Scared of loudspeakers
By Michael Breen
When South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Tae-young announced Monday that Seoul was resuming its propaganda broadcasts against North Korea after a six-year hiatus, the military there threatened to take out loudspeakers positioned along the DMZ.
``This is a serious military provocation and a breach of the inter-Korean military agreement," an unidentified commander said in a statement on the (North) Korean Central News Agency. ``If the South Korean traitors challenge our rightful response, we will counter with mightier physical strikes to eliminate the root cause of their provocation."
Clearly, among the items on the list of measures addressing the North's attack on the Cheonan, this one hit a nerve.
That's because contrary to the common perception, in North Korea, the loudspeaker and the radio are mightier than the sword.
Consider: In a country where an incompetent leadership remains in place through ruthless political controls, the Achilles heel is the will of the security forces to continue to do its bidding. The message - or ideology, if you prefer - that ensures all hearts in uniform beat as one in this regard is that the future of the Korean ``nation" in a mythical sense depends on their strength and vigilance.
But this message is a delusion. It is a lie. And it may be exposed by the right propaganda. Hence the sensitivity.
According to the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, broadcasts via FM radio began immediately on Monday, the day of the announcement. Broadcasts via loudspeaker across the DMZ will start later in June and - blessed be the tech developers - electronic display boards will be set up in about four months.
As this psychological warfare machinery ― let's call it what it is ― gets warmed up, we on our side of the DMZ need to put our own bickering behind us. Let me explain what I mean by that. This is not something for armchair warmongers to get triumphant about, nor for liberal democrats to cringe over. Both should be united. Our hearts should beat as one.
That is not such a fantasy because through this endeavor the goals of democrats on the right and the left should be fulfilled. Two points should make this clear. The first is that the North Koreans brought this on themselves. The loudspeakers were turned off six years ago at the height of the South's ``sunshine" engagement policy. As with everything to do with South Korea and its allies, the North interpreted this as a sign of weakness, not goodwill. It responded with a nuclear program, nuclear tests, and the attack on the Cheonan.
The second point is one that Brian Myers, the noted expert on North Korean propaganda, has brilliantly articulated in his book ``The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters." That is that it is a mistake to see North Korea as a socialist or Marxist-Leninist country. It is in fact a radical nationalist with socialist elements. In other words, a Nazi state. Democratic left and right should not be shy bombarding it with truth.
That leads us to what "truth" South Korean authorities should broadcast. As Myers points out, the old propaganda ― insults about Kim Jong-il being fat and living in a palace, for example ― were based on the misperception that he was a communist and that his hypocrisy would make the people doubt him. In fact, he is a radical nationalist dictator whose people do not begrudge him some luxuries. Another mistake is to assume that South Korean TV dramas and western ``decadence" are going to unnerve the North Koreans. They won't. The Nazis loved Hollywood movies.
To impact the North Koreans, the good side, which is our side, needs to expose the radical nationalist lie to the extent that highlights the South as the ``true" Korea. Key messages, to use a public relations term, should include: We are the true Koreans, South Korea is the most successful state on the peninsula since the Shilla Kingdom, We have provided food and a high quality of living for 50 years, We are respected in the world, South Korean culture is spreading through the world, Kim Jong-il is a global laughing stock, North Korea is viewed as one of the world's poorest countries, It is a failed state because of poor leadership, In seeing outsiders as a threat North Korea is punching at its own shadow.
It must be said, though, that even if the message isn't right, the fact the loudspeakers are back in action itself sends a message that contradicts North Korea's internal propaganda: We are not afraid of Kim Jong-il.
It's no wonder they are running scared.
Michael Breen is an author, former foreign correspondent and the chairman of Insight Communications, a public relations consulting company. He can be reached at email@example.com.