clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What made North Korea so bizarre, explained in 3 minutes

North Korea's latest nuclear weapons test may have you wondering about the most basic question of all: what is the deal with this country? It's a question that touches on the rogue nuclear program, but also the ridiculous propaganda, the deification of Kim Jong Un, the gulags, and the cartoon-villain quality that seems both ridiculous and deadly serious. To help explain, we put together this three-minute video on that very basic question: why is North Korea the way that it is?

The basic takeaway here is that, while we typically talk about North Korea as a holdover of Soviet-style hard-line communist totalitarianism, in fact, the country is best understood as a holdover of 1930s-style Japanese fascism, leftover from Japan's early colonization of the peninsula.

That doesn't explain everything, but it explains a lot: the obsession with racial purity, the near-religious worship of the superhuman father-leader, the militarism and hostility and feverish ultranationalism, and the expectation that citizens will abandon their individualism happily for the betterment of the race-based national collective. It helps explain why North Korea uses its nuclear program both to distract the world from its human rights abuses and to rally North Koreans behind the regime — both crucial for keeping the Kim family in power.

For more on this, I would urge you to read scholar B.R. Myers' excellent book, The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters.

World Politics

The US is ready to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Does it matter?

Russia-Ukraine war

Where does the fight for a free Russia go now?


How Israel’s war went wrong

View all stories in World Politics

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.