Lecture Series Focuses on North Korea

October 21, 2023

Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, is a “dictator” with “no moral scruples,” willing to “do whatever it takes to stay in power,” according to Lander University Professor of History Dr. Franklin Rausch.

Rausch, who has lived and taught in Korea, spoke at Greenwood’s Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 17, as part of Lander’s Community Lecture Series. He said that Kim Jong Un, like his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, rules “through fear,” in a manner reminiscent of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

All three Kims have tried to portray themselves as “benevolent figures,” but the truth is somewhat different. Rausch said that the enemies of Kim Il Sung “were divided and eliminated, one by one, until no one was left who could pose a threat to Kim Il Sung’s power.”

Kim Jong Un follows the same playbook. Those killed since he came to power include his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, and his uncle, Jang Song Thaek.

In North Korea, being critical of the government can get you in a world of trouble. “There are concentration camps that you can be taken to. You can be executed for political crimes,” Rausch said.

People are sometimes arrested just because they are related to someone who committed a political crime.”

The government of North Korea “exercises a huge amount of control over society and people’s lives,” he said. There is little or no access to the Internet, and it’s hard for people to get alternate points of view. “You do what the government wants you to do all the time.”

From an early age, North Koreans are taught that the world is a “hostile and dangerous” place.

People often don’t have enough to eat, because of the government’s emphasis on the military and the development of nuclear weapons, instead of feeding its citizens. As a result, “the average South Korean woman is taller than the average North Korean man.”

The government tells people that “we’re going through a difficult time now, but we’ve got a great leader, and all this will get better.” Rausch calls this “the big lie.”

Rausch has been to North Korea, but he has no plans to do so again.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to get out,” he said.