What a North Korean propaganda book taught me about America

I fake-interviewed a real North Korea propaganda book. Here’s what it told me.

Americans have preconceptions of what North Korea is like — militant, reclusive, and oppressive. But we don’t really understand what North Korea’s vision of America is. How do they view our government, our policies, and our history?

One way to answer this lies in the propaganda that shapes public opinion in North Korea. In the closed, authoritarian society, the regime is the only consistent source of information for the public.

As it happens, I recently acquired a very real North Korea propaganda book, authored by three state-sanctioned North Korean academics. Titled The US Imperialists Started the Korean War, the book is a sweeping indictment of American aggression, arguing that the US provoked the Korean War in the 1950s as part of a much broader strategy of post-WWII global domination.

That war pitted communist North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union and later China, against South Korea, backed by the United States. It started when the North invaded the South on June 25, 1950. It was a bloody war that ultimately killed some five million soldiers and civilians. At the war’s end in 1953, the two countries became separated by a demilitarized zone, or DMZ, and remain so to this day.

The book’s prose is awful and the claims are wildly overstated, but it offers a revealing look at how US foreign policy is perceived from the perspective of the North Korean regime — and North Korean citizens, who are fed this propaganda.

Much of it is false, some of it is true, and deciding which is which is not as easy as you might expect.

Still, I decided to do a mock interview with this North Korean propaganda book. I drafted questions and paired them with lightly edited passages from the text. Since it wasn’t a real conversation, there is no back-and-forth. Nor is there any attempt to analyze the arguments.

The point is to hear the story North Koreans tell themselves about America, however true or false it may be. If nothing else, it explains why so many North Koreans are convinced that America is the most evil country in the world.

So with that in mind, here is my fake interview with a very real North Korea propaganda book.

[Author’s note: Again, this is NOT a real interview, but the answers to my questions are plucked directly from the book and edited only slightly to increase clarity.]


Sean Illing

You claim that the Korean War was the result of American imperialist aggression. What happened?

North Korea Propaganda Book

The US imperialists were absorbed in searching for a way to occupy Korea without shedding blood, and intended to seize by any means even part of the Korean peninsula, if not all, and to use it as a springboard for their future continental aggression. From this crafty design of the US ruling circles sprang the plan for the “bloodless occupation” of Korea.

Sean Illing

What was America’s “bloodless occupation” plan?

North Korea Propaganda Book

They considered that in order to occupy one part of Korea without the least bloodshed they should check the communists’ advance into Korea at a definite point and provide guarantee for this by a certain international agreement.

On this calculation, they adopted a criminal plan, that is, to divide Korea into north and south and prevent her people from liberating their country through their own efforts.

Sean Illing

What was America’s goal in South Korea?

North Korea Propaganda Book

To check the South Korean people’s struggle to build a new society and to create conditions favorable for the US occupation of South Korea and its establishment of colonial rule.

Sean Illing

Why do you consider America’s occupation of South Korea the “greatest national misfortune” in the history of the Korean Peninsula?

North Korea Propaganda Book

It was the root cause of a calamity of territorial bisection and national division which the Korean people had never experienced during their long history of 5,000 years. It gave rise to a hotbed of a new war in Korea, and the US imperialist policy of turning South Korea into a military base entered the stage of full-scale realization.

Sean Illing

Is it really the case that America “enslaved” South Korea?

North Korea Propaganda Book

From the first day of their occupation of South Korea, the US imperialists followed colonial enslavement and military base policies. In fact, all the policies adopted by US imperialism were, without exception, related to its aggressive design to convert South Korea into a colonial military base and use it as a stepping-stone for the conquest of the whole of Korea.

Sean Illing

But why conquer the whole of Korea? What was America’s broader aim?

North Korea Propaganda Book

The trend of revolutionary developments to peace and democracy, national independence and socialism constituted a fatal blow to the aggressive policy of world domination pursued by the US imperialists who had called for “global supremacy” immediately after WWII.

Greatly alarmed by the growth of revolutionary forces, they resorted to the policy of cold war in an attempt to find a way out of the impasse and launched an all-out reactionary offensive for world domination.

Sean Illing

US leaders claimed in the years leading up to the Korean War that America should not expand its involvement in South Korea and Taiwan. Was that just a lie or did events on the ground change?

North Korea Propaganda Book

They formed some designs to veil their aggressive nature and lay blame for war at the [North Korea’s] door. The first design was to convince the world of the fact that Korea’s security had nothing to do with US security and that the US was not interested in Korea … but a gimlet in a bag shows itself.

The hypocritical nature of their statements soon came into the open. They were an anesthetic to benumb the vigilance of the world public, the Korean and Chinese peoples in particular, over the US war policy and a smokescreen to cover up their war provocation plan.

Sean Illing

What was the smokescreen? How did the US justify its desired war with North Korea?

North Korea Propaganda Book

The war plan was occasioned by two causes: one was the political and economic crisis of the Syngman Rhee government [Rhee was the US-backed president of South Korea from 1948 to 1960] on the verge of total collapse, and the other was the imminency of liberation of Taiwan by the Chinese people.

Sean Illing

What was the “political and economic crisis” in South Korea and how did it provide the US with an opportunity to attack North Korea?

North Korea Propaganda Book

The South Korean economy which had rushed along the road of ruin under the US military administration entered a graver stage from 1949. Production was totally destroyed and the currency inflation was uncontrollable. Economic ruin directly affected the people’s life, roused the broader masses to an anti-US, national salvation struggle, and thus aggravated the political crisis of the Syngman Rhee government.

The only outlet for him [Rhee] was to ignite a war as soon as possible. Driven to the wall, Rhee came to the conclusion that war alone could get him out of the precipice and clear away all the political and economic crises. Thus he hurriedly sent M. Chang [the South Korean ambassador] to Washington who reported the “ruinous state of the government” to the US master and asked for “urgent US aid” to overcome that crisis.

Having received the urgent message from Rhee, President Truman, who had no other way but to back Rhee, as he had put it himself, now had to check the fall of the Rhee government and, to this end, he had to quickly enkindle a planned war.

Sean Illing

Once the war began, you say the US committed “mass atrocities” with “American-style brutality and and inhumanity.” Care to explain?

North Korea Propaganda Book

The US aggressors, as befitting such brutal nature of fascist hangmen, committed atrocities of mass slaughter against the Korean people from the first days of war …

Even according to the data confirmed by the initial investigation, the US aggressors murdered innumerable patriots and other people in large and small towns and villages of South Korea — 1,146 in Suwon, over 2,060 in Chungju, more than 600 in Kongju and Phyongthaek respectively, over 2,000 in Puyo and Chongju respectively, 8,644 in Taejon, over 4,000 in Jonju, more than 500 in Ansong, over 400 in Kunsan and Anyang respectively, 158 in Jochiwon and more than 800 in Thongyong, to cite some examples.

Sean Illing

You’re citing casualty numbers, but isn’t it the nature of war that people are killed? What’s uniquely cruel or unjust about this?

North Korea Propaganda Book

In the Korean war the US imperialists, who had long been trained on misanthropy and racism, revealed their barbarity and brutality to the whole world, far exceeding those of the preceding imperialists.

“Retake Seoul! There are girls and women. For three days the city will be yours. You will have girls and women in Seoul.” This is the special order MacArthur, Commander of the UN Forces, issued in September 1950 to US men and officers making a landing at Inchon. As seen in this “special order” of MacArthur, the US imperialists did not hesitate to throw off their masks of so-called “civilization” and “humanism” and reveal their wolfish nature in order to retrieve themselves from their defeat in the Korean war.

Sean Illing

And yet despite all these tactics you accuse the US of employing, you claim that they lost anyway.

North Korea Propaganda Book

The US imperialists schemed to bring the Korean people to their knees and nip the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea since 1948] in the bud, employing every available brutal method defying the imagination.

But the US war zealots made a grave mistake in their calculation and eventually met with an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Korean people. Having suffered a serious military, political and moral defeat in the Korean war, the US imperialists began sliding downhill for the first time in US history to explode the myth about their “mightiness.”

But imperialists do not by nature draw a lesson from their defeat. Far from learning a due lesson from history, from their miserable defeat in the Korean war, the US imperialists have pursed the policy of aggression and war ever since the conclusion of the Armistice Agreement in their desperate effort to save themselves from sliding downhill.

Sean Illing

What does that “policy of aggression and war” look like today?

North Korea Propaganda Book

In pursuing the policy of aggression on Korea under their postwar “strategy of mass reprisal” based on the “policy of strength,” the US imperialists laid stress on their permanent occupation of South Korea while hampering Korea’s reunification, fortified South Korea as their military strategic base by extensively reinforcing the puppet armed forces, and at the same time lined up the South Korean puppets with the Japanese militarists and sped up preparations for a new war for the occupation of the whole of Korea.

Sean Illing

And what role has the North Korean government played in all this?

North Korea Propaganda Book

All these incidents which the whole world had watched with deep apprehensions could be brought under control and prevented from developing into a big war only thanks to the persistent peace policy of the Government of the DPRK.

Ever since liberation the DPRK Government has invariably held that Korea must be relieved from tension and the question of her reunification be solved peacefully, not by war. It proposed to solve the question of national reunification independently and peacefully on a democratic principle more than 150 times.

But the US imperialists doggedly cling to their policy of of aggression and war … The tense situation and the danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula are an outcome of US policy.

Sean Illing

What happens next?

North Korea Propaganda Book

If the US imperialists, oblivious of the lessons of history, are tenacious enough to provoke a new war of aggression in Korea, turning a deaf ear to the just demand of the Korean people and going against the current of the times, they will eventually perish in the flames of war once and for all, suffering a still greater, miserable defeat than they suffered in the past Korean war.