The Fifth Column

Being a Fascist Still Shouldn’t Be a Crime

Next time you see press coverage that characterizes the “Reverend” Han Song Ryol as a “liberal” or “peace activist,” his own words will add to your insight about just how tortured the words “liberal” and “peace” have been at the meaty hands of some correspondents. How does one apply such words to an avowed supporter of the world’s most belligerent and least liberal regime?

“Our land and people in the North are armed with weaponry far more powerful than nuclear weapons – solid unity, self-containment, and revolutionary optimism fuelled by the Juche ideology,” Han said.

Cozying up to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, he said, “I genuinely respect, love and desire to obey you. He also attacked the findings of a multinational investigation on the sinking of the Cheonan, calling it the “pinnacle of Lee Myung-bak’s pack of lies. He blamed President Lee for sending the sailors to their deaths. [Joongang Ilbo]

Han Song Ryol is a fascist, not a liberal. Aijalon Gomes is a liberal. Even “Reverend” is difficult to allow. Han worships Kim Jong Il, but if that qualifies Han as a cleric, then you must allow that Juche is a religion, in the same sense that the Peoples’ Temple and Al Qaeda’s brand of Wahhabism are religions. The evidence that Han worships a higher God is far less clear.

Han Song Ryol is a charlatan, a traitor, and a fool. But this does not justify the South Korean government’s ham-handed decision to arrest and make a martyr of him. Indeed, I take issue with the Joongang Ilbo’s editorialists mixing these two issues:

What’s more disheartening is that there are people who applaud Han’s stunt. Some 150 members of a local branch of the progressive Democratic Labor Party held a ceremony to welcome the pastor back home. Some civilian activist groups based in North Jeolla Province also protested against his arrest. These groups should declare what side they’re on. What part of Han’s actions do they approve of? Are they followers of the North Korean regime, too?

If you hold a ceremony to welcome Han Song Ryol back home, you’re either a paid-up member of the Fifth Column or willfully ignorant of facts that would make any reasonable thinker want to dissociate himself from Han. Not that this should surprise us in the case of the Democratic Labor Party, whose North Korean influence was so brazen that it resulted in criminal convictions during the Roh Administration and split the party itself.

I’m also cynical enough to suspect that in practice, the same probably also applies to those who bothered to protest Han’s arrest publicly, though I also protest the fact of Han’s arrest for his words, and I can’t remember the first or last time anyone accused me of being a follower of the North Korean regime. The South Korean government’s prosecution of repellent ideas has only glorified those ideas (and in due course, we’ll also learn that North Korea’s suppression of dissent was less successful than we tend to estimate).

Far better for South Korea to have simply denied Han reentry into South Korea. It would more than suffice as Han’s punishment to let him live by what he preaches, and he could hardly complain about spending the rest of his life in a place he mischaracterizes as a paradise. Wouldn’t life in North Korea be punishment enough for any fool? Certainly it would be a fascinating thought experiment. I suspect it would be just a matter of time before Han would misspeak, be reported by a neighbor, and vanish into a Peace Forest one night. When that time comes, who in the Democratic Labor Party do you suppose will stand up for his right to free speech then?


  1. Han Song Ryol is a charlatan, a traitor, and a fool.

    I am unfamiliar with him, but this assessment (most certainly the first and third) strikes me as closer to the mark than fascist; which carries a very specific meaning.

    He’s reminiscent of the appalling Hewlett Johnson.


  2. Also, I don’t know about the rules for transliterating Korean names to the Roman alphabet, but Han Sang-ryeol appears to be the most common. Han Song-ryol returns the DPRKish Ambassador to the UN.


  3. Excellent article. If only you can find wider outlets for this stuff. The problem is no one at the editorial offices of the national papers would care or know about the “Reverend.” But I suggest sending this to the WSJ Asia. Best as always, S


  4. Han worships Kim Jong Il, but if that qualifies Han as a cleric, then you must allow that Juche is a religion

    Well counselor, we may finally be getting somewhere. ranks Juche as the world’s 10th largest religion. Han is no reverend – he is a Modernist, whose true faith is in man, in evolution and in a statist utopia. What is it Stalin called them? Useful idiots?


  5. I wholly agree with Brian Myers that Juche is a sham ideology. THERE IS NO JUCHE IDEOLOGY! It’s just there for show – no one (in North Korea) actually believes it, because no one actually knows what it means, because no writing about Juche actually makes sense. It’s why Bruce Cummings says it’s so unique you have to be Korean to understand it. I’m going to risk it and see if this fine bloggie lets me quote Myers at length:

    To go back a little bit to a point you made about the race-based nationalism of North Korea, this is not something much talked about, I find, even in material about the ideology of North Korea. Why have so few before you focused on the specific racial element of North Korean ideology?

    It’s an undiplomatic point to make, but the inconvenient truth is that most North Korea-watchers in the United States don’t speak Korean and don’t read Korean. They’re not able to read even the legend on a North Korean propaganda poster. So they, for decades, have had to depend on secondary sources of information, primarily in English. When they read North Korean materials, they have to read the so-called Juche Thought, because the regime has been careful to put this pseudo-ideology, this sham ideology, into English. So when foreigners want to read about North Korean ideology, they have to turn to these books on Juche thought, which really decoy them away from the true ideology.

    Juche Thought is a jumble of humanist cliches like “Man is the master of all things.” This fake doctrine has absolutely no bearing on North Korean policymaking. While people are wasting their time trying to make sense of Juche Thought, the regime is propagating this race-based nationalism. Another problem we have in the United States, a little bit, is political correctness, inasmuch as we are uncomfortable attributing racist views to non-white people.

    It seems, in the book, you talk about it as designed to be un-figure-outable, to an extent, just kind of a vortex someone hopeful to understand North Korea in the West can fall into and fail to figure out?

    That is exactly what the point is. The regime does not want to confuse its own people either, by having two ideologies on the intellectual marketplace, so to speak. It deliberately writes this Juche Thought in as unreadable, as repetitive and as dull as way as possible so that nobody actually bothers slogging through it. If you talk to your North Korean minders and guides and people like that when you go to North Korea, they know as little about Juche Thought as anybody else does.

    Yet the outside world, even very respected Korea scholars like Bruce Cumings, have taken these Juche Thought claims at face value and simply concluded that Juche Thought is incomprehensible to a foreigner. In face, it’s incomprehensible to the North Koreans too, but it serves its function very well. The main function of Juche is to enable the claim that Kim Il Sung is a great thinker, that he’s just as great a thinker as Mao Tse Tung was. In that sense, it has been a success.

    I was going to ask you about that line in the book about how, if you ask your minders in North Korea, they’ll be confused and try to sort of hedge the issue. Do you speak from experience there? What do they say back to you?

    The last time I was in North Korea was in 2008. I went to visit the city of Kaesong, which is near the DMZ. I got into a conversation with my minder — they’re always very curious when a white man is able to speak Korean — and I started to talk to him about Juche Thought. At first he was very proud and very pleased that I had heard about Juche Thought, but as soon as he realized that I had actually read those texts and that I expected him to answer some questions about them, he said, “Isn’t it time for you to get back on your bus?” He was very uncomfortable.

    This is in stark contrast to what I experienced as a young man in East Germany, when I traveled from West Germany. If you talked to a member of the communist party there, he was able to give you a pretty good summary of Marxism/Leninism. He knew what he was talking about. The North Koreans are able to tell you the race-based nationalism also very well. It’s this fake ideology which they don’t understand either.

    So when you believe in Juche like Han Sangnyeol, you really don’t know what you believe in, you just believe in the cult, period.

    I do think there are times when fascism should be a crime. I don’t consider Germany a weak democracy for outlawing Nazism. But South Korea really is stable enough and people who are pro-Northies to the degree Han Sangnyeol is are so rare that it would be best to let him run his mouth in public. In fact, one of the reasons there are so many people in South Korea who bend over backwards to be understanding of the North – in fact one of the reasons there are so many people who have doubts about the South’s version of events regarding the Cheonan – is precisely because the most governments of the Republic of Korea lied to the South Korean public about the North for so many years. It fabricated stories about the North and framed people as North Korea operatives. This continues to backfire.


  6. Interesting… KJI missed Carter’s visit apparently on purpose in his haste to get to the PRC. Its not like KJI to miss any attempt to exploit a super-rare audience with an American president. What could be so urgent? Death? Succession drama? Methinks its neither. It must have something to do with the PRC and possible conflict with the ROK.

    However, I will be delighted if James is correct.



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