Techniques of Tyranny—Persuade people they need the tyrant for defense

Following the introductory comments in the first two paragraphs immediately below, there are quotations from “When North Korea roars, South Korea yawns,” by Jung-yoon Choi and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2013. Sub-title: “Decades of living next door to an erratic, menacing neighbor have made the South nearly deaf to the saber rattling.”

Introductory comment: Barbara Demick has been doing highly perceptive reporting for The Los Angeles Times from Asia since 2001. She is presently (in 2013) Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times in Beijing. Ms. Demick is the author of a book on North Korea, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009). In this book and in articles in the Los Angeles Times Ms. Demick reports that nearly 10% of North Koreans died of starvation in the mid-1990s and that hunger still stalks North Korea nearly 20 years later. Due to malnutrition the average height of 18-year old males in North Korea is five inches less than 18-year-old males in South Korea. Study of a variety of reports on North Korea indicates that chronic and perennial food shortages are due to the regime’s rigid enforcement of communist ideology that outlaws entrepreneurial activity in agriculture or any other entrepreneurial activity and punishes such activities by imprisonment and death. National Geographic, in a motion picture documentary entitled “Inside North Korea ” (2009), provides graphic evidence and commentary consistent with Barbara Demick’s reports. 1 The quotations from the article below are offered to illustrate a theme in the lectures of Andrew J. Galambos, whose work is the basis of the website of which this blog is a part—that tyrants seek to justify their continued rule by actions coupled with propaganda to persuade those being ruled that they need the tyrant for protection from external and internal threats.

In political democracies, too, a principal ideological justification for the existence of what is loosely called “government,” but is called “the state” in CTLR, is the need for central authority to provide national defense. Yet political democracies are notoriously inept at protecting their citizens from external aggression, as evidenced by the collapse of French military resistance under the onslaught of the army of Nazi Germany in 1940 and the initial military successes of the Empire of Japan in its attacks on the United States in the World War II. [What follows is quoted from the above-mentioned article in The Los Angeles Times]

SEOUL–When North Korea last weekend declared it was in a state of war, threatening to use nuclear weapons against South Korea, reduce its presidential palace to ashes and mercilessly sweep away the warmongers, residents of Seoul reacted much as they always do.

They yawned.

Decades of living in the shadow of an erratic, menacing neighbor have made South Koreans almost deaf to the rhetoric from the North. . . “There have been so many threats over a period of time, now I feel indifferent to it all,” said 65-year-old Choi Chang-ho. “I am bored with them. . .”

Over the years, North Korea’s propagandists have lambasted South Koreans as “puppet warmongers,” and with numbing frequency threatened to turn their country into a “sea of fire.” The actual attacks in recent years have been limited but nonetheless deadly. In 2010, North Korea shelled a military base on nearby Yeonpyeong island, killing four South Koreans, and are believed to be responsible for the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette that killed 46. The North Korean regime has prosecuted a continual undeclared war of terrorism against South Korea. 2

The chance of a war with its heavily armed communist neighbor seems too far-fetched for people in Seoul, a modern city of more than 10 million, to affect their busy lives.

“The North Koreans are not living in this world by themselves,” shrugged Kim Soon-ja, 61, at Seoul’s busy main train station this week. “A war won’t erupt that easily . . .”

Hee-yun, a 23-year-old history student in Seoul who asked that his family name not be used, said he felt more angry then anxious about the North Korean regime.

“The North [Koreans] know they don’t have a chance at winning, but still they carry on with their provocations to heighten the diplomatic conflict to turn their internal conflicts to the outside,” he said. “Thus they are trying to strengthen the domestic unity, to continue on with their rule.” [Emphasis added]

The North Korean state, like all tyrannies, claims that the people it rules need the state for protection. However, the North Korean state treats its subjects far worse than the Japanese did in the 35 years (1910-1945) that the Empire of Japan ruled Korea, and Japanese conduct in Korea was at times atrocious.

Comment on the foregoing Barbara Demick article

By causing continual conflict with South Korea and the U.S. the North Korean regime propagandizes its enslaved “citizens” that they need the state to protect them from outsiders who mean to do harm to North Korea.

That is exactly what the Communist Party of the Soviet Union said to citizens of the Soviet Union—outsiders want to conquer and enslave us. Therefore, you need a strong state to protect you.

“Regime” is the correct name for the North Korean state. It is more than just the man at the top who rules in North Korea, although the man at the top is presently the third generation of his family to be the head of the regime. North Korea is ruled by the communist party, its police and its military while the North Korean people live a life of misery.

No one man—not an Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or a Mao Tse-tung—can rule a whole country without the help of confederates who get special privileges in return for their support and their loyalty in carrying out orders from those higher up in the ruling regime. Subordinates in such a regime are kept in constant fear of vicious punishment if they do not display constant and complete loyalty in carrying out the dictates from the top. A particularly hideous example occurred in the “Great Terror” of the Soviet Union of the 1930s when Stalin organized a “purge” of allegedly disloyal and treasonous people within the communist party, the army and throughout society. Millions of people were killed including many of the highest ranking army officers.

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were unusual among tyrants in that they seemed to be making all the decisions of the regime of which they were the head. In this regard they  wielded power more like European absolute monarchs such as Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) who said, and meant, “l’état, c’est moi”—literally “I am the state.”

Tyrannies since Nazi Germany under Hitler and Russia (the Soviet Union) under Stalin have operated as oligarchies with one man representing the power of the oligarchy, but subject to removal by the rest of the oligarchy.

In summary the North Korean state is like the Mafia, only worse. It runs a “protection racket.” It tells its citizens they need the state to protect them from domestic crime and foreign invasion, when the state itself is the biggest threat to its own citizens.

The North Korean oligarchy continually threatens South Korea and the U.S. to keep relations with these countries strained; the regime then cites the strained external relations as one of the reasons to continue its tight control of North Korean people, a control which is even more strict and merciless than the control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was over the Russian people and other ethnic groups under control of the Soviet regime.




  1. The documentary is available from Netflix and on YouTube at =
  2. One example: In 1987 agents of the North Korean regime planted a bomb in a South Korean airliner, causing a mid-flight explosion killing 115 people including 104 passengers and the crew of eleven. See Wikipedia, “Korean Air Flight 858,” at
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4 Responses to Techniques of Tyranny—Persuade people they need the tyrant for defense

  1. James Steamer says:

    Let North Korea start a war. South Korea and the US should then totally destroy the entire military infrastructure and central government of North Korea once and for all. This would finally free North Koreans to merge with the south and finally reap the obvious benefits of free enterprise and democracy. Better yet if China would join us and assist!

    • fgmarks says:

      The focus of CTLR on defense against external attack is on individual initiative and cooperative protective arrangements rather than on actions by the state. The experience of the wars in Vietnam and the Middle East (since 1991) indicates that it is unwise for the U.S. to initiate hostilities in Asia, even with the purpose of making a preventive strike to preempt an attack.

      A preemptive attack on North Korea could motivate the North Korean state, with its million-man army, to launch all-out war against South Korea. The North Korean communists have never acknowledged the reality of the South Korean state, and never agreed to a peace treaty between the two Koreas. All-out war on the Korean peninsula could likely cause enormous loss of life and the risk of spreading beyond Korea to involve the United States and Japan.

      Of interest is the possibility of defense against missiles aimed at America by hostile states, such as North Korea and Iran. The U.S. Department of Defense announced in March, 2013 that it plans to add 14 missile interceptors to an anti-missile system already in place in Alaska to provide defense against missiles launched against America from North Korea.

      The U.S. also has anti-missile interceptors based in California, and on U.S. navy ships equipped with missile-tracking radar and missile interceptors.

      Starting in 2002 and culminating in 2008 the U.S. entered into agreements with the Czech Republic and Poland to put in place a missile defense system in Europe aimed at defense against missiles launched from Iran. Subsequently the U.S. canceled this program, but recently decided to proceed with it again because Iranian-based missiles eventually could be capable of threatening Europe and the United States.

      Recently, the U.S. Navy’s top intelligence officer, warned in a congressional hearing for the first time that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs “pose a serious threat to the United States” as well as its East Asian neighbors. See “Pentagon plans to add missile interceptors in Alaska,” by David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2003,

      Thirty years ago, on March 23, 1983, President Reagan, on advice from his science advisor, Dr. George Keyworth, proposed that the U.S. use ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. This was called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). It focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic offense doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD).

      SDI was widely criticized as being unrealistic, even unscientific as well as for threatening to destabilize MAD and re-ignite “an offensive arms race.” President Reagan anticipated this argument in his March 23, 1983 speech by saying the U.S. should share the technology with the Soviets because it was purely defensive.

      SDI was soon derided as “Star Wars,” after the popular 1977 film by George Lucas. The opposition to SDI was voiced in the media and by influential politicians. However, as Americans start to worry about North Korean threats, apparently it has recently become bi-partisan policy to have SDI resuscitated and brought to operational capability.

      During WW II, in what was known as the “Manhattan Project,” the United States of America developed the first atomic bomb within a period of just 3 ½ years—a task perhaps as challenging technologically, if not more so—than developing an effective defense system against ballistic missiles powered by rocket engines. There was a sense of urgency in the Manhattan Project because of the very real possibility Nazi Germany would attain atomic bomb capability. Since Nazi Germany’s use of rockets to attack England near the end of WW II, the U.S. federal state has been aware of the danger of leaving America defenseless against such attacks. With the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the late 1950s, America has been vulnerable to attacks by missiles launched from many thousands of miles away and carrying immensely powerful atomic bombs as their warhead. The threat of North Korea’s rulers to launch an ICBM attack against America is not new. Unfortunately, neither is there any novelty in the dilatory actions of the U.S. in developing an effective defense to protect Americans from an ICBM attack.

      It appears that the U.S. would be much farther ahead, perhaps 15 or 20 years farther ahead but for the political fighting over whether to pursue the SDI at all.

      Under U.S. President Bill Clinton, in 1994 the United States entered into an agreement, called “The Agreed Framework,” to aid North Korea in developing nuclear power for civilian use. In exchange the North Korean state promised to suspend its development of capacity to produce the kind of nuclear fuel used in atomic bombs. The U.S. performed its obligations under the Agreed Framework, but the North Korean state secretly continued its nuclear weapons program, and eventually renounced the Agreed Framework in 2003. The Agreed Framework appears to have been one more example of the folly of trying to appease an aggressor, with the U.S. state playing the role of the one that was fooled. It appears that North Korea has done nothing to develop electricity generating capacity via nuclear power, an avowed goal under the Agreed Framework. Instead, the North Korean state has developed the capacity to make nuclear fission bombs, perhaps using some of the technology and materials supplied to it by the U.S. under the Agreed Framework.

      A noted French philosopher and commentator, Jean-François Revel (1924-2006) published a book entitled How Democracies Perish (1984), which identifies political paralysis as the cause of the failure of democracies to defend themselves adequately against foreign aggression. As a citizen of France during the conquest of France by Nazi Germany, Revel was intimately familiar with the role of French democracy in failure to prepare adequately for the Nazi onslaught, which had been anticipated for over four years. This dispute over SDI appears to be an example in American democracy of the political paralysis that Revel discusses in his book.

  2. Marshall Lewis says:

    Missing in all this discussion is the specter of what is coming next. Eventually, the oppressed rise up against the tyranny and chaos follows. The South Koreans and the Chinese at this point fear the chaos more than the tyranny. The chaos will produce mass emigration over borders incapable of withstanding the immigration, and a burden on all the free nations to try to treat with the desperation and starvation that present a humanitarian crisis. We already have that in Syria and Egypt is on the edge. The neighboring countries become unstable in the process, as we are already witnessing in the Middle East. Huge numbers of unemployed become inflamed by notions that the rest of humanity has an obligation to bring them relief. When it doesn’t come, they become radicalized and threaten the rest of the world. Eventually, we need to learn that we must help, and help early, in order to protect ourselves.

    • fgmarks says:


      For reasons mentioned below, any mass exodus out of North Korea may be as disastrous as you indicate, but it seems the disaster would be primarily for the people of North Korea.

      In this reply the word “state” is used in place of what people almost universally call “government.” The point of view of the website of which this blog is a part—Capitalism: The Liberal Revolution (CTLR)—is that state action is always political and politics is never a solution to any problem but rather causes problems or worsens problems it did not start. Accordingly, one should not anticipate any effective actions by the American state in the case of North Korea or by any other country or by the United Nations.

      In this regard the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 is worth considering. At the time the American state denied there was a problem until it was too late to stop the genocide. Our President went to Rwanda in 1998 where he apologized for western inaction during the Rwanda genocide. A 2004 motion picture, Hotel Rwanda, provides some sense of the desperation of the prospective victims of the genocide.

      While the genocide was going on it was official policy of the U.S. to deny there was genocide going on. But there WAS a genocide that lasted for three months. The United Nations had a small peace-keeping military force in Rwanda during 1993-1994. Most of the UN troops were withdrawn by the countries that had sent them. Only about a relative handful of UN troops were left. They were unable to stop the genocide in which 800,000 to 1,000,000 people were massacred. In 2000 UN Secretary General Kofi Anan called the tragedy a failure of the UN. A Belgian military officer who was part of the UN peacekeeping force said that another 5,000 UN troops timely deployed could have stopped the genocide. Not only were more UN troops not deployed, most of those there beforehand were withdrawn by their respective countries as the genocide was starting.

      At present there is an “underground railroad” from North Korea to South Korea via China. It is described in the motion picture Seoul Train, a 2004 documentary, available from Netflix. The numbers escaping from N. Korea are small because of difficulty in running the gauntlet of N. Korean soldiers enforcing the country’s strict prohibition on emigration, the draconian punishment of attempted refugees by the North Korean state and the acts of the Chinese state in forcing such refugees back into North Korea when they are discovered by the Chinese police.

      There are some 25 million people in North Korea. If history is any guide, they will not all attempt to flee if the regime starts to totter. At present it is terribly difficult for a N. Korean to get out of the country because of the N. Korean army on the border of S. Korea, the hostile Chinese state on the north, and the seas that surround the Korean peninsula. An exodus of N. Korean boat people to Japan is highly unlikely given the continuing animosity between Japanese and Koreans.

      North Koreans fleeing a crumbling dictatorship will be in dire straits. That is a common situation in similar cases.

      In the mid-1990s a state-induced famine took 10% of the people of N. Korea via death by starvation. Outside food aid was of no avail because the N. Korean state restricted the presence of outsiders and is suspected of diverting outside food aid to the ruling elite and the military. In the second decade of the 21st century there is again widespread hunger and death from malnutrition in N. Korea and food aid from outside is unlikely to alleviate the starvation due to the restrictions of the N. Korean state.

      Over the past 150 years there have been a number of mass migrations of people trying to escape danger or just find a better life than the wretched existence they had been enduring. America’s population increased enormously due to a mass migration out of Europe during the 19th century.

      When mass migration occurs due to people fleeing for their lives, the World ordinarily turns its collective back. There was a mass migration of Jews out of Eastern Europe before World War I; a mass migration of Russians of all kinds out of Russia at the time of the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921; an attempt at mass migration of Jews from the path of the Nazis during WW II; within the U.S. during WW II a mass migration of black Americans from the rural south to the industrial north; a mass migration out of Europe of the remnant of Jews left after the WW II holocaust; a mass migration of Germans away from advancing Russian troops at the end of WW II; mass migrations away from danger over many years in war between Ethiopia and Eritrea from the 1970s to the 1990s; mass migrations of over one million people from Cuba (mostly to the U.S.) after the Castro regime took power in 1959; a mass emigration of refugees from South Vietnam following U.S. withdrawal from the country in 1975; attempts at mass migration from Haiti to the U.S. and other countries over many years; and possibly others that could be identified with a little research on the internet.

      Individual Americans and American private humanitarian organizations are likely to be the first to try and help North Korean refugees.

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