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North Korea: Behind the Curtain
A South Korean protester displays portraits of American journalists detained in North Korea. Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been convicted of entering North Korea illegally and engaging in "hostile acts." Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore 's California-based Current TV media venture, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while on a reporting trip to China. (AP)

A South Korean protester displays portraits of American journalists detained in North Korea. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV media venture, have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for entering North Korea illegally and engaging in "hostile acts." (AP)

North Korea just keeps boiling: Nuclear test. Missiles flying. Succession fever. War threats.

And now two American journalists — Al Gore’s journalists, no less — sentenced to twelve years hard labor.

Pyongyang seems to always talk hot and push buttons — selling weapons, counterfeiting U.S. dollars by the truckload, threatening Armageddon. But the latest rash of threats and steps is the hottest in years.

China’s on edge. So is Washington. And two Americans are prisoners.

This hour, On Point: Hot times. We’ll try to pull back the curtain on what’s going on with North Korea.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us first from Seoul is Evan Ramstad, Korea correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. He reported last week on North Korea’s succession mystery and reported this morning on the situation of the two American journalists.

From Culver City, Calif., we’re joined by David Kang, director of the Korean Studies Institute and professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California. He’s the author of ”China Rising: Peace, Power, and Order in East Asia” and co-author of “Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies.”

And from Seoul we’re joined by Brian Myers, director of International Studies at Dongseo University, where he researches North Korean ideology and propaganda.

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  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Gad, this is really bad news. As if Obama didn’t need another crisis on his full plate.

  • Mike

    Seems more so that Kim is huff and huffing since there been talks about his demise in the earlier months by the world communities and how to take down is regime.

    Hopefully obama can keep a steady hand and simmer this problem and not listen to the people advocating for war with the North, since going to war with the north will be a blunder, dumb and very costly in lives and coffers.

    Since we don’t pay for wars anymore and if we did our government would never raise taxes to do so we would become even more in debt to mercs, and the military industry .

  • John

    In what I believe was an NPR (perhaps ATC) report several years ago, a New Jersey restaurant owner had been conducting ‘personal diplomacy’ with RNK for many years. What is he doing now? Is my memory faulty about this story?

  • Andrew

    They test theirs, we need to test ours.

    Granted, have them continue to test is bad, having them develop that idea that our warheads which haven’t been tested since 1996, might not work anymore could be worse. This would also give Japan confidence that our nuclear umbrella is still effective and they don’t need to develop their own.

  • Joe Guyon

    Why were they there?

  • Eric Forbush

    I never thought of how scary the threat of nuclear war was until now. I am an American exchange student living in Japan and remembered the first missile tests that North Korea shot directly over my head.
    In all of world’s condemnation of North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons, what action will be taken to stop this? How do you deal with a country that acts like a child? Trying to discipline a child that so desperately hungers for attention deems to be a problem not easily solved. If someone upsets this child too much I’m afraid my proximity to this country now will prove to be detrimental.

  • http://vbs.tv Chris Green

    It’s horrible what has happened to the journalist from current tv. But if any one would like to see north Korea from the inside like never seen before a group of journalist from vbs.tv went to North Korea and traveled all through the country and explored all the different aspects of North Korea. They visited the uss pueblo etc. The web site is vbs.tv and the video is called the vice guide to travel North Korea. Its is the #1 viedo on the website.

  • Ward Williamson

    The one thing that despots take more importantly than any other is face. It is their one weak-point. What they want more than anything else is to be taken seriously. What they can’t take is shame, embarrassment, ridicule, or humiliation. They have the ego development of a four year old in a public temper tantrum. What they want and need is to capture everyone’s attention and sympathy or fear. What they can’t stand is to be revealed for what they are: petty tyrants. It is the story of all the bad boys in history, who persecute those who seem to be no threat to them. That’s why China, North Korea, and other similar regimes cannot stand public scrutiny. Treat them like the caricature, cartoon, and bad jokes they are in public. Use op-ed cartoon diplomacy and get the world laughing at them. They will have a melt-down. Public ridicule is like water on an evil old witch. If the movie “W” and come out eight years ago the last administration would not have been able to wage war all around the world, because no one would have believed the lies. It’s hard not to take someone seriously, who is destroying the world, but if they can be seen for what they are, perhaps others will step-up and put them in the time-out they deserve. The problem is the media thrives on the drama that all this creates and profits by the chaos. It’s a never ending cycle of self-interest over the needs for the greater good. There is more than enough complicity to go around. Too bad for us. We all suffer for the misconduct of a few. The public dialog needs to shift, so these issues can be re-framed, but without vision the selfish blind bad-boys will lead the vulnerable blind humanity to their mutual peril.

  • David Sanderson

    Could ridicule be used effectively as a counter to bellicosity? John Stewart has demonstrated tactics that countered propaganda techniques similar to those that seem to fuel Pyongyang’s power.
    – hysterical finger pointing at foreign demons
    – nationalism replacing patriotism
    – racism replacing humanism
    – reverence for aura of a great leader

    Every time North Korea intentionally seeks to provoke a rhetorical fight, the official rhetoric from outside of Korea seems predictably and counter productively useful to Pyongyang’s rhetorical agenda.

    To what extent might an underground North Korean version of the Daily Show undermine Pyongyang?

    Could we leverage the expertise developed by decades of college pranksters to prepare a series of surgical strikes that would inflict humiliation on targeted leaders without creating the impression of a military threat to North Korea?

  • Frederic C.

    It’s time for Washington to change the game.

  • Joe B.

    The time is long overdue for the U.S. to pull out of the Korean peninsula. We’ve been there since 1950 and what has it gotten us? Absolutely nothing! I believe the tension on the peninsula would decrease if the U.S. pulled out and let the Koreans handle the situation amongst themselves.

  • david

    President Bush was dead on calling North Korea a very evil place.

  • David

    If you look at NK long enough,you will see they seem to mimic another power crazed nation of 60 years ago. The goose stepping soldiers marching before their dictator is a dead give away. NK reminds me of the play ground bully. Pushy because of his size, but a coward inside. All these nations become pushy when they acquire the bomb. America should ignore this nation and let it destroy itself. Tell China to curb its red-headed step cousin. Tell them: go ahead and have your bomb, but if you ever use it,it will be your last. America was a stronger nation when it did not kiss butt with every little nation who wanted the bomb. Tell Americans to avoid NK and tell all North Koreans here in America to go home! No news coverage,no TV coverage. The more attention you give them, the more they want. If they want to live in peace and act civilized, welcome to our community. If not, learn to live alone.

  • Tim

    Pondering for a couple of years to offer to buy North Korea from the regime? Offering several millions or so to the family and so much to those in the upper levels life pensions. Cheaper than war and the waste going on? And if this pipe dream is possible seeking insight lessons learned from the German reunification. Maybe not this generation but perhaps with Kim Jong-un. May take a whole generation or so too to melt into one nation again.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    Question for the informed members of this board:

    Has anybody seen a spy who gets caught with at the border of a country, whose regime is targeted for “change”, while the Spy carrying “Spies R Us” handbag and CIA tatoos?

    Isn’t it true that our bazookas are pointed right in their kitchen right outside of the kitechen window.

    Imagine having Japanese outposts along the Canadian border, and then catching questionable reporters from Tokyo TV along the Mexican border doing investigative reporting on seasonal immigration.

    Please people, just because we are Americans, does not mean we are the most innocent people on the planet.

    Let’s work hard to get our morals back in order, by having a good and fair foreign policy.

  • Frederic C.

    Why isn’t China catching heat for facilitating the sex slave trade with NK?

  • Lilya Lopekha

    We have this notion of assuming that if an American is charged and detained for spying, from the start we assume that that person (especially a She) is innocent.

    Hunger Strike and Public Ourcry …. done!

    CIA’s hundreds and hundreds of career spies on the payroll and perhaps more than half of the spying activities are directed towards “regime changes” in North Korea and Iran.

    I wish OnPoint has explored a little bit … What if they were “really” spies?

    Do we really expect Bush Admin spies wear dark sunglasses at nights and walk with an ear-piece with a coil.

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