Jeffrey LewisLee Myung-bak as Rat?

There is all sorts of wild talk, mostly around the possibility of a third DPRK nuclear test.  But that’s hardly the weirdest, most disturbing thing occurring on the Korean peninsula.

The North Korean propaganda campaign against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is in high dudgeon with all manner of ugliness.  Particularly unpleasant examples can be seen in a series of cartoons showing Lee as a rat.  There is something really shocking about them, possibly because the artistic cues are all very modern but the sentiment expressed is distinctly medieval.

Take a gander at the cartoons below the jump.

Just a word of context: Lee Myung-bak as rat seems to be a theme, accompanied with a threat in KCNA to “reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style” — whatever that means:

The special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors.

Those actions are an eruption of the public anger and resentment and a sacred war of all service personnel and people to protect the dignity of our supreme leadership.

Their targets are the Lee Myung Bak group of traitors, the arch criminals, and the group of rat-like elements including conservative media destroying the mainstay of the fair public opinion.

Once the above-said special actions kick off, they will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style.

Our revolutionary armed forces do not make an empty talk.

Seriously?  And you thought I was war-mongering when I suggested we swap the casing on the B83?


  1. krepon (History)

    Officially-sponsored dementia.

  2. Anon2 (History)

    “Once the above-said special actions kick off, they will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style.”

    Perhaps its an orbiting death ray?

    I agree with Krepon’s comment (“dementia”). How do you negotiate with a government that presents propaganda posters showing your president’s gory dismemberment.

    My first reaction was like John McEnroe — “You cannot be serious”.

  3. JFC Fuller (History)

    The North Korean regime really has become a parody of itself.

    This would actually be funny if it was not for the fact that most of its population has to resort to eating rats due to food shortages.

  4. John Schilling (History)

    Where were these published, i.e. who is the target audience? The Lee=Rat theme seems to have originated among the South Korean opposition in the past couple of years, and the “2MB” reference in the first image is similarly sourced; if this is the Nork leadership’s clumsy attempt to incite or exploit domestic unrest in South Korea, that’s somewhere between hilarious and terrifying.

    If it’s strictly an internal matter aimed at the North Korean people, a bit closer to hilarious but still Not Good. And yes, they can be serious.

    • alex (History)

      The statement was broadcast via KCNA. Dont know about the images. The Norks tend to get more aggressive when they feel cornered. Over the past weeks China has stopped repatriating NK refugees and most recently they have made a bunch of statements not very much in favor of NK (while still sounding pretty by western standards) and the current leadership. May or may not be a coincidence.

  5. George William Herbert (History)

    It’s been a while since the last commando raid south, but there’s a long history of those. Also, bombings and the like.

    And within recent history, one island / artillery shell dispute and one ship / torpedo romance.

    I mentioned this earlier – it’s not clear that NK clearly understands their current proximity to the cliff where a real war breaks out. China can’t afford to back them up that far if NK provokes one. One more strike and SK likely retaliates really seriously. What does NK do if SK bombs military targets in Pyonyang after the next attack?

  6. Sam (History)

    North and South are technically at war. Such racism is pretty standard in the East: Japan indulged in it during WW II. Good overview:

  7. Sam (History)


    “This raises questions about whether China violated UN sanctions against North Korea by selling it trucks of this kind. If China modified the truck by adding the bed that carries the missile it would be a clear violation, but it may well be that the same people in North Korea who built the mockups built the bed. Whether this is a violation of sanctions will probably depend on details like who China thought it was selling the trucks to, assuming the transaction was handled by a North Korean front company. UN experts will have to sort this out.
    But it is important that people not conflate the truck and the missile and jump to the conclusion that China was involved in developing the KN-08 missile. I have not seen anything yet related to the missile that suggests Chinese involvement. As noted in our previous analysis, the technology we see throughout the North Korean rocket programs appears to be of Soviet/Russian origin, not Chinese.”

  8. Steve Hayes (History)

    Continuing on John Schilling’s theme. I think most visible change in North Korea since the transition has been the change in their messaging. The content has not changed, its still “death to fill in the blank” but the methods are being tweaked. Since Kim Jung Un took over, North Korea has started live news broadcasts, the ‘respected leader’ has publicly addressed live audiences, and has given speeches on live TV. But the biggest sign that North Korea is changing direction in how it communicates is their utterly bizarre decision to announce the failure of their rocket launch to an internal audience (am I wrong in saying this is the first time North Korea ever admitted a mistake?). Some have suggested they did this because information now flows through North Korea easily enough that they could not hide the failure. But since when have the North Koreans had a problem telling their people something they knew wasn’t true.
    Some of these changes, such as Kim’s live speeches, could only have been done at his direction and may indicate that he has taken a personal interest in North Korean messaging. The idea that the young Kim directed this capmaign is indeed disturbing.
    As for the target audience, would the average North Korean get the significance of ‘2MB’? Why vilify Myung-bak who will be out in six months anyways? And finally, are posters really the best way to influence today’s South Korean youth? Maybe if you designed them to be cell phone wallpaper.
    As is often the case with North Korea, fresh information raises more questions.

  9. Melissa (History)

    A look back at all the things North Korea’s called U.S. officials (although I think they might have pegged Cheney)

  10. Peter Hayes (History)

    There is a long history of crude, vilifying propagit from the DPRK to the ROK, and the ROK against the DPRK. The DPRK reaction to the ROK cruise missile display and the officials who explained that it could hit Kim Jong Un’s office window (the English ROK press removed reference to KJU, but unsurprisingly, the DPRK did not miss the reference) was entirely predictable as it implied that the ROK entertains killing the DPRK head of state, specifically. The DPRK reply teeters on the edge of implying a state-sponsored terrorist threat (assassination of officials)…but is so phrased that it could mean anything or anyone is a target.

    In my view, the Chinese need to remind the DPRK leadership that China is party to the cluster of anti-terrorism conventions that require it to prosecute or extradite those who engage in terrorist activities, including state officials in as individuals; and that these conventions include making threats to conduct terrorist actions.

    The PLA need to whisper this message in the KPA’s ear; and the US needs to read the riot act to Lee Myung Bak and his ministers.

  11. Christoph (History)

    Looks photoshopped…

  12. syntax (History)

    It doesn`t look much better or much worse than another certain infamous cartoon that western msm gleefully rushed to republish in numerous periodicals at the time.I thought this site was about wmd arms control not critiquing the dprks political cartoons/propaganda

    • Jeffrey (History)

      The difference is that this is state-run media.

  13. JM (History)

    What is the source of these cartoons/posters?
    Peter Hayes is right. When the South very explicitly threatens to take out the North’s new leader with weapons that can do exactly that, what do you expect?
    Remember that George W. Bush said that one of the reasons for the Iraq invasion (reason #4 or #5?) was that Saddam had supposedly hatched a plan to murder his father.
    In this current case, cartoons. In that earlier case, hundreds of thousands dead.
    Anybody care to revisit their “dementia” claim?

    • krepon (History)

      I try to distinguish between state-sponsored dementia and profoundly mistaken policies.

    • krepon (History)

      A codicil: State-sponsored dementia leads invariably to profoundly mistaken policies. When the USG pursues profoundly mistaken policies, serious damage results before corrective action kicks in.
      Do you usually have difficulty distinguishing between DPRK & US policies?

    • krepon (History)

      Sorry for the over-reaction. You touched on a sensitive nerve: the immoral equivalency argument.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Don’t feel badly. I was writing a note about how some commenters equate the two governments certainly wouldn’t choose, under the veil of ignorance, to live in North Korea before I worried that some people might mistake a friend of mine for the target, rather than JM. (Understanding the North Koreans is not the same thing as defending them.)

      But just as people who equate Obama to Hitler or some socialist are idiots, so are people who equate Bush and Kim Jong Il.

      The two governments are not equivalent, which is why this is such a tough problem. As I said in my talk in London, the two systems reflect radically different views about the role of the state and its relationship to citizens. Most people in the US and ROK, as well as the DPRK I suppose, are willing to die to prevent the imposition of the other system. In fact, we fought a very ugly war over just this question. Pretty much everyone in the United States outside International ANSWER views the DPRK system of government as abhorrent.

      The only thing we agree on, for now, is that settling the dispute isn’t worth another Korean War. We don’t want to live together in peace, we want the DPRK to go away. We just don’t want that bad enough to start a war.

    • JM (History)

      Re: “I try to distinguish between . . . and profoundly mistaken policies.” I’m registering a plea for objective analytical, political and moral consistency, less analysis/criticism only or mainly of officially designated bad guys, with most intense episodes of human suffering and their causes as the frame of reference.
      Dementia = nasty cartoons; hundreds of thousands dead based on documented deceit = profoundly mistaken policies lacks this consistency. And has nothing to do with (im)moral equivalency, lots to do with chips lying where they may.
      I’m sorry but about half of Jeffrey Lewis’ point is unclear. If the equation remark is meant for me, I don’t think it’s in what I wrote.
      Re: “We don’t want to live together in peace, we want the DPRK to go away. We just don’t want that bad enough to start a war.” What some want, including me, is for the 2005 Six-Party Agreement to be taken seriously. Elements include a road map toward peace on the Korean peninsula and a multilateral security framework for Asia. I guess it assumes both DPRK and SKorea dissolve and reappear as a politically unified something, followed by big powers keeping their distance. Too bad Treasury announced proposed Patriot Act financial sanctions the day after the Agreement was signed, even though the Act requires State and Treasury (and other USGov departments) to coordinate. One among several unfortunate moves.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      No, I was trying to make a more abstract point not aimed at any commentator. Apologies.

      The 2005 Six Party Agreement fell apart for a lot of reasons that relate to the actions of both sides. (I do object strongly to the tactical use of unreasonable verification provisions to gum up the US interagency process.)

      My point is that agreements like the Agreed Framework and Six Party Agreement are difficult to sustain because they were built on the fiction that the DPRK could dramatically improve its relationship with the United States without ceasing to be the DPRK. As Qadhafi found out, that’s not a very realistic notion. If Kim Jong Un surrendered the DPRK’s nuclear weapons, stopped the various provocations and settled into an Mubarak-like repression, he would have earned exactly zero credit toward averting airstrikes the moment his government began to falter. We know that. He (and his cronies) know that.

      When the Bush Administration replaced “no hostile intent” with “no intention to invade,” they were being honest. (Honesty, by the way, not always the best policy in diplomacy. Your mother was right: If you can’t say something nice, shut the fuck up. What, your mother didn’t swear?) We do have hostile intent toward the DPRK. We want to see it, to pick a provocative phrase, wiped off the map. But what we aren’t willing to do is invade for that purpose. So we are left with this awkward situation in which sincere (and some not so sincere) people in the US and DPRK try to create a constructive way forward that minimizes the risk of a war and modestly improves the lives of DPRK citizens, all the while swimming against this very strong current of a deep mutual hostility.

      That is why this is such a hard problem to solve. My observation about moral equivalence was not normative but practical. Pretending the DPRK is a normal state that can indefinitely sustain its current form of government within the family of nations obscures a major reason that these agreements fall apart.

  14. Flash (History)


    Please could you enlighten us as to where you sourced these images from? It would help to know who produced them, and who the intended audience was.


  15. Ryan (History)

    Just out of curiousity, where were the images obtained from?

  16. M. Mir (History)

    When the weak fail, they act out. Sometimes it’s a cry for help.

    But there is no way to help this country. They aren’t a threat worth bleeding over(or getting irradiated) to remove, and the path of economic openness with trade is something that they will exploit to strengthen and actually make themselves into a real military threat.

    Nothing to do but watch.

  17. Anon (History)

    off topic — is anyone (Josh?) going to do a post on the many developments in missile defense over the last days, including the defense science board study and east coast siting for aegis…plenty to wonk about!!!

    • Jeffrey (History)

      We have to sleep, you know.

  18. Sam (History)

    huh? Did I say something un-PC?

    I believe I had a comment on Anon’s post which too disappeared!

    As I was saying, in the US we, too, can justify almost anything if we think the intentions were right: Hiroshima, Vietnam, Iraq, etc etc….consequences be damned! That sounds like a form of dementia — well, sorry about that Agent Orange….we meant well.

    • Sam (History)

      That is not to justify the dumb posters NK makes: those too are idiotic — but not a huge deal.

      I agree with Mir to ignore it.

      The NK posters above are no worse than some passages in the Old Testament! Kill some Cannanites or SKs…


  19. Sir_mixxalot (History)

    Re. Dr. Krepon’s remarks — it is beyond doubt that NK leadership is immoral. As to moral equivalency, our own leadership — at times — has had severe moral deficiencies also. I think these graphics are not the most flagrant example of moral issues in NK: the NK govt starving their own people is.

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