The Missile Against the Loaf
The Missile Against the Loaf
With 2021 coming to an end and 2022 beginning, Kim Jong-Un gave a speech that some understood to indicate that the priority in his country might shift from missiles to bread. Concluding his tenth year at the helm, the North Korean leader said that the mission of his state in the coming year is to unleash economic growth and improve the people’s livelihoods because North Korea faces a “great life-and-death struggle.”
This is what Kim Jong-Un actually said, and this quote was not attributed to him by South Korean media, which is often accused of “fabricating news” about its northern neighbor.
Some have perhaps read too much into Kim’s speech. Nonetheless, atypically, the North Korean leader did not waive the threat of his missiles, nor did he send “fiery messages” to the United States and South Korea. It seems as if conditions in North Korea, under his leadership, no longer afford him this luxury.
Matters were made worse by two years of isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the borders with China, which supplies North Korea with almost everything. This situation is reminiscent of the 1990s in Korea in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the suspension of its assistance to Kim’s country. At the time, a famine ensued that killed hundreds of thousands –and some estimate three million, of the country’s population of 25 million.
The “Arduous March,” as it became known, forced Kim Jong-il to be frank with his people for the first time, admitting to “food shortages” and that the agricultural plan adopted by his government had let the people down and gone contrary to the expectations of North Korean leadership. However, in order to undercut the severity of his confession, news circulated from Pyongyang suggesting that the entire world had been on the verge of collapse. Of course, it was impossible for North Koreans to know what had been going on in the outside world.
After the different experiences of Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Lebanon over the past two years, we can now speak of a comprehensive formula that puts missiles, or warmongering in general, against bread: either this or that. As for attributing the choice of missiles over bread to a desire to safeguard dignity, this argument is only echoed by two sorts of people: The malicious lining their pockets through the manufacture of missiles (and a monopoly over bread); and those naive enough to numb their aching stomachs with bloated speeches about missiles and dignity.
Ultimately, those deprived of both freedom and bread have no claim to having dignity. It is absurd, after all is accounted for, to suggest that South Korea, which has saved its northern sibling from famine, lacks dignity while North Korea has dignity in abundance.
In this context, dignity is but a euphemism for life under a tyrannical junta that oppresses and impoverishes people in the name of fighting an external enemy– one whose enmity it is intended will remain indefinite and intractable. Even these juntas’ claims to the defense of principles and values seem flimsy: neither does Iran fight for god nor does the Syrian regime fight for Baathist principles. As for North Korea, since the last few days of Kim Jong-il’s reign in 2009, all references to Marxism-Leninism and Communism have been removed from its Constitution.
Of course, there are those who viewed missiles as paving the path towards bread, resistance to colonizers and their departure being necessary conditions to development and a better future. And, as our poetry suggests, only a “bloodied hand” can open the “door to freedom.” However, if this claim was sensible during the colonial era, what justifies it today after decades of independence?
The experience of Vietnam gives an eloquent answer to this question: when the war against the Americans and southern Vietnamese was raging, Vietnam was described as the epic of the century. Then suddenly, when Vietnam set missiles aside and became concerned with bread, those who had heaped praise on the country stopped mentioning it. It has had solid economic development and maintains good relations with the Americans and Europeans. It thus becomes better to forget Vietnam and pretend it does not exist. China would have met the same fate if it had not been continuing to lock horns with the United States.
For this reason, it would be tenable to argue that what is being sought, away from all these ideological frivolities, is the perpetuation of a state of war: “keep your weapon awake,” as our old song goes. In light of the failure of this consciousness that revolves around missiles to make any achievements outside of war-making, the missiles’ centrality increases and grows. So does rejection of circumventing war-making, whether through the economy, politics, or culture. All of that is normalization that threatens to prioritize bread over missiles and establish peace where conflicts and disputes had long prevailed.
However, despite all the misery in our contemporary world, missile-centric consciousness has become extremely outdated and continues to decline. True, it has ignited wars, and it does have the capacity to do so. Nonetheless, this lone talent cannot avert its slow decay through exposure to new ideas about authoritarianism, patriarchy, racial discrimination, the status of women in society, and of course, aversion to war and these principles’ correlation with economic prosperity and material comfort.
These ideas “leak” through televisions, cinemas, social media, and alternative media outlets, and their veracity is attested to by experiences of travel or tourism, familiarity with international affairs, and above all, the affairs of the countries in question. Those ideas don’t merely isolate the missile–centric people; they also rob them, every day, of their children, who now begin to detest their fathers’ nonsense.
As such, it has now become possible to wager that cracks are showing in the North Korean fortress and those that emulate and resemble it. If not tomorrow, then after tomorrow, as missiles cannot continue to prevail over bread forever.