It’s a week later, but many people still don’t know what to make of President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. To gain some perspective, The Jewish Press recently spoke with Michael Malice, author of Dear Leader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il and a frequent commentator on Fox and other television and radio stations.
The Jewish Press: What were your general impressions of the summit?
Malice: They were positive. I think peace is always a more positive possibility than war. I think President Trump is trying to do what he needs to in order to get North Korea to demilitarize and denuclearize, and if that means [being obsequious to] someone who has hostages, so be it.
You’ve stated that holding the summit in Singapore was no accident. Explain.
Lee Kuan Yew [ the “founding father” of Singapore] took his country “From Third World to First,” as the title of his autobiography puts it. But he didn’t do it in a democratic way. He was very much an autocrat. Singapore is a combination of free-market capitalism and very strict social control.
So if there’s a model for North Korea to follow if it wants to liberalize, it would be a place like Singapore. That is something Kim would be able to wrap his head around – the government still having very strong control but the private sector, in terms on business, having a large amount of freedom.
What do you mean by Singapore having “very strict social control”?
In Singapore, drugs get you the death penalty. In the airport, there’s a garbage can and a sign that says, “Leave your drugs here or we’ll kill you.” Chewing gum is illegal. Homosexuality is also illegal (but it’s only enforced if you try to become a activist. So it’s kind of this Victorian principle of: Do whatever you want as long as you’re not upsetting the public good and making a scene).
We know why the U.S. wanted to meet; it wants North Korea to denuclearize. But what does Kim get out of it?
It’s really not clear. It could be that he wants increased prosperity for his people, and it could be that he’s really feeling the threats from the U.S. and, more importantly, China.
It’s clearly some combination of the two, but, at the end of the day, no one actually knows, and anybody who says they know is not telling the truth.
How do you respond to the criticism that Trump lent Kim respectability by meeting with him and that he didn’t press Kim hard enough on his human rights abuses?
When you’re dealing with someone who has 25 million hostages, you have to establish trust if you want him to hand over his gun. So I think Trump can say whatever he needs to to get the results he wants. At the end of the day, what Trump says doesn’t matter. What matters is what does Kim Jung Un does.
You spent a week in North Korea in 2012. Why?
Research for my book, and since I’m Jewish and was born in the Soviet Union, I wanted to see what it was like for my family back in the day. North Korea is basically the last place on earth where you can see [a Soviet-like] country.
Not too many Americans have visited North Korea. How would you describe the country?
It was horrible. Everywhere you look, there’s something wrong. Every carpet has a stain, every wall has a crack. It’s just ominous. It’s like going to another planet back in time. Everywhere you go there’s a basement-like scent.
It’s impossible to describe to a Westerner what it’s like to be in a country and have no concept of what’s going on in the outside world.
There’s no TV?
We had in the hotel, but we were barely in the hotel and they took my phone away at the airport. The headlines in the news are things like, “The great leader Kim Il Sung is the eternal president of our people!” I mean, these are literally the headlines – you know, two decades after he died. Breaking news!
They know he died, though, right?
Yes, but he’s president into perpetuity. You can see his [embalmed body], just like Lenin’s. [His mausoleum] is a very prestigious place to visit.
Are there newspapers?
There are, but they’re state newspapers. Page 2, breaking news! Kim Jung Il visited a factory at some point last week. Oh my god!
Yes, but they’re very expensive, and they’re only for internal calls. There’s also no Internet access. Contact with foreigners is illegal.
You’ve talked in the past about the personality cult surrounding North Korea’s leaders. Can you elaborate?
There are giant statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang that you have to bow before. Everyone in North Korea has pictures of the two leaders on their wall. Nothing else is allowed on that wall and you have to dust them all the time. You’re also encouraged, if there’s a fire or a flood, to save those pictures even at the cost of your life.
Everyone walks around with a badge over their heart with the leaders. It’s the only country in the world where you can’t use the stamps because you’re not allowed to stamp the picture of the leader. If you have a newspaper with his photograph, you have to dispose of it in a certain way.
What do you see happening with the U.S. and North Korea going forward?
I’m hopeful that the summit was the first step toward the peaceful liberation of the North Korean people and the closing down of the concentration camps.
Is that the most important goal or the more important goal denuclearization?
I’m much more concerned with the peaceful liberalization of North Korea than I am with the nukes – by far.
Because they’re not going to fire them. They’ve had them for a while. Every time they fire their missiles, they fire them into the sea? It’s just like when you go onto a bank and start shooting at the ceiling. You’re just showing off your strength. There’s no way China is going to allow some kind of nuclear war to break out on the Korean peninsula.