Special to WorldTribune.com
WASHINGTON – Credit someone in North Korea with a sense of historical irony. Who would have thought anyone up there would have dreamed of writing an imaginary letter from Abraham Lincoln to President Obama berating him for endorsing harsh UN sanctions and failing to halt the U.S. nuclear weapons program?
We’re so used to seeing North Korean propaganda heaping terrible insults on Obama (a “monkey”) and President Park Geun-Hye (a “witch” and worse) that this kind of satire comes almost as a relief. Nobody is going to get too mad at the North Korean propaganda machine for resorting to such a device after some of the terrible stuff we’ve heard lately.
“Honest Abe,” in the letter to Obama, said not a word about North Korea wreaking vengeance on the U.S. in the form of nuclear attacks on Washington and New York. Would it be too optimistic to infer that North Korea is softening its line?
In fact, the letter, written in Korean for a North Korean audience in the magazine “North Korea Today,” also reveals a couple of other surprises. For one thing, who knew the North Koreans had heard of Lincoln? How much do they know about his Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves or of the Gettysburg Address with the lines remembered by generations of American school children, “that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Clearly the North Korean editors and writers who dreamed up the Lincoln letter want to build on the theme of UN sanctions turning the North into a vassal state, but might a little knowledge of Lincoln have a reverse effect? Might some North Koreans become imbued with strange ideas about their own regime?
Nor were those the only questions prompted by the rhetorical device of the letter. What about the reference to Lincoln’ having seen “you,” that is Obama, “standing in front of my portrait deeply engaged in contemplation during your Easter prayer meeting”?
Who knew that North Koreans knew anything about “Easter” or “prayer,” that is Christian prayers? Defectors from the North typically say they never heard of God or Christ before encountering missionaries helping them escape through China to some other country from which they could make it to South Korea.
Now we know some North Koreans have heard of Easter – though possibly only those from the elitist intelligentsia that would read such an article. Have they also read the Bible – totally banned in North Korea? Did the writer of the “letter” choose the Easter reference with malice aforethought? On one level, the image of Obama praying in the presence of Lincoln on Easter Sunday helped to convey a biblical message. On another, deeper level, the reference was a reminder of Christianity that North Korea’s leaders don’t want anyone knowing about.
But what happened to the cascading flood of insults to which we’re accustomed? Has North Korea decided there was no use describing Obama as “a monkey”? And will North Korea also stop attacking President Park Geun-Hye as “a witch” ― the least of some of the epithets?
And is it possible that imaginary letters to leaders whom North Korea regards as terrible will keep on coming? There must be quite a few whom the North reviles, all potential targets. Maybe President Park will be the next recipient ― though dreaming up just the right dead person in whose name to write the letter might be difficult.
Let’s see. In Park’s case, how about a letter from her father, the long-ruling Park Chung-Hee? No, that wouldn’t do. During his 18 years and 5 months of dictatorial rule he revitalized the economy, encouraging the rise of the chaebol, “engines of the Korean miracle.” No way would the North Koreans consider fashioning a letter in the name of the president who more than anyone else hated their “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung.
Ok, there’s Syngman Rhee, the dictator whom the Americans stuck by during the Korean War and afterward until hustling him to exile in Hawaii in the student revolution of 1960. Rhee, however, fervently opposed the 1953 truce that he feared, correctly, would enshrine the division of the Korean peninsula. Indeed, he fantasized uniting the peninsula by force.
That leaves one choice for imaginary letter-writer to the current President Park – the late Kim Dae-Jung, impresario of the Sunshine policy during his five years in the Blue House.
How about a letter begging Park to follow the advice of Mr. Sunshine? Forget about the fate of all those hungry North Koreans unfortunate enough to be lurking under North Korean custody, the letter would advise, forget the alliance with the U.S. Suddenly the “witch,” if she followed DJ’s advice from heaven, would be transformed into an angel of peace.
Donald Kirk has been covering confrontation on the Korean peninsula for decades. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.