia except where there are Jewish Marxists. I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communists always will.”

    – A. Hitler

    “Of what importance is all that, if I range men firmly within a discipline they cannot escape? Let them own land or factories as much as they please. The decisive factor is that the State, through the Party, is supreme over them regardless of whether they are owners or workers. All that is unessential; our socialism goes far deeper. It establishes a relationship of the individual to the State, the national community. Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.”

    – A. Hitler

    *(A)ll unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work, be abolished.

    * We demand the nationalization of businesses which have been organized into cartels.

    * We demand that all the profits from wholesale trade shall be shared.

    * We demand a land reform in accordance with our national requirements, and the enactment of a law to confiscate from the owners without compensation any land needed for the common purpose. The abolition of ground rents, and the prohibition of all speculation in land.

    Extracted from the (February 25th, 1920) 25 point plan of the National Socialist German Workers Party, written by A. Hitler.

    *****

    “True, it is a fixed idea with the French that the Rhine is their property, but to this arrogant demand the only reply worthy of the German nation is Arndt’s: “Give back Alsace and Lorraine”. For I am of the opinion, perhaps in contrast to many whose standpoint I share in other respects, that the reconquest of the German-speaking left bank of the Rhine is a matter of national honour, and that the Germanisation of a disloyal Holland and of Belgium is a political necessity for us. Shall we let the German nationality be completely suppressed in these countries, while the Slavs are rising ever more powerfully in the East?”

    – F. Engels

    “This is our calling, that we shall become the templars of this Grail, gird the sword round our loins for its sake and stake our lives joyfully in the last, holy war which will be followed by the thousand-year reign (reich) of freedom.”

    – F. Engels

    “Let us consider the actual, worldly Jew — not the Sabbath Jew, as Bauer does, but the everyday Jew. Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Jewry, would be the self-emancipation of our time…. We recognize in Jewry, therefore, a general present-time-oriented anti-social element, an element which through historical development — to which in this harmful respect the Jews have zealously contributed — has been brought to its present high level, at which it must necessarily dissolve itself. In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Jewry”.

    – K. Marx “On the Jewish Question”

    “The Nazis did not, as their foreign admirers contend, enforce price control within a market economy. With them price control was only one device within the frame of an all-around system of central planning. In the Nazi economy there was no question of private initiative and free enterprise. All production activities were directed by the Reichswirtschaftsministerium. No enterprise was free to deviate in the conduct of its operations from the orders issued by the government. Price control was only a device in the complex of innumerable decrees and orders regulating the minutest details of every business activity and precisely fixing every individual’s tasks on the one hand and his income and standard of living on the other.”

    – L. Von Mises

    These are forms of the same philosophy that differ primarily in the nationalistic / internationalistic aspect.

    And we haven’t even gotten to Mussolini yet!

    NK seems more like a combination of this crowd than anything directly from Imperial Japan.

  25. M-Bone said

    “Hayden White or Paul Ricoeur”

    Sure, and both condemn history as prediction and would be even more dismissive of Myers claim to narrative authority than I am. You shouldn’t bring them into this discussion. They raise important points about historical writing as narrative and suggest ways to measure the value of historical writing other than establishing causation. Since Myers uses his points to make policy suggestions, however, I there is no reason to give him the leeway of interpretation that we give to, say, “The Great Cat Massacre”. White, especially, claims that historical writing holds no more claim on historical truth than does fiction and takes a post-structuralist position on the issue of the exactness of language. How is this at all useful as a criterion for a work that provides policy advice? If he stopped short of asserting that similarities with wartime Japan necessitate a certain reaction on our part, I wouldn’t have any problem with his suggestion of rather ethereal connections, especially in literary discussions (which I do not dismiss in terms like “merely”, they simply aren’t doing the same things that historians do).

    As for his earlier work, I recall that he established connections between NK literary modes (which are wayyyy easier to trace than discursive foundations for ethnocentrism) and Japanese, but the ideological basis of NK rule is a different matter entirely.

    “Your clear suggestion that it does perhaps implies more about you than him.”

    I don’t think so. Myers is pretty much asserting that his wide reading in NK literature (from the POV of producers, no reception theory) gives him an ability to predict how the NK elite and population will react (effectively a mastery over their mindset in the old Area Studies model – if you’ve read White, you’ve read Said I take it). Like the critique brought against Ranke, he’s drinking a cup and pissing an ocean and that’s the definition of self-aggrandizing for me. For all of the excesses of Cold War era Area Studies, we didn’t see Eisenstein and Tarkovsky experts telling people how to win the arms race.

  26. Aceface said

    “Christopher Hill met Myers for the first time, although by then Hill had been directly involved in Korean affairs and often present in Korea for at least ~ 5 years.”

    Sounds very Hill-ish,isn’t it?
    Hill had lots of output but not much input of information on East Asia,or so I heard from some of J-reporter who had been posted to go after Hill round the clock.

    Tomojiro:
    Wasn’t that you pissing over twitter that late David Halberstam has written same kind of narrative in “The Coldest Winter” on how Kim Il Sung was made into a monster and Japanese rule somehow played role to give Kim inspiration?
    (Somehow that reminded me of accusation by a rightwing critic(I think it was Paul Johnson)that Sartre should be blamed for Pol Pot and his regime)
    I know Halberstam’s name don’t fit into the high blow historiography argument we have at hand(Paul Ricoeur?Blimey.)and he isn’t exactly a trained historian either.but his books are read and make ever lasting influence to the public just like Iris Chang.

    So where exactly were we?

  27. M-Bone said

    Ampontan presents some parallels between NK ideology and other systems. I’ll point to another – 1930s and 1940s American dicourse on racial purity, miscegeny, race war (with several American generals and statesmen describing the war with Japan as a war for the future of the white race), white man’s burdeon thought, anthropological discourse decrying other races as undeveloped (taken up by community leaders on the west coast who condemned Japanese and Koreans as “unclean” races). Myers may find what he describes as a “striking parallel” with Japanese imperial ideology, but one has to wonder how many striking parallels with elsewhere that he ignores in order to appeal to a select readership.

    “Paul Ricoeur?Blimey”

    Really, bringing Ricoeur into this is like eating somebody’s lunch and telling them that it doesn’t matter because “lunch” is just another language game.

  28. […] Criticism of B.R. Myers remarks about Japanese pre-war ideology and North Korea. […]

  29. Sperwer said

    “Hayden White or Paul Ricoeur”

    Sure, and both condemn history as prediction and would be even more dismissive of Myers claim to narrative authority than I am. You shouldn’t bring them into this discussion. They raise important points about historical writing as narrative and suggest ways to measure the value of historical writing other than establishing causation. Since Myers uses his points to make policy suggestions, however, I there is no reason to give him the leeway of interpretation that we give to, say, “The Great Cat Massacre”. White, especially, claims that historical writing holds no more claim on historical truth than does fiction and takes a post-structuralist position on the issue of the exactness of language. How is this at all useful as a criterion for a work that provides policy advice? If he stopped short of asserting that similarities with wartime Japan necessitate a certain reaction on our part, I wouldn’t have any problem with his suggestion

    I alluded to White and Riceour in reaction to what I (apparently mis-?)understood to be your reduction of historical explanation to causal arguments (in your #18 “Institutional and propaganda similarities don’t equal causation in historical argument”). I don’t think you have a completely accurate understanding of White and Riceour, but I agree that they are unsympathetic, to say te least, to (scientistic) claims that historical knowledge is predictive. I guess the nub of our disgreement concerns the characterization of Myers’ project. You seem to conclude from his willingness to engage in the relevant policy debates that he intends (must intend?)his work to be “predictive” in some “hard” (and what I would regard as a rather simple-mineded way). I disagree. I think it’s intended primarily to present a persuasively detailed account of the formation (and nature) of NORK ideology (that, importantly, corrects the still widespread misperception thereof by the usual self-iportant policy wonks (lie Hill et al)and, secondarily, thereby to permit the taking of informed practical ethico-political judgments regarding relations with the NORK state. One can certainly question the completeness and accuracy of his account – although you haven’t done that in any credibly detailed way (having only skimmed part of his book), preferring it seems to carp about his purported self-aggrandizing temerity in proffering some such judgments himself as if he too were just another of those self-important Beltway types. He isn’t.

  30. M-Bone said

    “I don’t think you have a completely accurate understanding of White and Riceour”

    I have discussed White and Ricoeur in several peer reviewed academic articles, have been examined on their work in a doctoral course, and teach them in graduate seminars. I don’t think that my one line description of them in an online forum did them justice, but I also think that they don’t belong in this discussion at all.

    If you need some examples of bad stuff from the book, I can provide –

    On propaganda –
    “But no regime would go to such enormous expense, year in, year out for sixty years, to inculcate into its citizens a worldview to which it did not itself subscribe.”
    This is an example of the tenuous logic of the argument – NK propaganda is expensive, therefore the elite must believe it, therefore we can use it as the primary means of understanding their behavior. There is no qualitative or quantitative evidence offered to indicate that Kim or others believe the propaganda that they produce or act according to its principles, and yet Myers expects his arguments to be used to guide policy.

    Self-aggrandizing premise –
    “While ignoring North Korean ideology, the West has assiduously, almost compulsively, added to its pile of “hard” information on the country. Much of this has come from experts in nuclear or economic studies… Hard facts cannot be put to proper use unless one first acquires information of a very different nature.”
    Myers is flat out arguing that any study of the NK economy or nuclear program is “unusable” without his ideological arguments, which I believe rest on a series of generalizations and tenuous networks of causation.

    We also have Myers constant harping on how much Korean he reads and how other “Westerners” just suck –
    “Perhaps most importantly, the regime rightly assumes that almost no one hostile to the DPRK will ever bother to look at these materials. (I can count on one hand the times I ever saw a Western visitor take a North Korean book from the Resource Center’s shelves.)”

    “But why is there more talk of ideological matters in any issue of Arab Studies Journal than in a dozen issues of North Korean Review? The obvious if undiplomatic answer is that most Pyongyang watchers do not understand Korean well enough to read the relevant official texts.”

    He is claiming a sort of privileged insider perspective as part of the narrative frame of his work. I think that self-aggrandizing is fair.

    Myers is a pretty smart guy and actually tries to head off the Area Studies argument –
    “If this constitutes “essentializing,” to use a trendy pejorative, so be it.”

    He knows what he is doing.

    And on to the prediction –

    “This does not mean that we must now waste time speculating about which of Kim’s sons will someday take over, or whether the army and the party are struggling for power. It hardly matters who succeeds Kim. All players in the elite are wedded to the same paranoid, race-based nationalism, without which the country has no reason to exist at all.”

    So unable to prove the extent to which the regime believes its own propaganda and having no insight into their mindset other than films and novels that have been exported (the majority of the works that Myers looks at are decades old, I found his post 1998 discussion to be as sketchy as a Japanese newscast on the subject) he is emphatically arguing that rational actor theory is not applicable (ie. that NK is acting crazy because the elite know that it will get concessions, etc.) and he is predicting the future as well.

    “the spread of capitalist values is what made the current string of nuclear provocations inevitable.”

    Inevitable, sure. I wonder what White would say about that?

    “We cannot simply wait for Kim’s death and hope for the best, because whoever succeeds him is going to need an especially dramatic military crisis to legitimize his rule.”

    Sounds like a pretty far out claim to make based simply on his propaganda model.

    “One can certainly question the completeness and accuracy of his account – although you haven’t done that in any credibly detailed way (having only skimmed part of his book)”

    I really only skimmed the superficial connections on Japanese empire. If there isn’t any solid evidence there, what am I supposed to critique?

  31. Tomojiro said

    Another brilliant post by m-bone

    Aceface
    yeah it it sad and annoying that Halberstamm did resort to stereotypes to explain his take, but as you said he was not a scholar nor interetsted in describin east asia. He was just interested in telling stories about Americans and we should robably accept his stories as such, nothing more nothing less.

  32. American Kim said

    Mr. Ampontan, would you be willing to read the book, at least?

    I’m reading it right now and it’s a lot better than you apparently give it credit for.

  33. Aceface said

    Can somebody give us more info on why it’s “a lot better than Ampontan apparently give it credit for”?

  34. M-Bone said

    I actually think that it is a pretty good read for its stuff on the Korean propaganda and recommend checking it out (unless you are a US policymaker).

    The problem, I think is the non-academic publisher pushing the author to make rather banal historical comparisons (ie. “like Imperial Japan” isn’t much different than “like Hitler”, really – it doesn’t tell you anything and can actually prevent you from thinking through a problem) and this rather wonky popularizing attempt to turn any analysis of NK into a coverall policy suggestion on the level of “I saw a bunch of Kurosawa movies, here is how you should negotiate with the Japanese government on Futenma”.

  35. Aceface said

    Looks like we may have some colorful commenters coming in from the”Hole”.

    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2010/02/02/chris-hitchens-reviews-myers-book-calls-n-korea-nation-of-racist-dwarfs/#comments

    Commenter “Hamel”says.

    “Check out this interesting debate between what appears to be the Marmot’s own Sperwer, a “Sperweractual” and someone claiming to be an academic (“I have discussed X and Y in several peer reviewed academic articles, have been examined on their work in a doctoral course, and teach them in graduate seminars.”)”

    Seemingly this guy haven’t read enough Paul Ricoeur.I guess.

    Commenter Jing says.

    ”Ampontan is such a fucking wapanese douche of the first caliber. He’s got Hirohito’s nutsack lodged so far down his throat its amazing he hasn’t asphyxiated himself long since. In between pointless postings about obscure government sponsored cultural festivals that I’m sure most Japanese don’t give two shits about and ranting about the perfidity and inferiority of Japan’s closest neighbors its amazing he has time to be an even bigger cunt than I had him pegged for.”

    What did you do to Jing,Bill? Did you ruin his birthday party by ahowing up with “FREE TIBET”t-shirt on or something?

  36. Aceface said

    BTW the original post is linked with Slate article by Christopher Hitchens.http://www.slate.com/id/2243112

    “I did briefly wonder whether this form of totalitarianism, too (because nothing is more “total” than racist nationalism), was part of the pitch made to its subjects by the North Korean state.”

    Word of the day No.1 “racist nationalism”

    “Myers also points out that many of the slogans employed and displayed by the North Korean state are borrowed directly—this really does count as some kind of irony—from the kamikaze ideology of Japanese imperialism. Every child is told every day of the wonderful possibility of death by immolation in the service of the motherland and taught not to fear the idea of war, not even a nuclear one.”

    Word of the day No.2″Kamikaze ideology of Japanese imperialism”.

    M-Bone,does the book say anything on the criteria of”ethno-fascism”?
    Myers career and selection of his topic he choses is pretty interesting.(Toni Morrison and Kim Jong Il) But reading the series of North Korean related article on The Atlantic Monthly page,I have a feeling I probably won’t read the book.

  37. ampontan said

    Aceface: I think that’s the same guy who’s had a hard-on for me since I wrote for Japundit.

    Some of that is actually clever–I liked his coinage of “wapanese”. I’ll remember that and see if I can use it myself some day.

    Shame he had to foam at the mind to come up with it, however.

    True story–in the same section in the last place I worked in the US before coming to Japan, there was a Chinese engineer (born in China, first language Chinese). He was a nice guy, and he thought it was cool that I was studying Japanese and learning kanji.

    Some of us used to go out to lunch together, and one day he told us the Chinese version of the founding of Japan. He said everyone in China “knew” that Japan was founded by a renegade Chinese explorer. The emperor gave him some ships and money and sent him off exploring, but he landed in Japan, kept the money, and never came back. In other words, Japan is descended from a traitorous Chinese.

    So, anyone who thinks this country might be an OK place is probably, you know, subhuman or something.

    As it turns out, my wife is from the town where that explorer landed in this country, according to legend. The Japanese call him Jofuku.

    But don’t you feel sorry for him, just a little bit? All I do is point out that the country and people that call themselves the flower in the center of the universe are growing that flower in a patch of weeds.

    It’s like the man said: the truth may be an offense, but it’s not a sin.

    That he sails over the edge when talking about it shows that he is incapable of real give-and-take. That’s not surprising, as honest public debate doesn’t get you very far in China. Non PC opinions land you in jail or the graveyard. It’s a case of intellectual arrested development.

    At least in South Korea, all they do is fire you.

    It might be a case of cultural jealousy, you know? They wish they could have the relative freedom this country has, but since they don’t, they have to go whingeing on about stuff that dead people did 70 years ago. In China’s case, everybody in Japan knows the government encourages it to keep the people’s mind off the government.

    The pathetic part is that none of those guys you quote come over here and talk like that, including the guy who says M-Bone “claims” to be an academic. They know if they got into a serious discussion here they’d have their butts handed to them in a basket while I sat around and watched. Unless they were the dillweeds who thought all the commenters were me writing under different names.

    Instead–and this is the funny part–they do it in the comments section of the website of a guy who actually pretends that the Yellow Sea is something called the “West Sea”.

    Not that I blame him. It plays to the peanut gallery, and also works as an unemployment insurance policy where he lives.

  38. Aceface said

    Yeah,I’ve also run into 徐福legend armed dude in some other forum before.

    But You could tell that from the variety of English language used to denounce you,commenter Jing is pretty intelligent and knowledgeble fellow to be in the category of Chinese friend of yours.Last time he attacked you on this forum,he was using something like “I don’t give a flying fxxk blah blah blah”.Left me with strong impression on what anonymity does to a man.

    Problem with Jing is anything that’s goes out of the official line of Global Times pushes his button.And he goes berserk.

    “The pathetic part is that none of those guys you quote come over here and talk like that, including the guy who says M-Bone “claims” to be an academic.”

    Well,I won’t walk into “the Hole” to have a chat either,to tell you the truth.So I won’t be the one to call them pathetic.

    “Instead–and this is the funny part–they do it in the comments section of a guy who actually pretends that the Yellow Sea is something called the “West Sea” ”

    Well,that’s actually pretty respectable,since many Korea related institution don’t usually stick it to the man when it comes to “the Yellow sea” unlike they do with the case of the body of water between Japan and Korea.

  39. M-Bone said

    “M-Bone,does the book say anything on the criteria of”ethno-fascism”?”

    It has a definition. Can’t recall what it is, but it isn’t interesting or nuanced. It is not placed in the context of the large scholarship that exists on fascism. To cite another thinker – Zizek’s “Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism” presents a very good argument concerning how definitions like “totalitarianism” or “fascism” just end up preventing us from thinking about brutal regimes like Kim’s in new ways by getting us drunk on happy narratives of how we kicked some Nazi ass and how we can damn well do it again.

    Ampontan – Wapanese is actually quite common. Kids use it to insult their classmates who listen to J-pop and go to anime cons.

  40. Aceface said

    So it’s not “倭apanese” then.Huh?

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