The language of totalitarianism

The “Dear Leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, has executed his uncle, who had served as his advisor and mentor.   Max Fisher writes about the language the still-Communist North Koreans used to make this announcement and the worldview it reveals. 

From Max Fisher,‘An intolerable mockery’: the wild-eyed worldview of North Korean propaganda in the Washington Post.  [The bold print is mine.]

Here’s a typical sentence from the Korean Central News Agency’s 1,000-word release announcing the execution of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of leader Kim Jong Un: “Despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.” The report denounced Jang’s alleged crimes large and very small, from “counter-revolutionary factional acts” to “half-heartedly clapping.” . . .

From a release condemning Western sanctions that blocked North Korea from importing Swiss ski lifts:

This is an intolerable mockery of the social system and the people of the DPRK and a serious human rights abuse that politicizes sports and discriminates against the Koreans. . . .

From Pyongyang’s “declaration of war,” issued in March against the United States:

The important decision made by [Kim Jong Un] is the declaration of a do-or-die battle to provide an epochal occasion for putting an end to the history of the long-standing showdown with the U.S. and opening a new era. It is also a last warning of justice served to the U.S., south Korean group and other anti-reunification hostile forces. The decision reflects the strong will of the army and people of the DPRK to annihilate the enemies. . . .

“Let Us Cut Off Windpipes of the Lee Myung Bak-led Swarm of Rats,”declared one of many headlines threatening South Korea’s president from 2008 to earlier this year. Pledging to cut windpipes is something of a North Korean specialty. So is threatening to turn various locales into “seas of fire.” This is from just last month, on the anniversary of North Korea’s apparently random shelling of a small South Korean community on the island of Yeonpyeong:

If the South recklessly provokes us again, the sea of fire at Yeonpyeong will turn into a sea of fire at the Blue House. … [President] Park Geun-Hye and her clique must find a painful lesson in the shameful defeat inflicted upon the South.

Even we in the Western media have not gone untouched. In March, a lengthy KCNA release repeatedly condemned the “despicable reptile media” for, in its word, “jabbering.”

Read Fisher’s article, linked above, for his analysis.  I also urge you to get a full dose of the language by reading the entire press release about the execution of Uncle Jang Song Thaek.

Of course, this style of writing has been commonplace in Communist and other totalitarian countries.  And elements of it can creep into the political discourse of free countries, as well.  Read George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.

But you’ve got to admit, “despicable reptile media” kind of has a ring to it.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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