Thursday, October 13, 2005

Children of the Secret State - North Korea

"Children of the Secret State" (ed2k link) is a propaganda movie made in 2000. The film was mostly likely planned by psyops specialist and is a good example of the information warfare campaign waged against North Korea. But North Korea is not the only victim — we all are the victims too when we are led to believe lies and fabrications. I believe it is useful to train yourself in critical thinking skills and to try to build up some mental defences against manipulation. That's why I wrote this commentary.

This review present an analysis of some of the scenes of the film. My conclusion is that this film is an attempt at manipulating the viewer to believe that North Korea is a horrible place, its leader Kim Jonh Il is evil, his regime is brutal and the economic system has collapsed. But a careful and impartial viewing of the film with a critical eye and constant online doublechecking demonstrates that there is very little in this film that should be believed. In this film no evidence was presented, although the authors tried extremely hard to make it seem as if such evidence was in fact shown. And I have no doubt that most viewers believed that it was.


North Korea pioneers

The film starts with the video of hungry child orphans (still, apparently looking healthy enough) that is going to shock everyone, especially combined with the matter-of-fact narrative. The narrator claims that 3 million people died from hunger. Another claim is made - that UNICEF estimated there are 200000 orphans in the country (BTW, don't trust all statistics about orphans, lies and manipulations are an ever present danger). It's awfully hard to find data on orphans in the US, but it appears to me from what data is available that the number of children without parents as a percentage of general population is about the same in the US - about 1%.

The population of the North Korea is 23 million, BTW, the population growth rate in 2005 was 0.9% (0.38% in South Korea), life expectancy 71.73 years (75.82 in SK) and infant mortality 24 deaths/1000 live births (7 in SK). While we are at it, the literacy rate is 99% (compared with 97.9% in SK). But everyone is still shocked, that's expected, even I am. However, I now start to think what they are trying to say, whether I am being manipulated and how this agrees with other things I know.

OK, we move into the capital. The presenters never ignore a chance to manipulate the viewer. From mentioning the Big Brother to emphasising the censorship. First they are trying to make a ridiculous point by implication. They present the visuals as if the whole capital is essentially fake and everyone else lives in poverty and hunger in secret towns. Well, to begin with, that doesn't make any sense. Why would the North Korean government want that? Do they really care that much about impressing foreign journalists who manage to enter the country despite the apparent restrictions? That doesn't make sense (since they actually try to prevent foreign journalists from visiting).


Pyongyang street

Then every image is twisted as the presenters need. For example, there is no one in the street in the middle of the day, there aren't many other guests in the hotel and there are few cars on the streets. Somehow all this proves that North Korea is bad. But, of course, there is no one in the streets - everyone is working. Then the hotel is empty, because it was designed and built in a different time, but it turned out to be a mistake and there aren't many foreign tourists today. And there aren't many cars, but there is examplanation - cars are too expensive, not very efficient and North Korea is short on fuel.

The fact that the journalists are well fed is somehow a proof of how evil and corrupt the regime is (if they weren't, doubtless they would use this as another proof of the hunger). Supposedly, one can't find such a stark contrast in the US, no way. But filming a dinner in an expensive Manhattan restaurant and some child suffering from hunger (there are millions of those in the US) doesn't enter the minds of the journalists. Then we hear some unsubstantiated claims that all well-fed children rehearsing for the parade are the children of the elite. How do they know it? Of course, the American viewer is unlikely to question the words of the journalists.

I mean, you don't need to go far. Russia is no longer a totalitarian state, but you can find children, who are drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless, orphans, prostitutes and theives. How are isolated facts (even filmed on video) a condemnation of a country? Also, how is it a fault of the government, when the people living in that town/village do not help the kids?


Pyongyang Palace of Pioneers and Children

Then the Children's Palace. Here even the fact that there are apparently some children who are not hungry presented as an evil deed of the Dear Leader. He is told to have "decided to favour these children". I wonder if the journalists have any ideas of why exactly did he make this decision. Does he have anything against those other, hungry children? Does he have an evil plan?

The journalist is near the Chinese border. He is allowed to drive there in a car and he has to exaggerate the dangers. If they spend too much time in one place, they may be interrogated by the police. Well, try to spend too much time in one place next to the Mexican border. I bet you would be interrogated by the police as well. It's illegal to film at the border (like in many other countries), but the brave fighters for freedom managed to do it. Apparently, they filmed some border guards, who appear to be guarding the border. Clearly, that is some evil North Korean plot. Is it possible that they are looking for possible violators, who intend to cross the border illegally? Well, I am sure no civilized nation would ever do such a thing. Certainly not the United States... Well, pardon me my sarcasm, but insinuations are everything. It is possible to film perfectly legitimate activities, but if they are in North Korea, they suddenly become menacing, dark and evil. Such as border guards hiding in bunkers.

Then we get a lie about refugees facing execution after being returned from China to North Korea. There is no evidence, just hearsay. Signs such as "Never help an illegal alien" are presented as something horribly wrong, even though (no sarcasm this time) most countries have some regulations against illegal aliens and helping illegal aliens is a misdemeanour in many countries as well (North Koreans are facing a fine, which, supposedly, is horrible).

We are in China now. The woman buying some foodstuffs who is looking strangely at the foreigner filming her is presented as visual evidence of "paranoia and suspicion" filling the air. Perfectly ordinary images of normal life, combined with a alarming music reinforce the feeling that the air is indeed filled with paranoia. It might be the paranoia of the journalist, however. Then we have one interview, where we are not told anything substantial except that some people died from hunger.

OK, we're back. Here a child repeats to the journalists some hearsay about cannibalism. I don't think this can be considered evidence, but the guy appears to have some very lax journalistic standards. Some child drawings and "a friend told me he saw" are now considered sufficient evidence.

OK, now we are shown some Chinese girl eating some soup. We are told that "these children are well-fed". This time we aren't told that Chinese leaders "decided to favour these children", no, it's implied that there is no hunger in China. But, as a matter of fact, China (the "nice" neighbour of North Korea) is still home to the world's second largest number of undernourished people after India. According to some estimates, all over the world over 1 billion people are chronically undernourished. 20 millions die each year from hunger and its effects (almost the population of North Korea). And yet the US and its venal journalists chose to pick on North Korea. Even though, the United States isn't without its own share of problems... Particularly, 3.5 million people are homeless and 35.9 million people live in poverty. They don't seem to notice the mote in their eye...

It's part three and franly I am tired. It's not easy to consciously withstand attempted psyops. But I can't leave the task unfinished, I will have to endure the lies and deceit for 20 minutes more.

We are shown some positively chubby North Korean children, but the disquieting music somewhat compensates for that. We feel that all is not well. We are shown something which is claimed to be a "ghost town" (shot from the nearby mountain). Then we are informed that "industrial activity has ground to a halt". We are made to think that this isn't an exaggeration, but a statement of fact - this is accompanies by the image of the supposed "ghost town". Of course, simple logic dictates that it's impossible for all industrial activity to stop in a country and even the CIA factbook admits real GDP growth of 1% in 2004. But who needs logic in a times like this? Then we hear an account of a well-dressed "escapee" from the town, who tells us that the town's poor stole the equipement and parts from the factories and sold them... The question of whom did they sell factory equipment in small town in a country with a planned economy is not discussed, perhaps, for the better.

We are shown some more children and told some more stories about hunger.

Then a random guy tells us about growing opium. There are some links online that support this claim, however, they all tend to rely on people who make questionable claims such as "Ninety-nine percent of their factories are not operating"...

OK, we are going to South Korea now. In passing we are told that one in every 100 North Koreans is in prison camps. We are not told that 1 in 142 USA residents is in prison as of 2002. One in a hundred (if accurate at all) doesn't sound that bad now, does it? Anyway, images of capitalism (skyskrapers, well-dressed people, etc.) demonstrate that South Korea is clearly a better place.

Then we hear a story of a former guard, which (if genuine) does make a point. What is happening in the camps, if true, is brutal and horrible. However, no other evidence is presented and it's extremely easy to exaggerate (or downplay) the reality.


Who needs photos when you can draw your evidence?
I am going online to look up some information related to aid. In one place we find that "An estimated 200,000 to two million people died in the famine." Well, that's bad, but that's not 3 million people claimed in the beginning of the program. It does confirm the fact (which no one really doubted) that a large fraction of children ("62 percent of children under the age of seven" in 1998) is chronically malnourished. Thanks to the aid, the "chronic malnutrition has dropped to 21%" by 2002. However, in order to blackmail North Korea over its nuclear program, the US and Japan severely decreased their aid, knowing well what would be the effect of it. The film claims that the US didn't do that.

We are told that North Korea receives more food per capita in aid than any other country. Well, it appears to have received about 30$ per person served per year (in total), which is about average of what WFP does... Other sources, while providing some criticism of North Korea's handling of aid, disagree that it's a deliberate diversion and say that the problems are not as significant.

We see the black market, but the opinion of experts is that this diversion of aid doesn't affect the situation that much.

Again we are shown some children. This time the journalist claims "but children go empty-handed as these pictures reveal". I don't know what these pictures reveal, other than blatant attempts at manipulation. Does he claim that all children are denied food in Korea according to some evil plan? Does he claim that Korean government actively discriminates against children? He is trying to mislead. The footage of children he presents is biased so much as to be almost useless.

Well, the film is over. What can we say? That Discovery, Channel 4 and the journalist are manipulative? Yes. That people are being systematically mislead about North Korea? Certainly. That people in North Korea suffer from hunger? Yes. That Kim Jong Il is evil, his regime is brutal and the economic system has collapsed? That's not so clear. In this film no evidence was presented, although the authors tried extremely hard to make it seem as if such evidence was in fact shown. And I have no doubt that most viewers believed that it was.

See my previous post about North Korea: Remembering the Revolutions

The photos are from a report of a Russian visitor to North Korea, who saw a very different picture while travelling around the country.

43 comments:

readymade said...

hello. i admire the research and thought you put into this entry, but i can't help but feel that you may be slightly... blinded by your biased as evidenced from your other entry-

"These societies were created - the tens of socialist states that arose all around the world, but few of them survive today. Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea. But just as the Soviet Union was unjustly and falsely labeled an evil empire, so are these last bastions of socialism. Now they are members of the Axis of Evil and disgusting false stories are spread about them. Tales of starvation and oppression are told by official imperialist propaganda and corrupt Western media. And of course the general public doesn't care about real facts, but prefers to get the truth nicely packaged and delivered on the evening news."

everyone has biases. you question the statistics in the film, but bring up your own, provided, of course, by the north korean government itself. who is to say which are more credible?

i believe that those who first began the revolutions were visionaries who had nothing but altruism in their hearts. but once they got into power, they were corrupted, and instigated the same human rights violations and oppressions they spoke so powerfully against. this applies to all the nations you name in the other entry, and remains true with north korea today.

the 1 in 100 people in prison camps in the dprk are not comparable with the 1 in 142 or so in the united states, because those 1 in 100 are in prison camps for crimes of thought, political dissent, or practicing their religion. they are not things considered crimes in any civilized nation today, and rights protected internationally.

in any case, i would urge you to rethink your judgments! what is at risk? that you could be sanctioning and condoning a tremendous human rights crises perpetuated by a government that is excellent at hiding it's abuses.

you cannot possibly deny the vast, unjustifiable purges, tortures and executions stalin, mao and others perpetuated on a daily basis.

i agree with you- certainly, we must learn from history. i also feel a sense of sadness- one day it will be revealed to the world the atrocities committed within north korea. we will have a lot of apologizing to do to the victims of these crimes, as an inactive and apathetic world, but it will not be as bad as those who defended the regime and it's actions.

readymade said...

“Cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel!”
- Che Guevara

it came to be true of his friends as well.

Danila said...

I don't doubt that there are undoubtly crimes committed in the Democratic Public Republic of Korea. Any government commits crimes. If even the richest and most powerful government in the world (that of the US) feels the need to torture innocent people (at least here we have plenty of evidence, no need to make things up), surely a government in an ostracised and poor country like North Korea may commit similar crimes. It is possible, indeed.

However, there are some things that we must keep in mind as well:

1) There is no undisputed evidence that these crimes are committed on a large scale. If the US has secret prisons for torture (as was revealed recently), DPRK may have some as well, but so far there is no evidence.
2) The United States has a history of smear campaigns against communist countries. There is no expectation of objectivity whatsoever.
3) Lies and manufactured evidence are good for brainwashing, but it doesn't prove anything. When someone lies and distorts the reality we must point that out, even when he attacks someone "bad".
4) It is good practice to deconstruct propaganda. Creates some psychological immunity. Sometimes there are films (books, articles, etc.) that will do it for you (like "In Shifting Sands" for Iraq story), but often one has to think critically for himself.

According to current historical research (not propaganda books like "Black book of communism", but peer-reviewed research in academic journals), Soviet Union executed about 600 thousand people during 1935-1950 and jailed about 4-5 million. This happened during the Second World War, so many of those are certainly guilty of espionage, sabotage, treason, etc. So while it is true that the regime was harsh, it wasn't randomly oppressive. While there were politically motivated purges, only several tens of thousands people were victims (and not 100% innocent, while we are at that), not hundreds of millions as anti-communists often pretend.

North Korea is not evil, it's just another country and it must be judged accordingly. I haven't been there personally, but even from what I saw in this film (which was a piece of anti-NK propaganda), it appears to be far from "the worst place in the world".

Anonymous said...

I don't know a lot about the hard facts in the situation between North Korea and the United States, that's probably why I do believe a lot of what I saw in the documentary. I don't want to believe it's true and hopefully it is just a bunch of lies and North Korea isn't such a horrible place. But, I can't help thinking about those children suffering in the first few minutes of the program. You can believe whatever you want to but I don't think those children are "looking healthy enough". Just because there are a few who still have enough energy to look for whatever they can doesn't mean they are healthy. Those children were starving to death. I for one can not ignore that as lies and can not seriously say that those children still looked "healthy enough" when some had distended bellies from no food, looked like they were dazed from hunger and about to collapse, and pitifully foraging for what little food they could find. If there are starving children in North Korea they shouldn't be mixed in with your biased views on political relations between the US and North Korea. Those children should be treated as human beings not just statistical comparisons for hunger rates between the US and North Korea. As for your skepticism about the allegations made against North Korea, all I can say is, "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

Hank said...

I applaud Danila's desire to question the authenticity of some of the items stated (or inferred) as "fact" in this documentary, but I feel it is necessary to make a few rejoinders to items which demand them, in mostly sequential order.


1) The documentary was created and produced by a group from the UK, not from the US. How Danila subsequently attempts to use the adversarial nature of the relationship between the current US administration and the DPRK as a crux for badmouthing the images as presented in this work, I cannot understand. So, for instance, when Danila replies to an incoming comment, that "[t]he United States has a history of smear campaigns against communist countries. There is no expectation of objectivity whatsoever," the statement is essentially meaningless. Perhaps *true*, but still meaningless, as what does it have to do with the documentary? It is not part of any "US smear campaign", as it wasn't produced here.


2) Danila writes that “…the film starts with the video of hungry child orphans (still, apparently looking healthy enough)”.

- If these children look healthy to you I must beg all possible forgiveness as I question your judgment. Or perhaps it is my judgment that needs work, as I was too distracted by their “healthy enough” habit of putting bits of “food” picked out of the mud into their mouths, or by their filthy clothing and -- when present -- tattered shoes.


3) Danila writes, "…[s]upposedly, one can't find such a stark contrast in the US, no way. But filming a dinner in an expensive Manhattan restaurant and some child suffering from hunger (there are millions of those in the US) doesn't enter the minds of the journalists."

- True, but recall, again, that the documentary is from the UK, so maybe London would have been a better example. That aside, even "some child suffering from hunger" in Manhattan (or London) could probably benefit from at least one, if not several local or national aid agencies available to assist his family, whereas the images from the rural North Korean town and the orphans’ actions – fishing purportedly “edible” tidbits out of the mud, contemplating whether to drink filthy water from a puddle – suggests that no such agencies are quite as accessible, to put it mildly. Another way of dismissing the relevancy of your observation is to say that the next time you see a shoeless, homeless 9-year old orphan eating off the street in Manhattan in mid-day, please let the authorities know.


4) Danila writes of the documentary team that "...[t]hey present the visuals as if the whole capital is essentially fake and everyone else lives in poverty and hunger in secret towns. Well, to begin with, that doesn't make any sense. Why would the North Korean government want that? Do they really care that much about impressing foreign journalists who manage to enter the country despite the apparent restrictions? That doesn't make sense."

- Bluntly: are you kidding me? That makes PERFECT sense, and it's exactly what the documentary states, in as many words, several times: that the "North Korea" which the Kim regime wishes to put forth for the world's viewing is the successful, well-fed, flourishing population as shown eating in comfort in the restaurants and studying in splendor in magnificent "Children's Palaces". This documentary says that, the documentary “Welcome to North Korea” says that, other visitors’ well-written accounts say that (see http://www.1stopkorea.com/index.htm?nk-trip1.htm for possibly the best) say that. The images of ignored, starving orphans suffering in muddy towns unmeasurably off the world grid are certainly NOT the ones the regime wants out there for worldwide consumption. How could one even question why the regime would want to show its "best", or, at least, its best "manipulated" side to the rest of the world?


5) Danila wishes to quote from the CIA Factbook in attempting to show how statistics can be manipulated, and fair enough on that, for sure. But may I also point out a few statistics here:

A. Don't underestimate the difference is between an infant mortality rate of 7.18/1,000 (South Korea) and 23.29 (North Korea). That's a meaningful gap.

B. Certainly, GDP growth of "1% (2005 est.)" isn't terrible, IF -- as Danila cautions with other quoted figures, when convenient -- it is correct. Keep in mind that the notation in the Factbook says that this figure (which results in a GDP number of $40 billion for 2005) is based on extrapolation from a 1999 study by the OECD, using for adjustment, among other things, an inflation factor based upon the *United States’* GDP deflator, which I doubt is strictly applicable to the North Korean economy. Additionally, the result of this six-year extrapolation is then rounded to the nearest TEN BILLION, which means it could have been rounded as much as from $35.001B to $40B, or a nearly 14% adjustment, all based on a figure extrapolated over six years using adjustment factors applicable to a MUCH more diversified global economy. Point is I'd be careful waving around the "+1%" figure as an indication of how smoothly the North Korean economy is humming along.

C. Staying with the Factbook, take a look at items such as telephone lines in use, electricity and oil consumption, and so on. The per capita figures are rather low and do not suggest an economy that is moving forward at a global pace, nor one that would seem to routinely distribute its gains (if any) to the masses.


6) Danila writes, regarding research on famine-related deaths, “…[i]n one place we find that ‘An estimated 200,000 to two million people died in the famine.’ Well, that's bad, but that's not 3 million people claimed in the beginning of the program.”

- Correct, it is not three million people, and I think you’ve got them on this one: the documentary was, at the very least, extraordinarily sloppy to have overshot most available figures in such fashion, if not outright stupid. Unofficial UN estimates noted elsewhere (http://library.thinkquest.org/C002291/high/past/korea.htm) said “more than a million” deaths from malnutrition effects were possible. The same source states that the low end of the range came from North Korea itself, which “released data indicating that 220,000 people died of malnutrition-related illnesses between 1995 and 1998”. You think the regime came clean on those numbers? Maybe the low end of the range should be twice that.


7) Danila writes, “…[t]hen a random guy tells us about growing opium. There are some links online that support this claim, however, they all tend to rely on people who make questionable claims such as ‘Ninety-nine percent of their factories are not operating’...”

- Although these claims have not yet been fully verified, the truth is that there are more than merely “some links online” which “…rely on people who make questionable claims” that have officially stated their belief of such activity. To wit, the national governments and/or intelligence services of Australia, Japan and South Korea, all within the Pac Rim sphere and all of which have been directly involved in recorded smuggling attempts out of North Korea.


If the regime is not "brutal" and North Korea is not a "horrible place", then why is no one from there allowed to travel to another country and freely talk about what it's like? Why is no outside news allowed in? Why is no cell phone service allowed out? Why is there no internet? Why is the DMZ a shoot-to-kill zone -- why can't people just walk out? Why are all the illegal refugees who've managed to escape so afraid to speak to the interviewer? Why does every escapee from the country (in this documentary and others) paint a similar picture of their hardships there, involving any of the following among food shortages, lack of liberty, if not suppression, if not outright imprisonment, if not torture, if not execution? Why do you think the escapees risk their lives to escape? Why do you think the escapees didn't bring their whole family with them? Possibly because they may have died already? Possibly because they wouldn't have been able to make it and the escapees had to leave them behind, the likely awful consequences in the “family detention camps” notwithstanding? Maybe we should pose these questions to the unsuccessful escapees’ corpses floating in the Yalu River on the northern border with China.

I must also mention that while Danila’s original blog entry, in attempted weighty fashion, concludes by mentioning that the photos are from “a Russian visitor to North Korea, who saw a very different picture while traveling around the country”, don’t believe for a moment that this Russian visitor wasn’t taken on a precisely scripted sightseeing schedule as well. That his group consisted of only himself and another Russian counterpart likely served to minimize their direct consumption of anti-US rhetoric, as compared to accounts from American visitors, but it didn’t mean that they were brought to the muddy town where shoeless, homeless 9-year old orphans picked scraps off the ground, either.

Bottom line: again, I support Danila’s right to express the opinion that the documentary represents intentionally misleading propaganda, but I simply disagree 100%. Danila replies to an incoming comment that North Korea is "just another country and one that must be judged accordingly" -- a fair enough statement. But everything I've seen and read about -- from visitors, documentarians and escapees, each group of whom I cannot imagine has successfully conspired to tell essentially the same stories of their observations there -- seems to suggest that, for many, it most certainly can be the rather bad place which has been described.

Danila said...

Thanks for the message Hank. First of all I want to make it clear that my comments may (and do) contain mistakes. This isn't a final word on the problem of hunger in DPRK, but I had to voice my opposition to clear manipulation of Western viewers by this documentary.

1) In writing my own post I tried to avoid manipulation, so any error is just an honest mistake. I may have got a wrong impression of US authorship. Nevertheless, it is quite clear to me that the global information wars against "rogue states" are initiated by the US (CIA to be more precise), just like the information wars against the Soviet Union. I don't know the motivation of this particular team of filmmakers, of their backers, etc. So in implying that their motives are clear because they are from the US I was wrong.

2) Dirty and poor doesn't mean unhealthy. To settle this we really need to watch this part together frame by frame, analyzing everything. The problem with propaganda films (and even selective reporting if this was reporting) is that you can always find a negative image. In a poor country you can find a whole lot of horrible images. That these journalists didn't find anything more impressive is an indirect indication that their point is not as valid. But it's just speculation, I agree, because we don't have their raw footage.

3) My point was about manipulation, don't nitpick, please. These children were not in Manhattan, so a valid analogy would be to find a starving child in a remote abandoned village/town somewhere in the UK/US. Can be done, agree?

I never said life was great for these kids, I said the filmmakers were intentionally trying to appeal to our emotions to distract our attention from the fact that they don't have much evidence.

4) Read again exactly what I wrote. I said that creating a fake capital makes no sense and it is clearly not what is done here. Yes, a capital does get a large (but not necessarily disproportional) amount of money, yes, it's a place where the largest and best projects are carried out, etc. But this is different from creating a FAKE CAPITAL whose main purpose is to impress visitors.

If DPRK cares so much about impressing foreigners, why the 140 thousand limit on number of tourists?

I lived in the Soviet Union and I understand this a bit better. In the West there is no single force to control the experience (outside of places like Disneyland). But in socialist countries the state has complete control over the city, that's why it can attempt to create a coherent experience for the visitor. But it's very much a secondary goal to 1) actually having a functioning city 2) making people who live there happy and 3) impressing the citizens with achievements of mother Korea (mother Russia).

5) All fair points. I wouldn't be surprised even if the North Korean economy had GDP decreasing 2-3% for a few years. It happens. My point was mainly that it clearly has a functional (and functioning) industrial economy, which is A LOT, when you consider many 3rd world alternatives. This isn't a country of abandoned cities and factories, where people starve and beg for food. Claims like 98% of the factories are stopped (like made in this film) are ridiculous.

Yes, there are not enough telephone lines. This is because for North Korea they aren't a priority. But it had launched a large hydro power plant complex, if I remeber correctly, which is much more important. Just accept that in a planned socialist economy people don't get to decide what is good for them (even western behavioural economists now accept that people can't do that well), the state does. Yes, you don't get your trendy cell phone and your bubble gum, but you have free housing, free health care and cheap food. And a guaranteed job. And free education for your children. And yes, you would look like a bum compared with a Chicago trader, a Japanese psychology professor or Californian web-developer. Because Chinese workers don't make those designers goods for their neighbours from DPRK...

6) "the documentary was, at the very least, extraordinarily sloppy to have overshot most available figures in such fashion, if not outright stupid". Well, don't take it personally, but stupid (or at least extraordinarily naive) is someone who believes that this was not done on purpose.

7) I am not saying that this drug trade never took place, just that the documentary is happy to take any negative claim about DPRK and pretend it's a proven fact.

"If the regime is not "brutal" and North Korea is not a "horrible place", then why is no one from there allowed to travel to another country and freely talk about what it's like? Why is no outside news allowed in? Why is no cell phone service allowed out? Why is there no internet?"

Because North Korea is at war with the United States. A cold war, but a war nevertheless. Because it needs unity and strength, because it needs to withstand in information warfare, it needs to protect its citizens from US manipulation. It's a separate big topic, though.

"Why does every escapee from the country (in this documentary and others) paint a similar picture of their hardships there, involving any of the following among food shortages, lack of liberty, if not suppression, if not outright imprisonment, if not torture, if not execution?"

Because that's what they are paid for. Read CIA vs. USSR by Yakovlev if you can find it. It's very interesting to learn about CIA methods of subversion and infowars.

"don’t believe for a moment that this Russian visitor wasn’t taken on a precisely scripted sightseeing schedule as well". Read his report for yourself (use babelfish if you need to translate it from Russian). His tour was mainly scripted, but he ventured outside of the limits enough times and he has experience living in a country with somewhat similar culture and economy in the past, so he can judge what he is shown very well.

Bottom line: I know how my own country (the USSR) was painted by Western propaganda. I know why that propaganda wasn't true (and how it twisted the truth). I know why that was done, who did it, how they did it, what effect did it have. I see that what was done in this film is extremely similar to how it was done before. And I know why the US wants to wage this infowar against DPRK. The conclusion is obvious.

Anonymous said...

I think if Danila live (perhaps now living) in the western contries for several years, she would have been more willing to believe the atrocities of the rogue countries. I was living in a communist country for my entire childhood, it took me almost five years of observations, experiences and hard thinking to change my whole belief system. Plus, no offence to women and it has nothing to do with this topic, I apologize first if I am wrong, it seems to me that women are very reluctant to believe the bloody facts of violence and abusement, the world is always filled with colorful sunshine and lovely babies.

Anonymous said...

Danila, this documentary is as real as it gets sorry to say. It seems that your anger may be clouding your rational for the truth that is happening in North Korea. There are thousands of people who try to get out of North Korea and risk thier lives doing so to China, South Korea and Russia.

It is really sad that you could sit there and defend the country which is based on Kim Jung Il's regiem , and question the documentation that presents facts of North Korea. Can you deny any of this? if you do you must be a North Krean yourself or a hatred Martyr.

I personally seen some of the evidence presented in this documentary when I visited South Korea at the border and personally know people who are in South Korea that have relatives in North Korea and it is heart breaking and every bit of this story is true as sad as it may be.

The only person spewing false propaganda here is you my friend.

Anonymous said...

i cannot believe what u said is true. if u think u are so smart, why dont u risk ur damn life and go film there and maybe bring back actual footage.

P said...

"Read his report for yourself (use babelfish if you need to translate it from Russian)."


There is actually an English version on the site:

http://www.enlight.ru/
camera/dprk/index_e.html
(no linebreak after ru/)

Very interesting and sometimes very funny reportage with great photos.

I'm pretty much on your side as far as "Children of the Secret State" being a propaganda film. But, we still don't know for sure what's happening in NK, do we.

Anonymous said...

Even if the documentary was more propoganda, it is nearly impossible to believe anything that comes out of North Korea. As a specific example, about a year ago Kim Jong-il went and palyed a round of golf for the first time ever. He reported out that he scored 18 out of 18 holes in one. So, let's think about what information is going to come out of NK. If they are going to twist something as mondaine as his golf score and report it out to the foriegn media, what do you think they are going to say about their own country?

IMO, it is quite possible that everything is just a show in NK. It doesn't make sense to us, but neither does reporting out to the mass media a blantantly obvious lie about a golf score.

Danila said...

Just a small question (regarding golf). Are you sure that the biased Western media haven't taken a false story from an unreliable source (i.e. some yellow paper), twisted it further, surrounded with exaggerations and further inventions, the result of which ended up on Reuters and AP for the world to pick up.

Why do you doubt NK sources and accept all stories from the Western side unquestionably?

A simple google search brings up this page: http://www.nk-news.net/about/faq.php which clearly tells that the story of 18 holes-in-one is an urban legend and the real achievement is much more realistic.

The original goal of my post was to motivate people to open their eyes and be critical towards all sides. If you are only critical towards the "other side", you are BIASED!

Anonymous said...

I first saw this video on Channel 4 in the UK in 2000. I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since. It is haunting. That someone like Danila could walk away with the impressions she does just illustrates the manner in which some would rather rearrange the cosmos around their particular belief systems than face the truth. It's real nice, too, that you diminish the crimes of Stalin and reduce by millions and millions the accepted figures of his victims. You saw the children in the video. Other posters are correct in saying that they are not statistics. They're children. They're people. It is revolting you cannot see this, that you cannot accept it. I was in the 5th grade when it dawned on me reading Anne Frank's diary and of the millions killed by Hitler. I contemplated a thought to myself in private. I did not speak it out loud because it could have been a subject of ridicule even at that age. I think back on it now and see that it was innocent. I thought to myself, "Oh my God, they were all Anne Franks". They were all Anne Franks. The millions in Hitler's death camps. The millions in Stalin's death camps. And the children in the video, "Children of the Secret State". Every one of them is precious and if it doesn't fit in with your particular ideology then I'm just sorry. You need to open your mind and your dogmatic approach to communism to be able to view critically the crimes committed in its name. Even if they are departures from your political ideal, if the pursuit of that ideal has resulted in as much death, destruction, murder, and starvation as it has, who in their right mind would continue to pursue it? Ideology needs to be put aside. We need to look at reality the way that it actually is; please descend from your purported lofty ideals into the world of these starving children to whom love and compassion is virtually unknown. Think of the manner in which we are able to coddle and love and provide for our children in much of the world outside of North Korea.

"Children waiting for the day they feel good...
Happy Birthday - Happy Birthday...
Made to feel the way that every child should..."

My child gets a Winnie-the-Pooh birthday cake and a toddler tricycle for his birthday. He gets love and hugs and kisses and goldfish crackers and apple juice. These children pick bits of what appears to them to perhaps be food out of mud and drink sewage. No compassion yet, Danila?

So you are saying now that you lived in the Soviet Union? I wonder if this is even true. I have to say I find it hard to believe. My wife is from Russia. Her family lives there. We have visited them many times. I've spoken with members of her family. And friends. I can tell you stories. I'll hardly bother. Her grandmother and her sister were thrown in jail for six months in the 1930s (at ages 8 and 11) to pressure their father to confess to being guilty of "Crimes Against the People". He didn't confess, despite unspeakable torture. This is likely the only reason he was eventually released and the girls too.

I've tried in vain as well to provide comfort to a colleague at work I hardly even knew. A few years back we commuted together. He's in his 40s. I'm in my 20s. We had an awkward moment when he had to pull off the side of the road. He's from Vietnam. His father fought as a Captain in the South Vietnamese army. He was captured when the country fell but the family escaped to Canada where he finished growing up. They never knew what became of his father. Well, it turns out that he spent 1975 to 1995 in a prisoner camp being "re-educated" to understand the glories of Marxism-Lenninism (to come to believe the very things you do). Upon release, family in Vietnam enabled him to contact the relatives in Canada.. My friend's mother had never remarried. They were, to say the least, overjoyed. My friend had one photo of him with his father. And a precious few memories that he catalogued and wrote down in diaries as bits and pieces he could string together over time. So my friend discussing this cried end-on-end. They purchased a ticket for him to Canada and arranged through immigration and two weeks in 1996 before he was to travel to Canada he died while crossing the road having gotten hit by a bus. It's wrenching to have been deprived of a parent for almost all of your life.

But I digress. I do not mean to compare the degree of sorrow. My friend's pain in personal and large but pales in comparison to that felt by the helpless children. Where are their parents do you suppose? What do you think happened to them? Who cares for them now?

Children waiting for the day they feel good. Happy birthday. Happy birthday. They will never feel the way that every child should... the way that every child should understand they have the right to feel... that such feelings are even possible.

The philosophies to which you describe are dehumanizing. I don't feel hatred and anger for you, despite the empathy I feel for those children. Instead I'm just disappointed and sad. Disappointed because your feelings after seeing this video are not compatible with the feelings necessary on the part of humanity as a whole in order to alleviate massive suffering and which I would expect. Sad because you and I are are both members of a common human race - one which is capable of offering up even infanticide in the name of the pursuit of the chic "-ism" of the moment.

Melina said...

Reading this post, I get the feeling that Danila travels little and reads less. She lost me when she described the first, obviously starving children as "apparently looking healthy enough".

My doctor friend, who watching the film with me, was amazed to see that these children could still walk. Does Danila believe that healthy children all pick their food out of the mud?

emreis said...

Well, I agree with you just in one point. You say, that you want people to open their eyes and to see all the sides in a clear way. Not to tell just, that NK is bad and others are good. In this way, I totally agree with you and thank you for the original post.

However, NOTHING CAN BE TAKEN AS A PROOF ANYMORE! Nothing, no book, no video, no story, no human, nothing. Than the proves you present might be as bad, as the movie.

I would like to say, that only the things you see, hear, smell, taste only these things are real and trustworthy, but even your life can be manipulated, and you wouldn't know about it.

I am not paranoid person. I don't belive in Matrix. But still I can't say that SOMETHING is TRUE anymore.

By pointing out books from somebody that is telling how CIA works, how can you know, that his view is also not biased, that is not paid by another organization to write a possible sci-fi.

So I will leave it on anybody to decide for themselves, because you can't open people's eyes, because they can't tell just from your post, that you are not also writing a counter-post, that was paid for by NK government (even though it might sound funny and exaggerated).

So thanks for your post, and thoughts, but even I can't be trusted!

Anonymous said...

Spin Danila spin, keep on spinning.

Anonymous said...

So many statistics and facts! I want to go to DPRK and travel by myself through the countryside talking with the common people. How do I go about this, as I can only find government controlled tours? Anyone with information, please leave the information on this site and ... who knows? Maybe I will be the one to film a recuttable to the "Children of the secret state" and show the "true" glory of the DPRK. Maybe I can even meet the Dear Leader himself. Does anyone know how I can get close to the president?

passerby said...

"a valid analogy would be to find a starving child in a remote abandoned village/town somewhere in the UK/US. Can be done, agree?"

Disagree, for the UK anyway (I suppose I can't completely vouch for the US although I seriously doubt any child is allowed to starve there). The UK is a welfare state and also rather prosperous. Even in the poorest strata of society child health would be more likely to be damaged by overeating or eating of junk food.

This documentary does sound manipulative in some ways but there is plenty of evidence the NK regime is a rather nasty and psychotic one.

Anonymous said...

If NK is such a utopia why are visiting foreigners only allowed to see state approved sites?

Why are Foreign Visitors not allowed to speak to the average North Korean?

Why are Foreign Visitors not allowed to visit the country side where the real "workers" live?

I know why, do you?

Anonymous said...

Danila

How much were you paid for to write that?

gordsellar said...

Yeah, Danila's reaction is pig-ignorant. Whatever distortions exist -- and some well may -- Danila discredits herself right off the bat by claiming this is a piece of American propaganda. (Danila, you're not a native speaker of English, are you?) To taken the North Korean government at its word on anything is an act of manifest foolishness, as everyone who knows anything about North Korea can tell you.

You're far more than slightly blinded. Try reading a book or two about North Korea. Or talking to someone who risked his or her life to escape that hellhole. Or come here and live in South Korea, why don't you, so you have the time and impetus to seriously think about the neighbour to the North?

In fact, as one commenter put it, and as an escapee also put it, "If it's not so bad there, why don't you go and see for yourself?" You never will, because everything posted here is rhetoric. You don't have the guts to visit the North Korean countryside illicitly because you know you'd be imprisoned or killed, or hidden away to breed potential future spies, like some other long-ago defectors to DPRK were.

It's sad that you're such a coward, and such an ideologue, when you have the freedom and apparent intelligence to educate yourself on the subject. Pathetic, really, how very obvious it is you've read nothing about the country -- or you'd know that most discussions -- even those sympathetic to North Korea -- are largely in agreement with this documentary in the diagnosis of its ills.

Yes, mostly the North Korean government is a toothless monster barking because it hardly has teeth to bite. This is widely agreed-on and understood. Yet to support Kim Jong Il is an act of manifest evil. Hell, even most North Koreans despise him.

I hope someday a North Korean, newly freed, tracks you down and shows you his or her body, ruined by torture and starvation; then you might face the truth. IT's not so hard to believe. Or do you think the Cultural Revolution, the Stalinist purges, the murders of the Khmer Rouge, the slaughters of the Indians in the American West, the Holocaust, the death of half of the Congo under Belgium, and the murder of so many other peoples were all made up too?

Vision is fine. But one should never trust visionaries too much. They are too fond of ideas, and too free in how they're willing to spend others' lives and hopes.

Anonymous said...

Danila, sometimes it helps to have some knowledge of the subject of which you're writing, rather than just prejudice and gut-feeling. Studying North Korea before writing your 'review' would, I believe, have been a very good idea. From someone who goes on negatively about how 'the general public doesn't care about real facts', I would expect better.

For starters, try to find out what year Children of the Secret State was released, then, if it turns out that it was made after 9/11, claim it was made as a War on Terror tool.

For your information, though, Children... came out long before 9/11, and thus has nothing to do with your cute little 'it's an anti-Axis of Evil tool!'-conspiracy theory.

Research, girl.

Anonymous said...

Have you been to North Korea? Have you ever set foot in that country? I have, and what I saw echoes the documentary "Children of the Secret State." We were shown 'some of the best that North Korea has to offer' and it was not that great. We were forbidden from speaking to North Korean people or taking video/pictures of what we saw. We saw their houses, their schools, their soldiers, their post offices, their farms... it was like entering a time warp. I live in South Korea, and the difference in the two countries is staggering. Many people in my South Korean city have family in North Korea that they have not seen in fifty years. South Korea gives an incredible amount of aid to North Korea, but most South Koreans are skeptical that it ever reaches any of the people who so desperately need it. The places we saw in North Korea were stripped of most trees, the people looked worn down, and the air was heavy with suspicion. It was not a welcoming place. People must have passes to leave their hometowns, and multiple families are forced to live together in incredibly small, cookie-cutter houses. Kim Jeong Il is considered a god ("The Sun of the 21st Century," as one sign we saw proclaimed him), and all religion is banned. The children in one of the photos you posted are children of the upper class... all upper class children must wear red mufflers around their necks. Obviously those in favor with the government will have children who are well-fed and well-dressed. However, we cannot assume from this photo that all chilren in North Korea are so blessed. Even the North Korean government itself has admitted to having incredible food shortages.

Dave said...

"OK, we move into the capital. The presenters never ignore a chance to manipulate the viewer. From mentioning the Big Brother to emphasising the censorship. First they are trying to make a ridiculous point by implication. They present the visuals as if the whole capital is essentially fake and everyone else lives in poverty and hunger in secret towns. Well, to begin with, that doesn't make any sense. Why would the North Korean government want that? Do they really care that much about impressing foreign journalists who manage to enter the country despite the apparent restrictions? That doesn't make sense (since they actually try to prevent foreign journalists from visiting)."

I saw the film about a year ago. Kind of makes you wonder why they're kept out.

Michael Sheehan said...

Danila said...
Just a small question (regarding golf). Are you sure that the biased Western media haven't taken a false story from an unreliable source (i.e. some yellow paper), twisted it further, surrounded with exaggerations and further inventions, the result of which ended up on Reuters and AP for the world to pick up.

Why do you doubt NK sources and accept all stories from the Western side unquestionably?

A simple google search brings up this page: http://www.nk-news.net/about/faq.php which clearly tells that the story of 18 holes-in-one is an urban legend and the real achievement is much more realistic.

The original goal of my post was to motivate people to open their eyes and be critical towards all sides. If you are only critical towards the "other side", you are BIASED!
>>>>>>>>>>

Danila,

The link that you cite says:

“Kim Jong Il's first and only golf game has become something of an international urban legend. Rumors swirling around the Internet even allege that Kim cleared the course with 18 straight holes-in-one. Ridiculous!

The best documentation I can find about the event prevents a far more balanced and realistic picture. The actual story seems to be that, while playing on the PGA-level eighteen-hole par-72 golf course in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il chalked up a much more modest 38-under-par 34. And it was five holes-in-one, not eighteen. At the risk of sounding a bit condescending, I must admonish readers of NK News to be sure they have their facts straight, and not get carried away by wild rumors or innuendo.

Unfortunately, Kim's foray into golf seems to have occurred back around October 1994, which predates the NK News database by over two years. If anyone out there has any official KCNA information on this event, please contact me. Needless to say, it will go straight to the top of the KCNA Hall of Fame.”

>>>>>>>>>>

Danila,

And you think that ‘38 under par … with five holes-in-one’ is ‘much more realistic’?

Are you familiar with golf … at all?

Danila, the whole thing’s a joke … or did that possibility never cross your mind?

Anonymous said...

I just watched this film with several people from South Korea and Former Russia. Most had been to NK at some point and some have relatives there. They validated many of the points made in the movie and basically agreed with the sentiments it made. They were very angered and disturbed that people can be so cruel to their own kind. This behavior is not normal in any race and is the result of the political dogma employed.

You mention that NK has a strong economy, yet you also say it is poor. It must rely on the foods from other countries or else the children die. Which is it? A strong people's economy or a shadow reliant on other's handouts?


Even if ther film has taken sides and made sure the points were driven home, the points are both believable and important. Film has to be smuggled out. Visitors are restricted. Journalists are forbidden. People are killed for leaving. Try to parallel that to Western style countries. If you feel this type of country is no worse than any other than please move on over. We both will be better off.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say that when I read your entry, you sounded like a North Korean in North Korea with some English skills, whose job it is to blog - to convince the rest of the world that their country isn't crazy. Unfortunately, your opinion is in the minority and the rest of western civilization can reason perfectly without a doubt that North Korea has an evil regime that must be overthrown. The rest of us see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears the TRUTH being shown by this incredible footage of "Children..." May you become enlightened and join the rest of the world in horror at the atrocities being committed there!!!

Anonymous said...

Please do the world (and yourself!) a favor and move to North Korea.

Astrid said...

really sorry I read your blog... Waste of time. You, talking as you are investigating something for a school report...The most stupid idea in a childish mind: I saw the documentary I can talk about matter... Everything you wrote was dumb and sad-
TAKE CARE.

Anonymous said...

I agree... Things like this stupid post happened before, in the middle of the Nazi Germany, newspapers filled with unbelievers.
Nobody wanted to believe at that time, the things some people told about the jewish massacre- mass murder, ethnic murder...
It's sad that you have what they don't. All the means to talk and think... the internet and freedom of speech...
Go and read more about what is happening there, you'll know, and that's for sure, why those people cannot even take photographs of what is happening down there. About the cannibalism, it has happened in many countries around the world suffering from famine-

Anonymous said...

do you consider yourself a logical person? wow... you are something.
please find out more about this topic before you write such crap.

Giuse said...

Hello,
I guess the only reason for most of the comments is that you have a very limited knowledge of North Korea.
I have visited the country 3 times, also working once for UNHCR in there, and i can tell you that everything, from the mass games to the museums to the people that lives in places where foreigners can eventually end up visiting is totally prearranged.
I worked with refugees across the chinese border, and i can tell you that if you consider the famine, the concentration camps (the death penalty for people arrested while leaving the country is pure truth, unfortunately) and the incredible violations of human rights as just a propaganda from the west, you're making the same mistake that european communist made in underestimating the budapert revolt in 1956 or the spring of prague in 1968.
Idealism can't be a cause for avoiding seeing tthe truth.
Last but not least, you should at least have noticed the fact that tthe documentary is dutch and the journalist is british, so that's it for the american plot.
Don't find justifications for misdeeds just only because you hope they weren't the truth.
Giuseppe

K said...

Yikes! For all your supposed research, you don't even have the country of origin correct for who made this documentary. Have you ever been to North Korea? As someone who has, I can tell you this documentary wasn't too far off the mark from my personal experience.

One thing you may want to research are the number of ships with North Korean origin that are detained for illegal drug trade. Australia just recently blew up one of their ships for illegal activity. I don't think these governments are lying when they say a good portion of NK's economy is fueled by this trade.

HolocaustNoProblem said...

You want the truth, then you'll react.
So lets look at the options:
A) We can make an effort to get to the truth so we can save these kids and the severe human rights violations in North Korea.
B) We do nothing until we get the truth and if its going on, we let it go on.

Obviously you've chosen B. Not only have you chosen it, you are advocating a stop to any action to help that people are considering. Because we just don't know.

The lowest estimate by far of people who died during the famine in North Korea is 600,000. I've heard reputable sources give numbers from 3-4 million (governments of different countries, large news/reporting agencies like CNN, PBS, National Geographic). You don't think this is a problem? Maybe you'd like to point out here (like you pointed out that famine exists in other countries) that more people died in the Holocaust, so deaths in the millions is something common and people shouldn't get worked up about it.

Anonymous said...

you disgust me you horrible unhuman being.

they are CHILDREN do you not have eyes? they are not computer generated or manipulated. even a blind man can tell. where is your heart? i hope you dont ever have kids you insensitive idiot.

((and u probably would think i am uneducated by the way i was typing... probably because after watchin that video made me furious , furious enough to see if the problems been solved to search this shit up online just to see u deny the document. omg. d-hi!))

jin said...

I hope that documentary is a lie but I'm really sorry...I really believe it! And I don't know why are you defending North Korea? How much did they pay you? Are you one of the North Korean elites?

They won't carry a hidden camera if they can shoot this video in broad day light. Why couldn't the tour guide in the video let the tourists go to places without him? Why are they deprived to take pictures or make videos in some places? So...Do you think that the the Korean government wants outsiders to know what's really happening there? Of course not!

Those men in the video are very brave. I really admire them. But you are soooooo disgusting to utter those words! Don't you have a heart?! Maybe your brain was eaten by a North Korean Bug!

El profeta Azul said...

I am agree with you! I think The hunger children and all that, where just actors of south korea, you can see clearly that they are in a market in the middle of nowhere, the buildings are very far away, there are no houses, no streets, just some people selling the US Aid (je je je, let me laugh) and the hunger children.
Lies, lies, all lies, I think that the U.S. can manipulate better thant these, lets give them another oportunity.

VIVA KOREA DEL NORTE!

sung said...

Danila,

You ignorant shit!!

and yes the holocaust never took place
and yes there was no Cambodia

Get your ass over there and do some homework before you start spewing your crap

Anonymous said...

Danila, thanks for the review.

Do you have it in russian?

Anonymous said...

remove yourself from the gene pool, dumb clueless moron

Fozy plante medicinale said...

The Children's Palace is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

It´s too sad see how people are influenced by the USA propaganda. They can´t imagine a country where people don´t live like in the USA. My favorite comment is the Surcorean one, with evident interests. I know people who have traveled to North Korean and it isn´t like those kind of documentaries show. I am also a journalist and I know how mucho easy is manipulate some recordings. I only have one bad comment, you need more proofs of the lies about Korea.

Anonymous said...

I think you should quoted this one (the stats are more updated):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_malnutrition

... on your article
"But, as a matter of fact, China (the "nice" neighbour of North Korea) is still home to the world's second largest number of undernourished people after India."