Reforming chaebols? Or sucking up to Kim?

Samsung headquarters, Seoul

When it was announced last year, with big fanfare, that South Korea had finally gotten serious about tackling the outsized power of the chaebols, we were instantly cynical. This was, after all, hardly the first time that the government in Seoul had vowed to put Samsung, Hyundai, and the other family-run conglomerates in their place. But it never happened. Instead, the same old pattern continued: the chaebols kept throwing their weight around, kept paying huge bribes to public officials in exchange for laws, permits, and exemptions favorable to their business activities, and using their near-monopolistic market positions to smother fledgling firms in their cradles. Every now and then the head of a chaebol would get put on trial for corruption, and inevitably the case would either go away or the boss man, after being found guilty, would be given a get-out-of-jail-free card.


The latest case in point was that of Jay Y. Lee (Lee Jae-yong), vice chairman and de facto head of Samsung, who was sentenced to five years in prison last year only to be freed this year. On September 18, President Moon Jae-in, who not so long ago had essentially declared zero tolerance for chaebol corruption, hopped on a place with Lee and other chaebol honchos and flew with them to Pyongyang to explore the possibility of doing business with the Hermit Kingdom, perhaps even building factories in that totalitarian land. Even as their exploratory talks with Kim Jong-un were underway, Moon’s corruption czar, Kim Sang-jo, head of the Fair Trade Commission, was making his informal title of “chaebol sniper” look pathetic.

“With exports of semiconductors one of the few bright spots in an economy that’s showing signs of strain,” noted Livemint, the Indian business news website, on the day Lee & co. jetted northwards, South Korea’s “reliance on its most profitable company is deepening and thus reducing regulatory pressure on Samsung.” Chung Sun-sup, a corporate analyst, confirmed that the South Korean government “needs Samsung now.” Bruce Lee, CEO of Zebra Investment Management, agreed that the nation’s faltering economy “means a halt in chaebol reforms.” And Kwon Young-june, an expert in corporate governance at Kyung Hee University, concurred. “Reforms are dying on the vine,” he said. “The government will find itself more and more in need of conglomerates as long as it is fixated on quick results rather than long-term reforms.”

Indeed, by escorting the chaebol kingpins to Pyongyang, Moon was doing the very opposite of what he had promised: rather than limiting the power of the chaebols, he was doing his best to expand their power. What kind of head of state lowers himself to the role of chaperon, escort, cicerone, sherpa? With this one move, Moon provided the whole world with a vivid illustration of where the power really resides in South Korea. Did he serve them coffee on the plane, too?

But that wasn’t all. Far from curbing chaebol criminality, Moon was taking actions that seemed likely to invite criminality. North Korea, after all, is subject to strict international sanctions that would almost certainly be violated by any significant business arrangement with the chaebols. Lee Seok-ki, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, told the Korea Joongang Daily that “if we only look at the cost side, North Korea has more labor cost effectiveness than any other country on the planet – even Vietnam and China.” Well, yes – making use of slave labor by people who are forced to live on starvation diets tends to bring down wages. Surely, to any decent observer, the very idea of the filthy-rich chaebols maximizing their profits by employing the brutalized subjects of the Kim dynasty is as reprehensible a business proposition as one could imagine – and is also, of course, as far as possible from any concept of reform.

Gloria Steinem, lightweight icon


Camille Paglia has neatly summed up the positive side of Gloria Steinem: “I hugely admired the early role that Steinem played in second-wave feminism because she was very good as a spokesperson in the 1970s. She had a very soothing manner that made it seem perfectly reasonable for people to adopt feminist principles…Also, I credit her for co-founding Ms. magazine and thereby contributing that very useful word, Ms., to the English language, which allows us to refer to a woman without signaling her marital status.”

But as it happens, it’s Paglia, too, who has best summed up what’s wrong with Steinem. For one thing, “that animus of hers against men.” For another, her lifelong fixation on the supposed oppression of upper-middle-class white American women such as herself, who in fact were, and are, among the most privileged people the world has ever seen.

Camille Paglia

Then there’s “the simplistic level of Steinem’s thinking,” as exemplified by her comment that “women reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.” (Or her attack on Paglia, about whom Steinem once actually said: “Her calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying he’s not anti-Semitic.”) Then there’s Steinem’s “having turned feminism into a covert adjunct of the Democratic party,” one consequence of which was that she hypocritically kept her mouth shut during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

In 2015, we reported on Steinem’s latest stratagem: a “walk for peace” from North Korea to South Korea, the point being, as she explained beforehand, “to call attention to this unresolved conflict that I suspect most people or many people have forgotten.” Or perhaps the point was to get her own name back in the headlines again, since she feared many people had forgotten her?

Steinem leading her Korea walk

Steinem quickly made it clear that she understood nothing whatsoever about North Korea. She planned, she said, to meet with North Korean women so they could compare their “experiences” as women in different societies. As if women in North Korea could speak honestly about their experiences without risking execution! The Daily Beast ran an article by Lizzie Crocker headlined: “Is Gloria Steinem a Propaganda Tool For North Korea?” Indeed, it was interesting to note that Steinem, who had made a career out of savaging postwar America’s supposed mistreatment of the female sex, said nothing in her Korea remarks about the nightmarish abuse of both men and women in the Hermit Kingdom.

Steinem and Ahn

It was even more interesting to note that Steinem’s partner in this inane enterprise was Christine Ahn, head of something called the Korea Solidarity Committee and a shameless apologist for the Kim regime. To judge by Steinem’s remarks about Korea, she had swallowed wholesale everything Ahn had told her about the topic. Why is Korea divided? Not because the northern part is a totalitarian dictatorship governed by a bloodthirsty tyrant, but because of the “Cold War mentality,” Steinem pronounced.

Steinem with Lahti

After years of such pathetic stunts, Steinem should be an object of ridicule. Paglia’s view of her should be the world’s view of her. But no, she’s remained a darling of the cultural elite. She’s the subject of an upcoming Off-Broadway play, Gloria: A Life, in which she’ll be played by Christine Lahti. A New York Times article took us into “the cool tranquillity of Ms. Steinem’s Upper East Side duplex,” where Lahti and Steinem fielded softball questions about the production. (Presumably the obvious title for the play, Oppressed in an Upper East Side Duplex, was too long for the marquee.) The Times noted that Steinem is also the subject of not one but two forthcoming movies: My Life on the Road, starring Julianne Moore as Steinem, and An Uncivil War, with Carey Mulligan as Steinem.

In 2018, does the American playgoing and moviegoing public really want to see dramas about the purported heroism of Gloria Steinem? This is, after all, a woman who, in the Times piece, is actually quoted as saying “it isn’t just that we live in a patriarchy. The patriarchy lives in us.” Isn’t it clear by now that, as an intellectual, she’s a lightweight? That, as an activist, she’s as domesticated a creature as you could imagine? And that, as a so-called oppressed person, she’s the very model of privilege?

She loves North Korea!

Deirdre Griswold (left) with WWP colleagues in Pyongyang

Who is Deirdre Griswold? Surely this was a question that more than a few of Tucker Carlson’s viewers asked on the evening of February 12, when Ms. Griswold, a feisty, white-haired woman of a certain age, was a guest on Carlson’s Fox News TV show. She was there because she’s an admirer of North Korea. She’s also a shameless fount of disinformation. Vociferously, she denied that North Koreans are forbidden access to information about the world. When Carlson said that North Koreans aren’t allowed to watch foreign movies, she accused him of making it up. She hailed North Korean literacy and medical care and insisted that, contrary to Carlson’s claim, North Koreans aren’t “living in some kind of jail.” When Carlson asked why North Koreans aren’t permitted to leave their country, Griswold shook her head and said: “People go back and forth all the time.”

Who is this woman? Carlson identified her as a member of the Workers World Party (WWP). And what, you ask, is the Workers World Party? It’s a solidly Communist organization, founded in 1959 by a group of comrades who split from the somewhat better known Socialist Workers Party (SWP) because they supported Mao’s revolution and the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, both of which the SWP opposed. In other words, they formed the WWP because the SWP wasn’t radical enough for them. (As it happens, the SWP was itself a splinter group, formed by Trotskyites who’d been expelled from the pro-Stalinist American Communist Party.)

Griswold’s dad, Vincent Copeland, addressing an audience some time in the early 1980s

Griswold isn’t just any member of the WWP. Her stepfather, Vincent Copeland, was one of its founders and was also the founding editor of the party’s newspaper, Workers World. Griswold succeeded him as editor over five decades ago, and still holds the position to this day. In 1980, she was the party’s candidate for President of the United States, receiving about 13,000 votes.

The Soviet Union collapsed over a quarter century ago, but Griswold remains a fan. On the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution she gave a speech affirming her abiding loyalty to the totalitarian empire that gave us Lenin and Stalin, the Gulag and the Holodomor. While many on the left, she told her comrades, were so “stunned” by the fall of the USSR that they “abandoned Marxism,” the WWP did not.

For Griswold, what matters is not that the Kremlin regime was toppled but that it hung on as long as it did. “The fact that the Soviet Union lasted for 74 years despite everything the imperialists did to destroy it,” Griswold declared, “is an incredible testament to the strength of the working class and the struggle for socialism.” This endurance, she added, “proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a state based upon the working class and formerly oppressed peoples with a planned economy is vastly superior to capitalism.”

No decent person, obviously, could regard this woman’s politics as anything other than reprehensible. One major American newspaper that profiled her 14 years ago, however, did its best to depict her as charming and deeply humane. Which paper? Well, if you’re a regular reader of this site you can probably guess. But we’ll tell you all about it on Thursday.

Who is Kathy Dettwyler?

Kathy Dettwyler (center, in dress) with students, 2016

During the past few days we’ve been studying the responses of several ethically challenged commentators to the arrest and imprisonment of American student Otto Warmbier – who died on July 19 – by the brutal regime of North Korea, which accused him of removing a propaganda poster from a hotel corridor. Instead of recognizing Warmbier as a victim deserving of sympathy, writers at Salon and Huffington Post, and so-called comedian Larry Wilmore, either criticized him for his supposed disrespect for his totalitarian hosts or made fun of him for having gotten himself into trouble in the Hermit Kingdom in the first place. But worst of all was Kathy Dettwyler, an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware, who on her Facebook page and in a reader comment posted at the website of National Review, actually tore into Warmbier after his death. To their credit, her bosses at the University of Delaware were quick to issue the following statement:

Otto Warmbier at his press conference in North Korea

The comments of Katherine Dettwyler do not reflect the values or position of the University of Delaware. We condemn any and all messages that endorse hatred and convey insensitivity toward a tragic event such as the one that Otto Warmbier and his family suffered.

The University of Delaware values respect and civility and we are committed to global education and study abroad; therefore we find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values. Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.

This statement was soon followed by another one indicating that the university would not be rehiring Dettwyler after the present semester.

Kathy Dettwyler, breastfeeding expert

We were so disgusted by Dettwyler’s remarks about Warmbier that we decided to find out more about her. It turns out that Dettwyler is an “expert” on breastfeeding. She is sometimes described as a “breastfeeding advocate” – which means, basically, that she believes in breastfeeding babies until long after they have ceased to be babies. In one article she suggests that it is reasonable to keep breastfeeding a child until somewhere between the ages of three and eight. A brief career summary: after studying at UC Davis and Indiana University, she has bounced from one college faculty to another – the University of Southern Mississippi, Texas A&M, SUNY Plattsburgh, Millersville University.

University of Delaware

After her remarks about Warmbier made national news, The Review, a newspaper published at the University of Delaware, ran a piece about her stating that she had “earned a reputation” at the college “for incorporating her political beliefs into her teaching.” The article quoted junior Nicolas Diclaudio, who had taken two anthropology courses taught by Dettwyler. According to Diclaudio, Dettwyler “would routinely go on political tangents, oftentimes making derogatory remarks about President Donald Trump and his supporters….Dettwyler’s classroom activity became seriously unacceptable when she began to include her political beliefs in academic assessments, asking questions with intentional ideological bias.”

A question about Donald Trump and his supporters from a test by Dettwyler, along with the “correct” answer: true.

“I would always pick the answer that I knew she wanted because I didn’t want it to affect my grade,” Diclaudio told The Review. “Me and some of my friends would stop going to class and just read the textbook because her lectures got out of hand.” The Review noted that Diclaudio was not surprised by Dettwyler’s remarks about Warmbier; on the contrary, the student referred to Dettwyler’s Facebook post on Warmbier as “The most Kathy thing I’ve ever seen.” Student comments about Dettwyler at the website Rate My Professors confirm Diclaudio’s report: “It’s her opinion or no opinion…will give you attitude if you ask certain questions.” “She is very opinionated and blunt.” “Easily the rudest professor I have had at UD.” “She’s extremely rude.” “Way too opinionated to the point where she becomes unprofessional.” “Very opinionated and can be perceived as rude.” “Very opinionated and rude.” “Extremely strict and rude. She thinks she created Anthropology and hates America….She’s horrible and obnoxious.” “Insufferable. I’ve never experienced a professor who’s as self-important…one of the rudest people I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting.” “Unbelievably rude when students disagree with her but she tells us to question authority.”

While various national media failed to get any comment out of Dettwyler, she did respond to an inquiry by The Review, stating that “A couple of students complained about my comments in class about Trump, when what I did was talk about statements he himself had made, and lead the students through and analysis of the underlying cultural beliefs they reflected….This is part of my job as an anthropology professor.”

Kathy Dettwyler: spitting on Otto Warmbier’s corpse

Otto Warmbier

The last couple of days, we’ve been dwelling over the terrible story of Otto Warmbier, the American student held prisoner by North Korea and returned home last month in a coma. Our focus has not been on Warmbier, who died on June 19 in Cincinnati, but on the creeps at Salon, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere who chose to respond to Warmier’s arrest not by recognizing it as the act of a reprehensible totalitarian dictatorship but by denouncing – or ridiculing – Warmbier himself.

Kathy Dettwyler

To be sure, all these criticisms of Warmbier took place while he was still alive (and in a North Korean prison). Even worse was Kathy Dettwyler, an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, who after Warmbier’s death, mind you, wrote a few breathtakingly callous things on her Facebook page and in a readers’ comments section at the website of National Review: “Is it wrong of me,” she asked, “to think that Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved?” She maintained that Warmbier was “typical of a mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes” and who “cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade. They simple deserve a good grade for being who they are. Or instead of crying, they bluster and threaten their female professors.” There was no indication that Dettwyler had any knowledge about Warmbier’s academic conduct or performance: apparently the fact that he was a white male college student was enough for her to come to certain conclusions about him

Warmbier’s funeral

“These are the same kids,” wrote Dettwyler, “who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade….His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted. Maybe in the US, where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea. And of course, it’s Ottos’ [sic] parents who will pay the price for the rest of their lives.”

Again, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Warmbier thought he could get away with anything; and there’s certainly no excuse to equate him with a rapist. His alleged crime wasn’t rape – it was ripping a piece of paper off of a wall. And there’s no way of knowing whether Warmbier even did that. All we really know about what happened to him in North Korea is that he was arrested, imprisoned, and obviously abused so brutally that it ended up killing him. All these people’s criticisms should be directed against the totalitarian monsters of Pyongyang who tyrannize their own people in the same way they tyrannized Warmbier.

We’re talking, after all, about a country where a couple of hundred thousand political prisoners are being held under primitive conditions, are forced to perform back-breaking slave work under dangerous circumstances, and are in constant danger of either starving or freezing to death. But no: certain people on the Western left are so drenched in postmodern cliches about identity-group-based power and victimhood that when they see a story of this kind, their first instinct is to empathize with the non-whites, however monstrous, and to come down hard on the white male, however innocent.

No, Warmbier should never have set in North Korea. But did he deserve to die for his naivete?

Salon, Wilmore, HuffPo vs. Otto Warmbier

Otto Warmbier

Yesterday we looked at some of the more repulsive responses to the case of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was arrested last year while on a tour of North Korea and, in June, was returned to the U.S. in a coma and died a few days later. As we’ve seen, a Huffington Post contributor named La Sha was one of several commentators who mocked Warmbier and blamed him for his own fate. Knowing only that Warmbier had been imprisoned for the alleged crime of taking down a propaganda poster, La Sha decided that he was a victim of his own white male privilege. She actually compared him Warmbier to the Aurora, Colorado, mass murderer:

La SHa

When you can watch a white man who entered a theatre and killed a dozen people come out unscathed, you start to believe you’re invincible. When you see a white man taken to Burger King in a bulletproof vest after he killed nine people in a church, you learn that the world will always protect you….What a mind-blowing moment it must be to realize after 21 years of being pedestaled by the world simply because your DNA coding produced the favorable phenotype that such favor is not absolute. What a bummer to realize that even the State Department with all its influence and power cannot assure your pardon. What a wake-up call it is to realize that your tears are met with indifference.

La Sha actually criticized Warmbier for his lack of “respect for the national autonomy” of North Korea. And she concluded her comments by comparing his plight in North Korea to her own situation as a black woman in the United States:

…living 15 years performing manual labor in North Korea is unimaginable, but so is going to a place I know I’m unwelcome and violating their laws. I’m a black woman though. The hopeless fear Warmbier is now experiencing is my daily reality living in a country where white men like him are willfully oblivious to my suffering even as they are complicit in maintaining the power structures which ensure their supremacy at my expense. He is now an outsider at the mercy of a government unfazed by his cries for help. I get it.

Larry Wilmore

Similarly, after Warmbier’s arrest, the terribly unfunny Larry Wilmore, who at the time had a program on Comedy Central, responded to Warmbier’s arrest and show trial by making fun of Warmbier’s name and addressing him, with a sneer, as “frat boy.” Salon agreed, running a piece in which it described Warmbier as “America’s biggest idiot frat boy.” Affinity Magazine, which markets “social justice” to a teenage readership, tweeted a piece of advice that, it argued, Warmbier should have heeded while in North Korea: “Respect their laws.”

But there was, believe it or not, even worse in store. Tune in tomorrow.

Otto Warmbier: Blaming the victim

Otto Warmbier under arrest

We wrote last year about Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who went on a tour of North Korea only to find himself sentenced to 15 years at hard labor for supposedly stealing a propaganda banner from a corridor in his Pyongyang hotel – and who, last month, in a horrific denouement, was returned to the U.S. in a coma only to die several days later. In our account of the Warmbier case last year, we took a look at the firm, Young Pioneer Tours (YPT), that arranged the group trip in which he took part – but that, in the aftermath of his tragic experience, has ceased organizing vacations to the Hermit Kingdom.

Warmbier in court

A quick recap on YPT: according to its own website, it was founded by Gareth Johnson, a Britisher who has a great “love for the people and culture” of North Korea. The site also quoted from a YPT official, Shane Horan: “I’m passionate about travel to so called ‘rogue nations’ and changing people’s often incorrect perceptions of them.” YPT’s promotional materials directly addressed potential vacationers’ concern about safety in North Korea: “How safe is it? Extremely safe! Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit. Tourism is very welcomed in North Korea, thus tourists are cherished and well taken care of.”

Warmbier and fellow tour members in Pyongyang, prior to his arrest

Far from being cherished and well taken of, however, Warmbier was arrested at the airport in Pyongyang when he was about to return home. He was put on trial and, on March 16 of last year, sent to prison. YPT issued a statement to the effect that it was “continuing to work closely with relevant authorities to ensure a speedy and satisfactory outcome for Mr Warmbier.” Well, that didn’t exactly work out. 

La Sha

Far from showing any remorse, YPT kept whitewashing North Korea. And meanwhile Warmbier was undergoing – well, no one outside of Kim Jong-un’s empire knows exactly what he underwent. It now seems clear that he was savagely abused. Nobody remotely familiar with the reality of North Korea should have been surprised at the thought that the incarcerated American was undergoing brutal treatment. But that thought didn’t stop many appalling people in the U.S. from blaming Warmbier for his own fate – and, in effect, taking the side of the North Korean regime. At the Huffington Post, for example, a writer named La Sha took palpable pleasure at the news of Warmbier’s prison sentence, writing that “the shield his cis white male identity provides here in America is not teflon abroad.” The “reckless gall” Warmbier had demonstrated in North Korea by supposedly snatching a propaganda poster, argued La Sha, was “an unfortunate side effect of being socialized first as a white boy, and then as a white man in this country.”

As a “benefactor…of all privilege,” suggested La Sha (she later referred to his “alabaster American privilege”), Warmbier had developed an “arrogance,” a “subconscious yet no less obnoxious perception that the rules do not apply to him, or at least that their application is negotiable.” But there was more. As we’ll see tomorrow, La Sha actually compared Warmbier to the Aurora, Colorado, mass murderer. 

 

AP: propagandizing for Kim and Hamas

Matti Friedman

Yesterday we discussed a fascinating piece by former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman about that news bureau’s systematic practice of collaborating with tyrannical regimes in exchange for access. Friedman offers other examples: in 2014, a “detailed exposé on the AP’s bureau in North Korea” showed that it was staffed by “North Koreans who were paid by AP but answered to the regime.” Under an agreement between the AP and the Pyongyang government, AP could “sell propaganda images, like those lovely choreographed rallies, outside the country, while the North Korean ‘staffers’ studiously avoided subjects like mass starvation and prison camps.”

One hand washes the other: Hamas

Meanwhile, in Gaza, where Friedman himself worked as an AP correspondent from 2006 to 2011, the AP is involved in “both passive and active cooperation with Hamas.” He offers a striking anecdote: during the Israel-Hamas war that began in late 2008, an AP reporter called Friedman, who was working the service’s news desk in Jerusalem, and told him “that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll.” Some hours later, the reporter “called again and asked me to strike the detail from the story.” Friedman suspected at the time – and it was later confirmed – that his colleague had made the second call on orders from Hamas, which had threatened his life should the AP go with the full story.

“From that moment on,” writes Friedman, “AP’s coverage from Gaza became a quiet collaboration with Hamas….Our coverage shifted accordingly, though we never informed our readers. Hamas military actions were left vague or ignored, while the effects of Israeli actions were reported at length, giving the impression of wanton Israeli aggression, just as Hamas wanted.” Ironically, in 2014, when an AP reporter filed an article about Hamas censorship, it was shelved.

“We were trading truth for access,” writes Friedman, “and providing an illusion of ‘coverage’ that was actually propaganda.”

Sally Buzbee

Friedman quotes AP’s side of the story, as proffered by AP editor Sally Buzbee. “It is essential to cover tyrannical regimes and other undemocratic movements, when possible from within the borders they control, in order to accurately relay what is happening inside,” she said recently. But as Friedman observes. “if you’re inside the borders of a tyrannical regime, you can’t ‘accurately relay what is happening inside.’” He suggests that instead of having Hamas-controlled reporters inside Gaza, AP would be better off “working sources on the inside and making use of external players (Egyptian intelligence, Israeli intelligence, Palestinian reporters in the West Bank) to give a more accurate picture of events.” Similarly, “instead of paying for an illusory ‘bureau’ in Pyongyang and getting in bed with Kim Jong-un, why not devote that money to hiring the most knowledgeable people in South Korea and developing information from dissidents, refugees, and spies, which, in expert hands—and there are plenty at the AP’s disposal—might actually be able to yield an approximation of the truth?”

Fronting for the DPRK: The Kaufman Music Center

The Ureuk Symphony Orchestra

Last October, we wrote about the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble that had performed before an enthusiastic crowd at the Kaufman Music Center, a major New York City concert venue, on September 22. Five days after the concert, the Wall Street Journal published a bombshell of an article which revealed that the event, billed as a “Peace Korea Concert,” had in fact been pure North Korean propaganda. In addition to standard items from the classical repertoire, the evening’s program had included North Korean works celebrating the Kim dynasty, praising Kim Jong-un, and calling for the absorption of South Korea into North Korea.

That’s Christopher Joonmoo Lee in the middle

Since the words were all in Korean, of course, many audience members didn’t really know what they were listening to. There were exceptions, though: among those in attendance were several North Korean diplomats, including Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. The orchestra conductor, Christopher Joonmoo Lee, also understood every word. For, as it turned out, Lee, whose Korean name is Ri Jun Mu, isn’t just any musician: he’s a crony and operative of the Pyongyang regime. He spends a lot of time in North Korea and appears regularly on North Korean TV. As if all this weren’t explosive enough, the Journal pointed out that the orchestra had been performing at the Kaufman Music Center several times a year for over a decade – and in the city that may be the hub of the international news media, no reporter, apparently, had ever put it all together.

The Journal‘s revelations came as a surprise not only to most of the people who’d attended its September 22 concert but also to some of the musicians in the orchestra. The piece was, in fact, so devastating that we assumed – or, at least, hoped – that it would bring an end to this chapter in the history of North Korean propaganda. Nope! On February 4, an article in the New York Post brought the news that the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra was coming back to the Kaufman Music Center on that very day. This time around, the concert was entitled “February Spring” – a phrase used in North Korea to refer to Kim Jong-il’s birthday on February 16. The program, as always, would mix classical chestnuts with “North Korean cult songs praising the regime and its dictators, presented innocently as simply ‘Korean folk tunes,’ ‘music from a North Korean composer,’ etc.”

Lee surrounded by friends and fans

As the Post observed, what mattered here was not “that some unsuspecting Upper West Side 1-percenters are listening to militaristic songs,” but that “back in North Korea the concerts are touted as a triumph in the land of the ‘American bastards.’ It’s cultural warfare at its finest.” Indeed. The Post also added several details that were new to us. For one thing, the Ureuk concerts are underwritten by the Korean American National Coordinating Council, “a fanatically pro-Pyongyang front group once reportedly investigated by the US government for tax evasion and for serving as agents of North Korea.” For another, Lee, the orchestra conductor, is “a KANCC board member and a zealous supporter of the North Korean dictatorship.” He’s taken part in the “April Spring Friendship Art Festival,” an annual event in Pyongyang, and has written a poem celebrating the idea that North Korean nuclear bombs “could be the ‘death rattle’ of the ‘big-nosed’ Americans.” This from the man who wields the baton at “Peace Concerts”!

No, it’s no surprise that fanatical North Korean loyalists are doing their best to spread the Kim regime’s propaganda in the evil West. But why is the Kaufman Music Center providing them with a hall? Why didn’t the Wall Street Journal exposé put an end to this outrage once and for all? Why are people buying tickets to these things? Are Manhattanites that starved for classical music offerings?

Kim conquers New York

ureuk3
The Ureuk Symphony Orchestra on September 22

On September 22, the Merkin Concert Hall at New York’s Kaufman Music Center hosted a so-called “Peace Korea Concert” by an ensemble that calls itself the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra. The name of the event should have been a giveaway, but it came as a surprise to audience members – and, purportedly, to at least some of the musicians – when reporters for the Wall Street Journal informed them that at least three of the numbers on the evening’s program were paeans to the Kim dynasty in North Korea.

One of the works was Footsteps, “an inspirational ode to Kim Jong Un”; another celebrated the Kim dynasty; a third, according to the Journal‘s Jonathan Cheng and Timothy W. Murphy, “called for a unified Korea under the rule of Pyongyang.” (Immediately below is a video of the Ureuk group playing Footsteps; at the bottom of the page is a recording of the same tune, not by Ureuk, with subtitles translating the Korean lyrics into English.)

Informed of this fact, a cellist who’d played that evening acknowledged that the music had “seemed kind of militaristic.” A member of the audience recalled observing a group of “stern, well-dressed Korean men” in the audience. As it turned out, they were North Korean diplomats, led by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. The day after the concert, Ri gave an address to the U.N. General Assembly that consisted of the usual hostile rants about America. So much for “Peace Korea.”

So what’s the deal here? How did the Kaufman Music Center end up hosting a performance of North Korean propaganda music?

ureuk
Ureuk’s September 22 program

Well, it turns out that the conductor of the Ureuk Symphony Orchestra is one Christopher Joonmoo Lee, who is a member of that most bizarre subgroup of useful stooges – namely, the Western admirers of the barbaric, deranged Kim regime, which terrorizes and tortures its subjects willy-nilly and operates prison camps currently inhabited by approximately 200,ooo enemies of the state. (This in a country of about 25 million people.) Lee lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, but, according to the Journal, is “a frequent visitor to Pyongyang who appears regularly in North Korean media under his Korean name Ri Jun Mu.” Earlier in September, Lee took to Facebook to rejoice in the latest North Korean nuclear test: “It was a morning where the cheer for a unified Korea was exceptionally loud and clear!” he wrote.

jeung10While this warped creature’s orchestra has apparently escaped widespread notice up to now, it has in fact been performing at the Kaufman Center several times a year for over a decade. Its concerts routinely open with classical standards by composers like Mozart, Tchaikowsky, Dvorak, Verdi, and Vivaldi, then sneakily segue into Korean tunes eulogizing the Kims. (One of its concerts last February was a commemoration of Kim Jong Il’s birthday.) The main point of these performances, one gathers, isn’t to propagandize New York audiences, but to enable Kim’s state-run media to inform his subjects that American audiences have applauded musical programs exalting their wonderful system and their beloved dictator.

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Hak-Soo Kim

Several of Lee’s soloists – including violinist Khullip Jeung, soprano Yuri Park, and tenor Hak-Soo Kim – are Korean or Korean-American. The Journal didn’t quote any of them, and we haven’t been able to find any indication online of what their political views might be. But they clearly know what’s going on – they know exactly what they’re a part of. The vocalists certainly understand every word they sing in praise of the Great Leader, Dear Leader, and Sonny Boy. Somebody in the media should hunt these artists down and ask them – just for starters – how they manage to sleep at night. 

gillogly4It appears, though, that most of the instrumentalists on Lee’s payroll are Americans who don’t know any Korean. While at least one or two of them were reportedly surprised when the Journal reporters explained to them what the Korean songs were about (unlikely though that may seem), others admitted to knowing full well that they were participating in a public-relations effort on behalf of the world’s most abominable totalitarian state.

But, hey, a gig is a gig! The show must go on! That’s entertainment! Adorable violinist Samantha Gillogly denied having the slightest concern about the repulsive lyrics to the Korean songs: “The art on its own does not hurt anyone,” she told the Journal.

Perhaps not. Or perhaps every insidious effort to normalize the truly evil North Korean regime in the West is a dangerous step in the wrong direction, and anyone who contributes to that effort needs to examine his or her conscience.