This little Israeli prank in Iran reminded me of a conversation I had with my son about North Korea.
After the recent artillery attack against South Korea, my son asked why we just didn’t hammer them in response. I explained that (1) the North Koreans had most of Seoul under heavy artillery threat and (2) they were absolutely insane. A serious military attack might cause a wildly disproportionate retaliation that could cause the deaths of thousands of South Koreans.
I told him that I was always myself in favor of psyops. These types of regimes persist because they create a mythology of omniscience and omnipotence within their own population. Undermining that mythology can cause the state to collapse.
The North Koreans have this giant statue of the glorious leader in downtown Pyongyang. I’ve always thought that shooting a cruise missile right into the crotch of the statue would undermining the mythology and send a pointed message. However, even that might provoke a violent response. Moreover, the North Koreans quite clearly use external threats to justify their oppressive state to their own population. Attacking them violently might reinforce, instead of undermine, the mythology.
My son thought a moment and came up with a better idea: tagging, i.e., graffiti.
Rival street gains use tagging to mark territory. Tagging in another gang’s territory, especially if unanswered by a counter tag, severely diminishes the prestige and perceived power of the tagged gang. The fact that other gangs can enter their territory with impunity to commit acts of art signals that the targeted gang is weak.
My son suggested the same effect might hit dictatorial regimes as well. We could send in special forces teams to paint “America Rulz!” (in Korean) on visible structures throughout North Korea. The idea that Americans could land troops almost anywhere, for nothing more than a lark, would seriously undermine morale and the state’s mythology.
I am also reliably informed that North Korea’s air defenses are a joke so we could pull pranks like dropping dye into rivers to turn them purple. We could also drop leaflets and even windup radios like we did in Afghanistan.
All these actions would be non-violent and would make the North Koreans look stupid for responding violently, yet they would communicate to the people of North Korea that their government was a paper tiger.
In the contemporary world, we need to think of new solutions to old problems. Psyops directed at the ruling mythologies of dangerous nations, states or groups might prove more effective in the long run than overt force. Those mythologies thrive on attacks from outsiders. By responding violently, we communicate that we view them as a serious threat. That alone raises the perceived power and status of the group under attack.
These regimes can withstand anything but mockery. Demonstrating that we view them more as childish nuisances than dire threats would hurt more than bomb attacks. Mocking laughter and humiliation are the most potent weapons we can bring to bear against them.
15 thoughts on “Tagging for Freedom”
Your son is an awesome creative, Mr. Love!
My solution applies to both NoKo’s Presidential Palace and our National Portrait Gallery. In the dark of night, anonymous heroes should unfurl an outre, revolutionary particular piece of art on their edificial facades of ideological relevance and defiance of trusted norms: a depiction of Mohammed intimately touching his nine year-old bride and maybe a goat, simultaneously.
Then let the fireworks begin. A most fine coalition of Islamist terrorists and PC Anglo-Euro sensitive leftists will finish off both corrupt state institutions in a conjugal conflagration.
OK, one can dream.
Leave it to him to come up with a creative solution!
Together, these three developments — the mainstreaming of the black market, border crossing, and corruption — broke the state’s monopolies over food and information. North Koreans were influenced by their exposure to South Korean culture, but the state-to-state engagement of the Sunshine Policy had almost nothing to do with it. Instead, the engine of change was smuggling across the Chinese border, in spite of the regime’s best efforts to seal it. The available evidence suggests that what North Koreans have learned from smuggled information has changed how they think. Refugees report that most North Koreans know that South Koreans live better than they do. Almost no one still believes the official propaganda, which still insists that most South Koreans are starving beggars. And unlike some left-wing academics in America, North Koreans blame their own leaders for their misery. In one telling anecdote, a party official in the border town of Hyesan found that a harangue to this effect was the best laugh his audience had had for quite a while:
Overthrowing Kim: A Capitalist Manifesto (Part 3)
Michael Totten linked this blog some time back on Instapundit. I remember the part about contraband and the breakdown of the information monopoly very well.
I’m not convinced. After the first “prank” and NK responds by shelling a South Korean town and killing a bunch of people, what then? The Norks are not going to just sit and take it, they’ll respond with what they have available – artillery, and lots of it.
So the choice returns to inactivity or full scale war.
With cruise missiles steered by remote control, I would say forty or fifty carefully targeted shots including the statue of the great leader should be a non nuke mini Hiroshima shot for shock and awe across the bow.
Yes, the North WILL retaliate. When a liftoff is sighted by sat, a cruise missile hits that site in the next strike. It would be important to preemptively hit them now at any sites we think they have. Plus all airports, all shipyards. Dust to dust.
Hit them very very hard and then sue for peace.
War is about breaking things. People get hurt. We have the same problem brewing on our southern border. It will escalate into a shooting war if we don’t take action soon. More will die.
The south will have to prepare itself for this eventuality or pay a larger price later.
The problem is that North Korea has vast numbers of harden artillery sites that can fire into South Korea. We don’t know where they all are, we can’t be certain we can take the out reliably and there are so many of them we probably don’t have enough precision ordinance to hit them enough of them suddenly. Worse, the country is in such bad shape that any serious military attack that disrupted their infrastructure could lead to the deaths of millions from thirst, starvation or exposure.
We really need to think of ways to get them to implode. Even that runs a very high risk of mass deaths from the sudden breakdown of infrastructure and organization.
Great minds think alike. See this post from 8 years ago on statue-desecration as a weapon and this one from 7 years ago on the use of psyops against fanatics.
I thought the USG missed a great chance to destabilize Iraq in not choosing to drop tens of thousands of copies of “Team America” all over the country.
I do think the reaction to a statue attack (which I have also pondered, and would love to see, absent repercussions) would be violent, probably insanely so. As a longtime amature student of commie regimes, every eyewitness account seems to show that for visitors to show anything other than groveling worship of whatever Pillsbury Nork-boy happens to be in charge leaves guides and all seriously and irrationally pissed off.
One does wonder if that is for show: I once got an answer of sorts that kept me up nights.
NatGeo did a documentary about some doctors (not Americans) who went to North Korea to use an inexpensive but effective method of restoring sight to the blind. A NatGeo camera crew went of course, and I think Lisa Ling(?) to host. The doctors were Indian, but a lot of the equipment and procedures were American.
So they filmed people who had been blind for decades receiving the gift of sight, something they surely expected to go to their graves without. And when they did, they burst into tears at the first sight of their children and grandchldren….. right??
No, not right. They went straight to the picture of Kim Jong Il to bow and scrape and thank THAT fat little puck for the gift of sight. One older man, blind for two decades, tearfully cried that now he had sight, and he could get a machine gun and kill as many Americans as he could for Kim Il Pudge.
It was then that I began to seriously ponder if we are dealing with human beings at all. Seriously. Human beings, in such an extraordinary and emotional moment that cannot be faked, do NOT act this way. Twisted, warped creatures of another sort might, but not humans. So I have no doubt that such people were born human, I seriously and with cogent and clear aforethought doubt that they are human now, they have been warped and corrupted into something else, an Asian Uruk Hai.
This is a terribly distrubing line of thought for me, but I cannot escape or forget it. If someone, blind for 20 years, is given the gift of sight by American technology, and all that matters to them is that they can now use it to kill me, my family, and my friends, then there may be a great deal of killing in our mutual futures.
And that keeps me awake some nights.
One older man, blind for two decades, tearfully cried that now he had sight, and he could get a machine gun and kill as many Americans as he could for Kim Il Pudge.
This is how people behave if they have been brainwashed, but it’s also how people who live in totalitarian countries behave when foreigners with cameras put them on the spot. Why do you assume such behavior can’t be faked? It’s not as though the foreigners got to select their patients. Any North Korean who was privileged to get such advanced medical care had to be either an apparatchik or knew that his and his family’s subsequent well-being depended on his making a display of unconditional support for the regime. Indeed, if the patients’ behavior was as consistent as you say then it seems likely that they were told exactly what to say and do. There is no truth in such situations and free people who trust their instincts in evaluating them are easily duped. When/if NK falls we are probably going to learn that almost all North Koreans hated the regime.
How well do artillery guns and their ammunition keep? I doubt they have enough money to do much upkeep on them.
If I were a high ranking South Korean official I would have instituted a program to develop short range, high speed cruise or ballistic missiles with accurate targeting, bunker busting capability and a computerised fire control system that is able to launch, in seconds, on coordinates that are computed from incoming artillery rounds. It would need to be able to coordinate the launch of a hundred or more such missiles. These would destroy any NK artillery firing on SK territory within minutes.
Not a perfect solution, I know but in combination with radar guided guns like the US army uses to destroy incoming rounds, this would greatly limit the damage that any function NK artillery can dish out before being destroyed.
I guess the problem is that such a program would be very costly and protects against a scenario that no sane person would instigate.
J – My assumption about fakery simply comes from the sheer rawness of moment of a human being being given the gift of sight for the first time in decades. I have never lost my sight, nor have I lived under totalitarianism, so maybe I am guily of talking out of my hindquarters here….
But it is simply beyond fathomabilty to me to imagine that a moment of such human profundity could really be crushed to such an extent that the person invovled gives not the slightest hint of being anything other than a slave, even for a brief faltering moment. Not the slightest hint.
That leads me to believe that such a creature IS a slave, simple as that, existing to do his masters bidding, and none other.
I would say that there is a “sense” of absolutism that I get from what little I see of North Korea, that I never saw when studying the Soviet Union or its allies, which I did.
What concerns me is not the number of North Koreans that will come out and say they hate the regime post-deluge, but the number of them who may not, or will behave in the most satanic manner imaginable as long as the regime exists.
Basically, they go so out of their way to make the point that nothing, NOTHING, no emotion, no family, no element of simple human life, is more important than enslaving themselves to that twisted little dwarf and his mutant crawling pupae, and nothing more important than killing me and mine in his name, that I will go ahead and take them at face value.
I haven’t really seen such madness elsewhere, so I don’t know how else to consider it. And I do question the humanity of such robotons. That is unfortunate, but there it is.
Oops, that’s me. Forgot to enter my nom de blog.
The tagging meme is one suggested for decades, but it is as good as ever, IMHO. In a version in which the US was obviously supreme, we would use satellites that, would disperse a precisely arranged constellation of minisats, which, when their orbits take them towards North Korea, would exude flourescent compounds in patterns that spell out a message, .like,..”Freedom is Possible”,…in Korean script. Ionizing radiation from the Sun would light them up in daytime. By the time it got to the PRC, the clouds would disperse, …or not, as desired.
As to the blind people becoming sighted. Did no one ask how these fools could recognize a picture of the current Kim in power, after spending decades blind?? Frankly, it seems the Doctors and Nat. Geographic were scammed with people primed to do what they did. Doing it would be as simple as, before the Doctors arrived, telling the blind ones they could still get their families killed by a bad response.
To keep their families alive, all they need do, when a N. Korean official uses a given trigger word, is rush to the only picture in the room, and begin their pre-programmed spiel. That official would give the trigger only when the picture on the wall was the current Kim Dynasty glorious leader. Yes, they could put that picture in the room where the bandages were taken off.
Oh, the picture’s already in the room, believe that. A (formerly) blind man would have no trouble recognizing Christ in a cathedral or seminary, it would be pretty obvious from moment one.
There is just no way to really know the answers in this discussion, and what really goes on in the heads of such slaves, until the blot on humanity known as the NorK regime is flushed into the sewer where it so richly belongs.
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