Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Is 60 Minutes presenting anti-North Korea propaganda?
60 Minutes just reran "North Korean prisoner escaped after 23 brutal years," a story about Shin Dong-hyuk who was allegedly born in a North Korean prison camp. The evidence to support this seems to be limited but they have someone who was a so-called expert who says that his story is consistent with other stories.
I'm not convinced this story will hold up to scrutiny and there might be many problems with it, if it is as they present it; however it might be far more reasonable if it was presented as propaganda for political reasons; if this is true it doesn't necessarily mean that it was completely made up, exaggerations of some sort might be more likely. This hypothesis may also have problems because it isn't very good propaganda at least not if it is presented to reasonably well informed people about certain related subjects; however it might be much more effective if it was presented to a large majority of the public that isn't quite so well informed and it is backed up by an enormous amount of other propaganda, which is the way successful propaganda often works.
One of the problems with this story seems to be the way he escaped without any resources and made his way to China and then on to South Korea which is described in the story. It is hard to believe that someone who didn't know anything about the outside world would have been able to do this on his own almost entirely with luck. This story seems to simple when thinking about the details but the biggest problem might be the fact that he is so well presented for someone who was supposedly born in prison and raised under horrifying conditions.
There is an enormous amount of evidence from many foster homes or orphanages including state run orphanages that indicates that the early education of a child when they're first born is extremely important and it has a long term impact on their development throughout life. One of the most extreme examples of how much damage can be done in the early years of a child's upbringing is in Romania and the state run orphanages that began when they were still a communist country and their leader decided that the state can raise children just as well as families. The state established many orphanages and arranged for many mothers to hand over their babies and the result was a disaster. These babies were poorly treated and there have been many stories about how they have been extremely dysfunctional and could never recover. If Shin Dong-hyuk was abused this badly while in the prison camp he almost certainly wouldn't have been able to escape alone in the manner that they described, nor would he have been able to present himself nearly as well while telling people in his speaking tour about Korean prison camps.
This was widely reported in the mid to early nineties and there is still plenty of information about the Rumanian orphanages on the internet for those interested in looking including, Inhumane Conditions For Romania's Lost Generation; and there are also other studies to show how dysfunctional children brought up in such abusive environments have long term effects at other locations including many in the orient including some studies that were cited in an article, Study says foster care benefits brains.
Another example that might be more sincere and show how much trouble children abused in war time situation might be the example of Ishmael Beah author of "The Making, and Unmaking, of a Child Soldier," who was allegedly forced to fight a war as a child and had a difficult time recovering from it after he was rescued.
According to the research into childhood development the less trauma children go through in the early stages the better and the sooner they are removed from the tragic situation the more likely they are to recover. In the case of Ishmael Beah he was raised with his family until he was 12 years old and forced to fight a a child soldier for about two years according to his book; and then he underwent a rehabilitation process that was tough and it didn't go perfectly by his own account. To understand how this appears to be far more credible it would help to go into greater detail but that would be too much for this post and his story is told in his book.
This story was also disputed for different reasons by "the Australian," Rupert Murdoch's Aussie broadsheet, The feud over the truthfulness of Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone. They claim that it was greatly exaggerated and that he made up large portions of it. However if you read the book and other books on the subject including Peter Singer's "Children at War" or Jimmie Briggs' "Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War" it may be clear that even if some of Ishmael Beah's claims are exaggerated there is still an enormous problem with child soldiers and many of the activities and problem is consistent with the problems that other child soldiers have although most of them don't have the help that Ishmael Beah had and didn't go on speaking tours.
As far as I can tell Ishmael Beah's story seems far more credible than Shin Dong-hyuk's however it suits a different purpose that is less likely to cater to the beliefs of the most powerful people so while some of the people from the corporate press raise questions about the story that doesn't suit their purposes they ignore more legitimate questions from the one that does suit their purpose.
this wouldn't be the first time the corporate press used this type of propaganda to promote war or the threat of war to justify their agenda and the need to keep secrets; they also used lies about Iraqi incubators to sell the first gulf war, "How PR Sold the War in the Persian Gulf: Iraq incubators lie;" and of course the widely disclosed Weapons of mass destruction to sell the second gulf war and they have often propped up their own puppets that have been widely discredited including Manucher Ghorbanifar in Iran and he was used again during the run up to the 2003 war ass well and Ahmed Chalabi, both of whom were widely discredited. (see "Dick Cheney, Ahmed Chalabi Contemplated Value Of Iraqi Oil To U.S.," David Frum Writes)
This doesn't mean that the most likely explanation for this is that it was entirely made up; if this was the case it almost certainly wouldn't have worked at all. It seems more likely that they would have found some truth to their story and exaggerated it although it would be hard to tell how much without additional information. In both the case of Ishmael Beah and Shin Dong-hyuk they would have relied on personal memory which isn't perfect so a certain amount of mistakes would be inevitable. In the case of Ishmael Beah they more likely to be smaller mistakes if my assessment is correct and his critics could easily latch onto those if they can find them and exaggerate them for propaganda purposes. In the case of Shin Dong-hyuk, who suits the propaganda purposes of the elite they could simply ignore the same problems and repeat the propaganda over and over again even though there appears to be a greater possibility that the lies or exaggerations might be much larger.
This wouldn't be the only example of their propaganda efforts against North Korea; they also use North Korea's own propaganda to discredit them. This is actually quite common, by exposing propaganda they create a different version of propaganda for the opposition. What makes this propaganda instead of accurate reporting is when they use a double standard or conveniently highlight some aspects and repeat them over and over again and ignore others which don't suit their purposes.
The corporate press has been widely reporting on the propaganda efforts by North Korea to indoctrinate their own people. This has included testimony about how some Koreans that have been subject to it from birth actually believe it even though this propaganda seems absurd to most of us in America. This may actually be credible at least to some degree if you consider it from the point of view of those that are brought up with this propaganda and never hear anything else. they live with it all their life so they believe it since they have nothing else to go on. However it still serves as propaganda for the US since they can promote this as part of what makes North Korea a threat. This may be partially legitimate but they don't report on their own propaganda the same way. And more importantly they don't mention the fact that they have come close to improving relations with North Korea on several occasions including some where Jimmy Carter negotiated or tried to negotiate better agreements.
The irony is that in both North Korea and the United States the last people to recognize the propaganda being targeted against them may be the people that are being targeted. Many in the United States may have an easy time recognizing the propaganda North Korea uses against their own people but unless they do their own fact checking they might not recognize the propaganda targeting them.
During the nineties Jimmy Carter made several trips and eventually made an agreement that would have ended there efforts to pursue nuclear programs but he didn't receive much cooperation from those in power at the time. He did succeed in convincing Bill Clinton to support a deal at the end of his presidency but this fell apart almost as soon as Bush took over when he arbitrarily declared he didn't support it without much explanation and after he declared them to be part of the "Axis of Evil" they escalated their plans for nuclear weapons. This story has been told in several locations that aren't repeated nearly as often as the propaganda, including at least one of Jimmy Carter's books and a Guardian article, Jimmy Carter leaves North Korea after peace mission
This is the way propaganda works, the version of the truth that is supported by the elites that control the press repeat their version over and over again even when it doesn't stand up to scrutiny and only those that know what to look for and how to check different sources including those that are repeated much less often get the more accurate version of the truth. Additional stories that have raised doubts about this possible propaganda include "The Shin Donghyuk Story: In Search of Useful Information: Scratching away at the propaganda" and a comment on the CNN web site to the story that started with, "Characteristic propaganda, with gaping holes."
If you are skeptical of my assessment of this or the other critics that might be just as well; if you believe it it would be better if you did so after considering both sides and perhaps doing some of your own fact checking as well; otherwise you might run the risk of perceived expert dictating the truth for another.