The current issue of ‘The Journal of Asian Studies’, published by the Association for Asian Studies [vol. 70, no. 2, May 2011] has provided space for a ‘mini-forum’ ‘regarding North Korea’.
‘Mini-forum’ is an exaggeration: the reader finds two articles, one by the Charles Armstrong, Columbia University,on trends in the ‘study of North Korea’, the other by Nan Kim at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee on ‘Korea on the Brink: regarding the “yonp’yong” shelling and its aftermath’.
North Korea is one of those subjects among America’s scholars best left alone. A principle reason may be the dearth of scholars in various fields who concentrate on Korea. The lion’s share tilt towards the ROK where they can teach, work, and pursue research. The DPRK is a dark mirror where US scholarship is at best spotty even though scholars do go make ‘on the spot’ visits with varying frequency. North Korea is a fertile field to explore but America’s politics always get in the way: technically the US is still at war with North Korea for 61 years, a war which looks as though it might rival in length the Anglo French 100 Year War; in spite of a small period of detente, since the George W. Bush administration relations have come to a standstill, for the Six Party Talks in Beijing are in abeyance on the nuclear and rocket issues, the pursuit of sanctions to punish and bring back Pyongyang to the talks, and the Obama administration’s yoking US policy to the aggressive and seeming vindictive approach to Kim Jong il by the Lee Myung bak government who has done everything to antagonise North Korea. Not to be left out are the joint military manoeuvres by these two allies along the NLL [Northern Limit Line] with live fire. The sinking of the ROK corvette Cheonan’ in March 2010 remains open to interpretation, owing to the secretive and at times misleading ways Seoul and Washington have handled the matter.
Since many of the US North Korean clerisy have very close relations with the US government, it is not surprising that research follows a predictable trajectory.
GuamDiary has commented on the Council on Foreign Relations report on Korea in March 2010. To a man, the leading clerks who dabble in North Korea called on the US government to ‘roll back’ North Korea. ‘Roll back’ is an early Cold War policy of overthrowing Communist governments, which the war in Korea, the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and the 1968 Czech spring, showed to be more rhetoric than reality. [War in Korean proved a stinging stalemate for the US UN led troops and of course Vietnam proved a military, economic, and political disaster.]
Contrarian opinions get marginalised, ignored, or simply pigeon holed and hampered by lacking of public and private funding.
To be fair in a way, planning for JAS takes months if not a year or two, but you would think that given the headlines that North Korea has had in the media for the last 20 years, this journal would have devoted more attention to the DPRK?
Well, now, North Korea like the proverbial camel who first sticks its nose into the tent during a severe sand storm and eventually come into it, cannot but not be noticed, on one hand, and on the other, owing to the wide Swiss cheese holes on information and intelligence in the US, it is now, well, almost ‘kosher’ to be talked about in a ‘mini-forum’ in the ‘prestigious’ JAS.