Saturday, February 29, 2020

Forbidden Titles from Bureau 100: Nazis, First Ladies and Fidel

In an earlier post, I introduced Kim Ju-song's memoir on writing fiction for the North Korean Writer's Union. In his book, he described a secret stash of Western literature kept at the KWU offices where he worked for North Korean writers to reference.

I was recently able to contact Kim Ju-song and get more details on this mysterious "Bureau 100 Books" (100部図書). He sent me a few precious images that he had, showing cover art and a few preface pages. He writes, "These are some books from the Bureau 100 collection. These kinds of restricted materials are also available to Party officers and various Party organs such as State Security (FBI) and Public Security (police)... These images came from a certain party branch office."

According to Kim, most of these books are translations of existing books published in other countries; some are compilations of several books into one volume. The cover art seems to be original to North Korea. The authors and original titles are never mentioned, but with a little detective work it is often possible to determine what the original text likely was.

"The Nazi Conspiracy"

This appears to be a spy novel disguised as a true account of imperialist intrigue. The Korean preface to this book reads:

   In all of human history, there has never been a war that was not accompanied by a separate, secret war. Secret wars are constantly ongoing, even in so-called peaceful times.
   The secret war known as the 'dark gentlemen's world' is a conventional tool of imperialists, employing all kinds of espionage and intelligence actions enabled by modern technology, with various plots and cunning schemes involving murder, sabotage and arson.
   Through their secret war the imperialists gather information of all sorts – political, economic, military and so on – in order to uncover secrets and corrupt the popular will in pursuit of their military and political objectives.
   'The Nazi Conspiracy' is one such real-world example.
   Today the US-Japan imperialists' secret plots have reached an extreme point.
   In order to confront this, it is more vital than ever that we raise our revolutionary consciousness.
   The editorial division will continue to introduce real-world examples of espionage under the series title 'Secret Wars.' 
"White House Wives"
This book purports to tell about America's First Ladies. I only have the cover, but I like to imagine that perhaps this is where the author of "Enchantment" got the idea that Rosalynn Carter had "Spanish blood" and earned the nickname "ultra-political Rosalynn." It is unclear if it is a translation of a single book or a compilation of several sources.
"Fidel and Religion"
This appears to be a Korean translation of the book "Fidel and Religion," originally published in Spanish in 1986. Communist Cuba's approach to culture and religion offers important insights that would likely be of interest to North Korean Party cadres.

"The KGB and Power"
This is a translation of a KGB defector's memoir. From the Korean preface:

   This volume is a translated and edited version of a book published in Russia. The author was a long-serving member of the Cheka (State Security or KGB), formerly heading the 5th Directorate and serving as 1st deputy director before retiring in the Gorbachev era. In this memoir he looks back on his life in the Cheka organization and offers his own analysis of what caused the once-powerful Soviet Union to collapse and the Soviet Communist Party to fall apart.
   Due to the author's limited political understanding, the book is deficient in many areas, but it still has some value as a reference material.

"Sun Yat-sen"
I have no further information about this book, but it appears to be an autobiography of Sun Yat-sen, China's first modern president and nationalist leader. I can imagine many reasons why information about early China's pre-communist history would be restricted for average North Koreans.

Friday, January 31, 2020

2009 (Part I): Introducing North Korean Readers to President Obama

2009 is the penultimate novel of the “Immortal Leadership” series, which chronicles the life of Kim Jong Il. It was co-authored by Song Sang Won and Kim Yong Hwan, published in 2014, and recently made fully available online at North Korea’s uriminzokkiri.com website.
As suggested by the title, the novel covers the events of the year 2009 – particularly the April Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 satellite launch (also covered in the story Sky, Land and Sea) and KJI's brief summit meeting with former President Clinton. 

This post will summarize Chapter 4, which dedicated readers may find online in the original Korean here. This chapter is fascinating both for the biographical details it gives about US President Obama and for introducing one of the most truly sinister POV characters I’ve yet encountered in North Korean fiction.

Chapter 4 Summary

The chapter begins with a biographical sketch of “America’s 44th president and the first black man elected to that office” (see below). It particularly notes that his anti-war rhetoric has gained him popular support from poor Americans weary of endless wars.

On the eve of his election, Obama’s maternal grandmother "Marylin Damhum" (매럴린 담험) passes away from cancer, and Obama suspends his campaign activities to attend her funeral in Hawaii. A CIA operative named Conan seizes the opportunity and flies to Hawaii for a private word with the man he anticipates will be the next president.

Conan is your prototypical deep state operative, an old government hand who has “hung around like a fixed asset” through successive administrations. He’s hated Korea ever since his father died in the Korean War, but he’s learned to respect North Koreans after watching them outfox every American president since Truman. Now dying of tuberculosis, he is determined to see that the new administration takes a hard line. He’s disturbed by Obama’s peacenik rhetoric and feels the need to nip it in the bud, before America loses its position at the top of the unipolar world order (일극세계).

President Obama scattering his grandmother's ashes
in Hawaii. Src: DailyMail
After the funeral Conan and Obama have a long walk on the beach talking. Playing on Obama’s vanity, Conan calls him “Mr. President” and acts as if the election is already won. Conan gives the candidate a long-winded account of how past presidents have failed to rein in North Korea, at times growing so animated that spittle flies from his mouth. In the process, the reader gets a nice overview of the North Korean evaluation of post-war global events. Conan makes frequent references to how America has “invited God’s punishment” by failing to use its nuclear weapons to seize global supremacy. Obama is surprised at the calumny Conan levels against the current Bush administration, which he still purports to serve. 

   “Conan, aren’t you criticizing yourself?”
   At the unexpected interruption, Conan realized he had said too much.
   “My apologies, Mr. President, my intent was to criticize historical presidential policy. I suppose that includes the current administration and myself as well.”
   “Go on.”
   “With every new administration, the CIA and intelligence corps have hoped for a more hard-line uncompromising policy. We’ve advised this again and again. But they always went their own way.” 
    Conan began to lose heart. How could they entrust the country to this political newcomer lacking all knowledge and experience, who was a black man and a Democrat to boot? It was a tragedy, but he’d come to Hawaii to try to fix it.

Eventually the two men seem to reach an understanding. “God will not forsake us,” Obama assures him before they part. The next day is the election, and Obama wins as expected. A few days after the election Conan’s dead body is discovered on a Hawaiian beach, dead from apparent shock. But his work will be carried on by his son (Conan II) in a later chapter…
President Obama in Hawaii


Obama biographical details

The first several pages of this chapter are taken up by a biographical sketch of President Obama. The text notes his parents’ divorce, his brief education in Indonesia, his subsequent upbringing by his white grandparents in Hawaii, his work supporting low-income families in Chicago and his status as the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, before going on to describe his entry into politics. 

   During his time as an Illinois senator, he caught the attention of the media and society with his witty speeches. This was at a time when the US was fighting successive wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. Domestically, there was high unemployment and inflation due to the severe economic downturn and financial crisis, and the poor were having a harder time than ever. It was precisely this suffering and anti-war fervor that Obama was able to skillfully manipulate through his speeches, evoking public sympathy by presenting himself as an anti-war champion.
   He also gained popularity among blacks and Americans opposed to racism by speaking out about racism and vividly expressing his own experiences as a black man.

The text notes somewhat misleadingly that Obama was the only black senator in the US Senate (he was the only black senator at the time, but not ever). It states that he defeated “Hillary” in the primaries and secured the 218 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination. The chapter then includes a segment of Obama’s famous 2004 Democratic Convention speech, with one interesting mistake:

   "There is no free America, no conservative America, only America (자유로운 미국보수적인 미국이 따로 있는것이아니라). There is no black America, white America, or Asian America, only America. There are patriots who oppose the Iraq war. On the other hand, there are patriots that support the Iraq war. We are all citizens who swear allegiance to the Stars and Stripes and defend the United States.” (direct translation)

Explaining that this speech is what made Obama “instantly famous,” the text adds:

  By transcending race and ideology, Obama’s speech rang deeply in the hearts of Americans who had been divided over the Iraq war. In his clear and convincing words, there was a passionate call for a return to the founding spirit of the US.

Concerned about this anti-war stance, the deep-state spook Conan studies Obama’s biography and identifies weaknesses and character flaws that he believes he can exploit.

   He found helpful “Barack and Michelle: Portrait of American Family” by Christopher Anderson, a writer famous for his coverage of Princess Diana’s death. According to the book, after completing his first year at Harvard University Law School, in 1989 Obama went to receive training at the famous Chicago law firm Sidley Austin, where he met Michelle for the first time. 
   A graduate of Princeton and Harvard, Michelle was reluctant to guide a first-year student. But Obama fell in love with Michelle at first sight and pursued her despite her haughty attitude. Michelle eventually gave in. After four years of marriage, Obama became an Illinois senator, but in his wife’s eyes he was a useless husband. When he came home he threw his socks and underwear anywhere and filled the room with cigarette smoke, even burning a huge hole in the rug.
   He was always going around in a plain suit jacket and jeans boasting about “changing the world,” but to Michelle he was a “lazy idiot” (게으른 바보). She told him politics was a waste of time and he should instead work at a big law firm and make lots of money. Obama would joke to friends that “My wife’s nagging is killing me.”
   Conan delighted inwardly. Obama would no doubt show the same habits in his politics. Hypocrisy and two-facedness, two essential facets of any US president.

Nuclear History

This chapter contains some excellent insights into North Korea’s perception of American attitudes toward nuclear weapons, through the thoughts of the malevolent Conan:

   Fate had made the US first to obtain nuclear weapons, which were like the fire of Zeus. Nukes were power, and power was everything. It was this power that had allowed Truman to defeat Japan and raised the US above all the world.
    With nuclear weapons, there was nothing the US could not do. But still it had not done all it should. It failed to secure a nuclear monopoly. It shared nukes with other countries. It betrayed the gods (or God) and paid the price. Other powers emerged, and America’s unipolar might was eroded.
   In the world of power, nukes could make anyone a superpower.
   In July 1945 Truman appeared at the Potsdam Conference to discuss the end of WWII and the post-war order, confident that the world was at America’s feet. Then the USSR had been able to match the US because it, too, developed nukes.
   The UK, once known as a great empire with colonies all over the place where the sun never set, lost its empire status in WWII but luckily escaped from becoming another middle-power because it, too, had a successful nuclear test in 1952.
   When France had its successful nuclear test in 1960, President de Gaulle shouted “Hooray for France! (프랑스 만세!) France is a greater and prouder nation as of this morning!”
   Experts believed that the reason China achieved equal power status with the USSR and détente with its erstwhile foe the US was because it had conducted a successful nuclear test in October 1964.
   Nukes were the reason why India had reached a nuclear accord with the US; why Pakistan, which had leaned one-sidedly toward China, was now embraced by both China and the US; and why Israel was able to brazenly take on the whole Arab world of 3 hundred million people. All was made possible by nuclear weapons.
   Conan felt himself heating up again. “Mr. President, when God gave us these weapons they were not intended for display or storage. They were meant to be used. But our past presidents have failed to follow God’s wishes.” 
    He returned to Truman. Truman should have used nukes in Korea in 1950. If he had, not only Korea but also its allies China and the Soviet Union would have been reduced to rubble, and the US would be rid of its two greatest foes. France and the UK might be potential rivals, but at present they are our allies. India and Pakistan may have nukes but they would not dare challenge the US. Israel gets its nukes from us, so they shouldn’t be a problem.
    Conan continued. “There were plenty of chances to use nukes in Korea even after the war. The US started deploying tactical nukes to Korea in the mid-50s, and by the mid-70s we had over a thousand over there. Beginning in the 1960s there was the Pueblo incident, the EC-121 incident, the Panmunjom incident – God kept giving us opportunities, but we just let them pass….”

The above passage is intriguing not just for its geopolitical outlook but for the way that this outlook is revealed through a truly nefarious POV character. In previous entries I have noted that North Korean-style socialist realism seems incapable of producing an unreliable narrator, but perhaps I spoke too soon.

The sinister Conan implies that Truman was too soft-hearted to use nuclear weapons in Korea. One can’t help but wonder how much North Koreans are aware of the conflict between General MacArthur and Truman over just that issue. Do they think well of Truman for overriding MacArthur’s wishes?  If “bad guy" Conan disparages past American presidents for being weak, are North Korean readers supposed to feel the opposite, that they had some virtue in restraint?

Monday, December 2, 2019

Eternal Life (Part 2): Kim Il Sung and Jimmy Carter at the table

This entry continues my summary of select chapters of Eternal Life

Eternal Life is the final novel of the Immortal History series, which chronicles Kim Il Sung's life from his days as a guerrilla fighter through the country's founding, war and reconstruction, and on through his later years.  It was published in 1997 and co-authored by Baek Bo Hŭm (who later contributed the short story "Green Land" to the first anthology of stories about Kim Jong Un) and Song Sang Wŏn. The novel covers the events of the last seven months of KIS' life, including his 1994 summit meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter.

Devoted readers of this blog might recall that this same summit was also the subject of the short story "Enchantment" (매혹), covered in one of this blog's earliest entries. That story took the point of view of First Lady Rosalynn Carter. This novel was written earlier, and the summit chapters alternate between the perspectives of KIS and President Carter.

In Chapter 16, the  formal summit between Kim Il Sung and former US President Jimmy Carter begins. Carter is shown as a sincere but weak-willed negotiator floundering with the difficult task his president has given him. KIS comes to his rescue and comes up with a solution for all. 

Chapter 16 Summary 

The morning of the summit, Carter wakes from a fitful sleep and preps for the 10am meeting with his aide, Dr. Marion Creekmore. Both Carter and Creekmore are pessimistic. Carter instructs Creekmore to phone the State Department from the secure phone line at the DMZ to tell them not to get their hopes up. 

Meanwhile KIS moves from his offices in Kumsusan Palace to the summit room. Passing the area where the American reporters are busily setting up their live broadcast equipment, he exchanges pleasantries with CNN VP Eason Jordan, who had visited Pyongyang several times before. Jordan is stunned that the Leader not only knows his name but graciously invites him to come back with his whole family for a holiday trip to Kŭmgangsan or Myohyangsan.

President Carter and his retinue walk in on this scene and are also amazed by the warmth and unaffected charm of the Great Leader. The two leaders spontaneously embrace and then take their seats around the summit table, flanked by their aides. KIS speaks first, with Carter’s aide and newly appointed State Department Deputy Director for Korean Affairs Christenson translating.

They exchange formal greetings, both expressing regret that they could not have met sooner, when Carter was still US president. Carter is amazed by KIS' kind and easygoing manner, so at odds with what he's been told to expect. 

Carter reads a personal message from President Clinton, laying out the sequence of events as the US sees it: First, the US asked for a 3-stage process to resolve the nuclear issue; second, NK completed its core replacement last April too quickly for the inspectors to check it, leading to UN sanctions; third, NK threatened to withdraw from the IAEA. The letter makes it sound like everything is NK’s fault. KIS responds with his own side's view of events [the story gives no details].

Carter struggles to bring up the US' true objective, which is to stop NK from expelling the two IAEA inspectors and to postpone NK’s withdrawal from the IAEA. KIS jokes "I think your friend gave you a tough job," referring to Clinton, and Carter bashfully agrees. 

Finally KIS breaks the impasse: 

  “Okay, let’s speak freely. The issue of the IAEA delegation that you struggle to speak of, right now it’s just a Korea-US problem. I’m sure you understand this. It was reported to me that you brought this up with our side at yesterday’s meeting. I can completely understand your feelings on this.”
   “Thank you.” Carter sighed. Ever since his arrival he’d gotten the impression from various meetings that they had no chance of movement on this issue. He had struggled with how to bring it up before Comrade Kim Il Sung,  but now He had just kindly introduced it. So thinking, he let the discussion be pulled along by Comrade Kim Il Sung.
   “But there’s another issue I’d like to discuss with you first.... Our move to expel the two inspectors was on account of the unfairness of the IAEA. It’s no secret that the Agency is backed by the US. This unfairness has extended to ‘special inspections’ of two of our military assets. That’s what I’d like to discuss first.” 
   Comrade Kim Il Sung went on to explain how this perverse insistence on "special inspections," going against international law and the IAEA’s own rules, represented the hidden ambition of a certain class in America to put "pressure" on our Republic.
   Then, raising His voice, He went on, “Mr. Carter, if we were to ask to see inside ‘Hwinsŏn’ (referring to the secret US military base), would you show it to us? When you return home, I’d like you to pass that on to President Clinton.”
    “What you say makes sense, Premier Kim.”


KSI agrees to allow the inspectors remain, preserving the IAEA status quo, as long as they keep out of the two military facilities. Carter is happy with this as it can be interpreted as "continuing limited inspections.” 

While KIS' aides are inwardly rejoicing that this issue is resolved so easily, the interpreter Christenson is cringing. He had been instructed by the State Department to use those two facilities as a pressure point and their main bargaining card. But now his boss has conceded so quickly that he can only sit back dumbfounded. 

KIS says the US is stuck on the issue of inspecting the two nuclear facilities, but there is a deeper problem that they must overcome first - the lack of trust.

   “The whole problem between our two countries originated from your mistrust of us. We’ve told you time and again that we are not trying to get nuclear weapons, nor do we have the capacity to do so, nor have we given any indication of doing so. The US already has thousands of nuclear warheads, so what would we do if we even managed to get a few? The US has planes, submarines and ICBMs capable of delivering nuclear bombs; we have nothing like that. And we certainly have no intention of slaughtering our own fellow Koreans with such weapons. Let me state our position clearly once again today.
   "We will never engage in double-dealing (일구이언). If you cannot trust the leader of a country, who can you trust? If you really cannot trust my word, I’ll put my seal on it.
   "We must tackle these issues from a point of mutual trust. If you don’t trust us, we can’t trust you, and the problem will not be resolved for a billion years. If you really think about it, the fundamental Korea-US problem is a lack of trust. The US is a big country; I want to see it act like one (나는 미국이라는 큰 나라가 명실공히 큰 나라로 되여주기를 바랍니다).”

I have to admit, that last line is pretty bad-ass.

Anyway, Carter is completely won over by this speech. Then KIS throws in the kicker: he proposes that the US provide North Korea with a light-water reactor to replace their graphite reactor. He explains that it is more difficult to extract plutonium from a light-water reactor for use in weapons, so this should resolve any concerns. 

Carter is unprepared to answer this and thus they reach an impasse. KIS then suggests they go to lunch. 

In the banquet hall, Carter admires the flower arrangements and is informed that these are "Kimjongilia," a new breed of begonia named after Kim Jong Il. Carter seizes the opportunity to ask if the stories he's heard about KJI are true, like how he personally tore up and redesigned the plans for Mangyongdae Youth Palace and also helped design Kwangbok Street, which Carter was greatly impressed with on his earlier tour. KIS says it's all true. Carter says he'd very much like to meet with KJI during this summit, but KIS replies that that won't be possible - he's off inspecting an army outpost.

Then they sit down to a lunch that features rainbow trout. KIS regales his guests with the story of how these trout came to be in North Korea:

    “It’s an interesting story. Early in this century, before our country was liberated, some Americans operated a mine in Woonsan County, and they brought in some rainbow trout. Until that time, rainbow trout did not exist anywhere in China or Korea. Then the Americans were ordered out by Japan, and the Japanese took over the mine. The local Koreans were not aware that the Americans had brought the rainbow trout; they thought they came from Japan. After liberation, the locals despised the Japanese so much that they didn’t even care for the trout. By the time I visited the area on some business, only five were still alive. I told the locals: no matter how much you hate the Japanese, you shouldn’t take it out on the fish; and anyway these trout are not Japanese but American, so breed as much as you can from the five that are left. Those five fish were the many-times-great-grandparents of the fish we eat here today. The US is their ancestral homeland, heh heh.”
    Carter couldn’t help but join in KIS’ infectious laughter. Still chuckling, he said, “In the Bible there’s a story about how Christ fed tens of thousands of people with just two fishes and five loaves of bread.…” 

The chapter concludes with a brief look at what KJI is up to at the military post. After getting briefed on the summit progress, he asks to see the weekly forecast for electro-magnetic phenomena, which his aide apparently carries around in a briefcase. He is relieved to see that there are no harmful electro-magnetic currents this week that could impact the Great Leader's health. But he's still worried, so he writes up a note to KIS' head nurse, instructing that no matter what happens at the summit, the Great Leader’s schedule of injections and medication must be meticulously followed.

Chapter Characters


Summit delegation at Nampo Dam. From left: Dr. Marion Creekmore,
Rosalynn Carter, KIS, Eason Jordan, President Carter, Richard Christenson,
KIS' wife Kim Song Ae, Carter aide Nancy Konigsmark

In addition to the main characters KIS and President Carter, the story features several cameos by real-life individuals: 

Ambassador Marion Creekmore, Carter's aide on the trip, wrote of the summit in his 2006 book A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, the Power of a Peacemaker and North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions, and also spoke of his recollections of the summit in a 2007 podcast for the Korea Society. 

CNN VP Eason Jordan resigned from CNN in 2005. He apparently did visit NK and meet KIS twice in 1994, though if he received an offer to vacation with KIS at Kumgangsan he never took him up on it. A 2012 NK News article by Mark Barry, who witnessed one encounter, gives this account: "Eason Jordan, president of CNN International, greeted Kim on behalf of Ted Turner, founder of CNN, and expressed hope for a face-to-face interview, which did not materialize."

Former State Department Deputy Director for Korean Affairs Richard Christenson does, in fact, speak fluent Korean and Japanese, and reportedly did serve as an interpreter at the summit. 

Also mentioned is Chang Se-dong, who headed Chun Doo-hwan's NSA from Feb 1985-May 1987 and met KIS in November 1985 to discuss a possible Chun-Kim summit. Carter recalls reading that he gave a particularly flattering description of KIS' negotiating skills. In real life, Chang was convicted for his role in sending thugs to disrupt an opposition party meeting in 1987; at the time of this summit, he was in prison.

There is also a passing reference to Japanese botanist Kamo Mototeru, who created the Kimjongilia hybrid begonia. Oddly, in the story his name is given as "Kamamodo" (가마모도). The two leaders' interaction over the flowers was also told from Rosalynn Carter's perspective in the short story "Enchantment" (매혹), indicating that this had some significance for North Koreans (or else both authors simply spotted an opportunity for another nature metaphor while scoring bonus points with a mention of Kimjongilia).

Another character present in this chapter is Mun Son Gyu, a high-level North Korean diplomat helping with the nuclear negotiations. Mun, one of the novel's recurrent POV characters, is likely a pseudonym for Kang Sŏk Ju, then First Vice Foreign Minister. He has a seat at the negotiating table, and the perspective periodically shifts to him to show his private impressions of the two leaders. Christenson plays a similar role from the US side.

Mark Barry has compiled a helpful list  of all the Americans who met KIS, with useful links of various summit participants.

Describing KIS

As Carter observes KIS, he recalls various things that he has heard about the North Korean leader during his presidency, including high praise from Egypt’s Sadat and Yugoslavia’s Tito.

He also recalls once being in a discussion on the subject of Stalin. Someone told him it was said that the godfather of the global socialist movement always talked down to other communist heads of state – save for the youngest, KIS, whom he addressed using honorific speech.

Midway through their summit meeting, Carter reviews his information on KIS:

   Carter glanced at the papers his secretary had given him. “A skilled conversationalist who overwhelms his audience,” “a voice like someone giving a proclamation,” “completely controls the environment and makes everything go his way, adapting quickly” “superb diplomatic skills are part of his political genius,” these were observations of people who had met Premier Kim Il Sung. Particularly insightful were the recollections of the former head of the South Korean NSA, Chang Se-dong.
   When Chang said “Thank you for donating the flood aid,” the [KIS’] response was “It took more courage for you to accept it than for us to give it.” Impressed, he replied, “Such is the strength of a 40-year regime!” Referring to the fact that the North developed its own Juche system while the South remained dependent on foreign help, Chang said “Our leaders stand far apart in terms of gaining independence from foreign interference.” But instead of criticizing the south Korean government’s subservience to the US, Comrade Kim Il Sung simply replied “Let’s try to close that distance,” showing the graciousness of a truly great man.

KIS' negotiating style is depicted as putting his counterpart at ease by empathizing, frankly broaching difficult subjects, and generally dominating his weaker-willed opponent. He always appears more knowledgable and prepared, while Carter appears timid and reluctant to say what he really wants. Crucially, in the story it is North Korea, not the US, that first proposes light-water reactors as a solution:

   Comrade Kim Il Sung continued, still smiling, “We must return to this issue of trust. We have one 5mw graphite moderator, and your side is insisting that we are extracting plutonium from it to construct nuclear weapons. …. Because of this, at various meetings our side has proposed exchanging this graphite reactor for a light-water reactor. In this way we would eliminate the ‘nuclear problem’ once and for all. Is that not so, Mr. Carter?”
    “That’s reasonable,” Carter agreed.
    “We didn’t originally intend to use a graphite moderator. Back in the Chernenko era of the USSR, we had an agreement to install a light-water reactor. But there were delays, and then the Soviet Union went and collapsed, so it was no longer possible."
   Comrade Kim Il Sung went into the details of nuclear reactors, explaining that while graphite reactors produced a large amount of plutonium spent fuel that could be turned into weapons, light-water reactors produced only a small amount.
    Carter listened intently, surprised that the Premier had such a clear grasp of the details of nuclear technology, surpassing even himself, who had been a nuclear expert.
    “It was not easy for a small country such as ours to develop graphite moderator technology while blocked by international economic sanctions,” He continued. “We spent a great deal of time, effort and capital to autonomously develop a nuclear power industry. But we have a good incentive to freeze it. As our side has already proposed in bilateral meetings, we must be provided with a light-water reactor. Then the ‘nuclear problem’ will cease to exist. And we will have taken a big step toward resolving the fundamental issue of trust."


Here it becomes clear why the preceding chapter lingered on Carter's early-career experience with nuclear submarines. As "a nuclear expert" himself, Carter is able to appreciate KIS' genius in coming up with this solution. KIS is thus depicted as not only a canny negotiator but also an expert in nuclear technology.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Eternal Life (Part 1): Introducing Billy Graham and Jimmy Carter

Eternal Life is the final novel of the Immortal History series, which chronicles Kim Il Sung's life from his days as a guerrilla fighter through the country's founding, war and reconstruction, and on through his later years.  It was published in 1997 and co-authored by Baek Bo Hŭm (who later contributed the short story "Green Land" to the first anthology of stories about Kim Jong Un) and Song Sang Wŏn.

This novel covers the events of the last seven months of KIS' life, including the decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and his 1994 summit meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter.

Devoted readers of this blog might recall that this same summit was also the subject of the short story "Enchantment" (매혹), covered in one of this blog's earliest entries. That story took the point of view of First Lady Rosalynn Carter. This novel was written earlier, and the summit chapters alternate between the perspectives of KIS and President Carter.

In Chapter 15, we get a window on KIS' thoughts on the eve of the summit, as he sits in his office working and thinking through the night.

Chapter 15 Summary 

KIS recalls what he knows of the 39th president, including his childhood, family background, schooling (noting that he attended "a black primary school" in Georgia and later graduated 33rd in his class from the US Naval Academy), his early military career, his success in expanding the peanut farm he inherited, and his later political career.

The story lingers particularly on Carter's early encounters with nuclear technology as a young naval officer.
   That was when Carter became involved in the construction of K-1, the world’s first nuclear submarine. In the wake of the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, the majority of America’s youth were basking in a sense of superiority as “citizens of the Great American Empire,” but the young Carter was filled with fear. He understood the horrific tragedy that the bomb represented for humanity.
   Five years later, participating directly in constructing another kind of nuclear weapon – a nuclear submarine – he wasn’t as fearful as he had been, but he felt a residual unease and a sense of emotional objection. Taking a sudden leave, he took his girlfriend Rosalynn (then a college student) and escaped to a resort in the South Pacific. Walking the beach, he tried to forget the 20th century evil that had so preoccupied his mind.
   At that time his views on nuclear weapons were not rooted in any political ideology. His objections stemmed not from politics but from his philosophy of humanism, or more precisely benevolence, which was a product of his Catholic faith.
KIS then recalls that he has heard that Carter is a friend of the Reverend Billy Graham, whom he has met twice before.
   “Billy Graham!” He whispered softly to Himself.
   In His mind’s eye He saw an image of Graham, his heavy build and fierce expression belying a gentle and charitable nature. As a Christian, Graham followed a creed of generosity. He had served as an army chaplain during the Korean War and faced censure for praying for KPA soldiers as well as American soldiers. But he did not waver, saying it was his duty to pray for all.
Reverend Billy Graham meeting Kim Il Sung.
Src: The Washington Post 
The story then delves into a history of McCarthyism in America, explaining how "Red Terror" caused innocent Americans to fall under suspicion. It notes that Graham would have been a target if it were not for his status as a Christian pastor, but that he sympathized with the victims and it was an important formative experience for him.
   Several decades later when Graham visited South Korea, he felt that he was seeing the rebirth of McCarthyism there. The “National Liberation” (주사파) furor strongly reminded him of American McCarthyism. This was a hysterical movement to round up and arrest the followers of Juche ideology. At the sight of so many Korean students, intellectuals, legislators and laborers being arrested, he saw the nightmare of the 1950s resurrected. And he began to wonder what it was about this ideology, this idea, that had the south Korean authorities so fearful and so many young people and citizen laborers (근로민중) risking bullets and violence to follow it.
Graham made his first visit to Pyongyang in March 1992. The story notes that this first mission, occurring just after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and amid expectations that the DPRK would soon follow, had an ulterior motive of observing the state of the country and assessing the likelihood of its collapse.

Dormitory in the American Compound of the Pyongyang
Foreign School, 1939.
Src: Shannon McCune Collection, UW-Madison
The story explains that Graham had a peculiar connection to Pyongyang because his wife Ruth had once lived there. The daughter of Christian missionaries in China, as a teen Ruth had attended the famous Pyongyang Foreign School for girls from 1933-36. The Pyongyang that Ruth had known, in those days before liberation, must have seemed shabby to her eyes. When she heard her husband was going there she had a lot to say about the city, none of it nice. 

But when Graham tours the city, he is impressed by the streets teeming with vitality, the tall new buildings emblazoned with banners reading “Long live our-style socialism!” Thanks to the devastation of the war, there are no buildings older that 30 years. 

With no old buildings anywhere, how is this place supposed to collapse? he thinks.

KIS then recalls his second meeting with Reverend Graham, which occurred just last January amidst preparations for the Three-Step Process meetings with the US. He recalls that "interest in the reverend’s visit was intense" because "Reverend Graham was the most popular and influential person in the US after the president himself."

After delivering the president’s verbal message of good will for the new year and passing a few pleasantries, they sit down to a banquet. KIS expresses to Graham “Since you are both Clinton’s friend and my friend, I hope you will help to make it possible for us to sit down together.” Graham promises to "carry your words with the same weight as the gospel.”

Now, as day breaks on the morning of the summit, KIS thinks hopefully that he can forge a friendship with Carter as he did with Graham.

Forging Friends among Enemies

This novel, the short story "Maehok," and the novel Ryŏksa ui Taeha (excerpted earlier in this blog) represent relatively rare examples of North Korean literature describing interactions between the Leader and foreign dignitaries. I have searched in vain for examples of stories that cover more recent summits, such as Madeleine Albright's 2000 visit, Koizumi Junichiro's 2002 summit, and the later brief rescue missions by ex-Presidents Clinton and Carter. It could be that I simply haven't found them yet, or it could be that these later meetings were simply not important or successful enough to merit literary treatment. As a general rule, North Korean fiction will not cover an event until it is far enough in the past to allow for a settled and resolutely positive interpretation.

In all of these stories, the Leader always blows away his guests with his hospitality and benevolence. The visitors arrive ready for a fight, for prevarications and insults, and are surprised to find a leader who is more honest and forthright than anyone they've ever encountered. Visiting to Pyongyang for the first time, Graham has a revelation:
   He never would have imagined it when he left, but he was completely won over by Comrade Kim Il Sung’s grace, honesty, kindness and benevolent presence. Graham had expected that He would try to conceal the serious problems brought by the collapse of the communist bloc when assessing the state of His country. But it was not like that at all. Comrade Kim Il Sung concealed nothing. He was extremely frank in describing the difficult straits the country was in. He was even more astute than Graham himself in evaluating the problems brought on by socialist malfunction in other countries.
   This was completely unexpected. Listening in astonishment, Graham sensed that this was a man who would always speak the truth no matter who He was talking with; at the same time, he realized that socialist Korea would never collapse as long as such a leader was in charge. It takes a truly strong leader to acknowledge tough circumstances. When Comrade Kim Il Sung said “Korea will fight to uphold socialism no matter what,” Graham was completely convinced.
The chapter ends with KIS looking forward to his upcoming summit with Carter:
   Recalling His days with Graham, He softly whispered to Himself: “Carter said he met with Graham before coming to Pyongyang… The time has come for me to meet him and speak the truth. Maybe I can build a friendship with him too.”
   The Great Leader Kim Il Sung, who had a gift for forging friendships among the enemy, felt confident that His hopes would come true. 
This image of the Leader "making friends among enemies" is clearly the central theme of this chapter and other summit stories. He is shown extensively studying his counterparts before each meeting, learning intimate details of their lives. Graham's and Carter's biographies are picked apart for clues as to why they may be more amenable than other foreigners. Everyone who meets the leader is instantly charmed and becomes a steadfast defender. It is only the implacable, inscrutable, faceless American government that stands in the way of improved relations.

Christian Faith and Juche

A young Billy Graham traveled to Korea to minister to
US troops in 1952. He was not an army chaplain, as this
story suggests, but a civilian.
 Src: Billy Graham Evangelist Organization
The chapter describes both Reverend Graham and President Carter as men of great faith and fairness. It notes that Carter's Christian faith led him to abhor the nuclear weapons that other Americans celebrated, and Graham was censured for praying for KPA during the war. It also notes that Graham's first visit to Pyongyang had an ulterior motive:
Let me see for myself. For 100 years communist ideology has rejected all religious faith; how long will it be until its last bastion collapses?   This was the question he was sent to answer by then-President Bush. But instead of being a government spy, he ended up forging a deep friendship with the Leader. 
On that first tour, Graham visits a Christian church in Pyongyang.
   After praying there, he asked Comrade Kim Il Sung, “What are you doing to guarantee freedom of faith?”
   He replied, “As you saw, we have built a Christian church, even though our construction needs are great.”
   Overjoyed, Graham then asked, “I suppose you’ve noticed the commonalities between Juche thought and the teachings of Christianity?”
   “Similarities?” Comrade Kim Il Sung thought a moment and then said modestly, “Thank you for holding Juche to such a lofty comparison.”
   Graham didn’t press the matter any further. But he privately believed that Juche and Christianity shared the same basic ideal. That ideal was love.
On his second visit, when Graham attends a banquet in his honor, the Leader makes an unexpected gesture.
   “Let us pray,”  Comrade Kim Il Sung said as they took their seats around the banquet table.
   “What?” Graham gaped, as if he could not believe his ears.
   “Isn’t it a Christian custom to pray to God before a meal?”
   Graham was speechless. He, who had affirmed his Christian faith at age 16 and preached to 110 million people in 84 different countries, could hardly forget this basic rule.
   “The food is getting cold,” he said.
   Comrade Kim Il Sung merely waited, not picking up His spoon.
   At last, Graham rose and lifted his glass. “I thought I’d forego that custom tonight. Instead, let us toast the health of the Chairman, who is like heaven to the people of this country.”
   Comrade Kim Il Sung stood, waving His hand. “No, no, I’m not these people’s heaven, I am their servant.”
   “Then I bow my head all the more to you.”
This and earlier stories suggest that, rather unusually for a socialist state, North Korea's propaganda does not treat religion with scorn. Rather, it depicts religion and Christianity in particular as a stepping stone for foreigners on the way to finding the superior ideology of Juche. Carter and Graham's Christianity is described as "a creed of benevolence" that enables them to see past political enmity and embrace common humanity.

In the North Korean interpretation, it is not in spite of but because of their devout Christianity that these men are able to see the truth of Juche, while the godless politicians back home remain stubbornly opposed to it. The text openly acknowledges similarities between Christianity and Juche, but rather than acknowledging that the latter plagiarized the former, it suggests that the former foreshadowed the higher truth of the latter. The passage tying together Graham's Christian faith, his abhorrence of McCarthyism, and his curiosity about Juche ideology is particularly revealing.

Of course, it must be repeated, the official propaganda position is far removed from the actual treatment of people of faith in North Korea.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"Green Land": North Korea Deals with Environmental Issues

KJU on a visit to the Central Tree Nursery in 2014.
Src: Tongil News
"Green Land" (푸른 강산) is a short story by Baek Bo Hŭm that appeared in Ch'ŏngnyŏn Munhak in October of 2014 and later was published in the collection A Promise of Fire (불의 약속).

The author is an eminence grise of North Korean literature, co-author of Eternal Life (영생), the final volume in the Immortal History series of novels chronicling Kim Il Sung's life. Born in 1938, he trained as a geologist but was scouted by the Korean Writer's Union at age 18 and has been a prolific contributor to the Party's literary journals since the 1960s. He would have been 76 when he wrote this story. Given his high profile and long history of literary achievement, I'd say he phoned this one in. It follows the basic template and seems unimaginative even by North Korean fiction standards.

There is a lot of overlap between this story and "Green Mountains, Green Fields" (2016) - both highlight the Central Tree Nursery, the new National Land Management Mobilization policy, and Kim Jong Un's priority of investing in re-forestation. There is also some thematic overlap with "Morning of Departure" (2016), particularly the depiction of new hydroelectric dam construction destroying woodland and creating flood problems.

The Plot

It’s October 8, 2011. The 66th anniversary of the KWP founding approaches. Environmental Ministry worker Kang Hyŏng Jun reads reports in his office. He’s absorbed in a book sent over personally by KJU; it's the first time he’s directly benefited from the new leader he’s heard so much about.

The book tells of the delicate, interconnected nature of the planet's ecosystems, and the relentless destruction being wrought by "capitalist monopoly industries" in selfish pursuit of profits.

Kang is interrupted from his reading when he is called to his Party Secretary's office and instructed to prepare for the Leaders' impending visit to the Central Tree Nursery.

On returning to his office, Kang finds a note from his old college friend Ri Song Mok. Once a gifted botanist, Ri had recently been dismissed from his post due to an unfortunate mishap at a hydroelectric dam. 

In cutting timber for the dam, the deputy chief of construction had unwittingly chopped down five experimental trees, the sole fruit of Ri's twenty years of work adapting semi-tropical hybrids to North Korean soil conditions. Ri had been unable to contain his rage and ended up brawling with the dam worker. For interfering with an important hydroelectric project, Ri's political loyalty was called into question, and he was fired.

The next day, KJU and KJI visit the Central Tree Nursery with a delegation of Environmental Ministry bureaucrats. Kang is introduced; KJI describes him to the assembled group as “capable but stubborn” and thanks him for agreeing to guide their tour. 

The Central Tree Nursery workers are delighted to hear KJU’s voice for the first time; he has a twinkle in his eye and a “dignity and fervor that could melt a rock.” They’ve all heard of his diverse knowledge in politics, economics and culture, and his skills in both literary and martial arts.

KJU tells the assembled, “More important than just loving trees, is understanding why we must love trees.”

Riding electric carts, the group tours the greenhouses, the central control room, and several vast fields of tree hybrids. Numerous recent improvements and "cutting-edge" facilities are described. Along the way, KJU repeatedly correctly identifies various trees which had special meaning to his father and grandfather. 

Relishing his role as tour guide, Kang gives the group an impassioned, slightly unhinged speech about the important role of trees to the broader ecosystem. 
“Those who don’t learn to love trees will surely pay the price. There was one district that cut down many trees to build a hydroelectric dam ‘by their own strength,’ but the next year during the rainy season they suffered severe damage from mudslides.”
At his words, KJU recalls recently seeing a briefing about a certain botanist whose experimental trees, 20 years of work, had been cut down to build the dam in Tokgochŏngrim. The botanist had been sentenced to one year of labor reform (로동단련) for assaulting the dam project's political director. 

Flood damage in the fall of 2013. Src: Yonhap

KJU regretted that the Party hadn’t been able to “see the patriotism of a botanist who spent twenty years of his life on trees” and thought “Why should he have to resign over a mistake? We must preserve our technical workers. If anyone is at fault, it is the workers of Tokgochŏngrim who destroyed the trees and ended up with a useless dam."

At the end of the tour, KJI gives a long inspirational speech to the assembled functionaries about the Party's environmental policy. KJU listens quietly and resolves to personally carry out the Leader's wishes.

The story skips forward one year to October 9, 2012. KJU paces in his office, remembering his visit to the tree nursery with his father exactly one year ago. 

He hasn’t seen the Environment Ministry workers since that day, except for briefly seeing Kang Hyong Jun at Kumsusan Palace that terrible December when everyone was in shock. KJU had promised him he would carry out KJI’s wishes for environmental protection.

He kept his promise, organizing the first National Land Management Mobilization Conference (국토관리총동원운동열성자대회). He took the opportunity of the festival on May 8, 2012 to announce a major shift in environmental policy through his treatise “On Bringing about a Revolutionary Turn in Land Management to Meet the Demands of Constructing a Strong and Prosperous Socialist Country” (사회주의강성국가건설의 요구에 맞게 국토관리사업에서 혁명적전환을 가져올데 대하여), announcing policies for flood control, anti-erosion land reform, and conservation of natural resources including mineral, fisheries, plant and animal resources. The speech was a big sensation among the delegates. 

After the festival the whole country was mobilized, and within months they had planted hundreds of millions of trees, restored 1000 km of roads and railway lines, and created hundreds of jŏngbo of greenspace. 

In his office, Kang Hyong Jun reads a letter from his botanist friend Ri Song Mok, now happily re-instated thanks to the intervention of KJU. The phone rings; it's KJU himself. Kang is stunned and tongue-tied. KJU asks after the nursery; Kang says they’ve been busy with tons of visitors lately. 

KJU says that’s good, as 
“The tree nursery is not just a place for growing trees; it is also for cultivating patriots… not just the masses but especially bureaucrats, so they can learn the world view of the Great Leader and the General. Making bureaucrats into servants of the people is easier said than done. Sometimes bureaucrats think of the people as their servants instead. I’ve seen it happen many times, and it always grieves me.”
Kang thinks with shame that he, too, is guilty of this.

KJU apologizes that he doesn’t have time to talk more but urges Kang to keep giving good interpretative tours to “light the flame of KJI patriotism in people’s hearts.” Kang sobs his gratitude, but the Leader has already hung up.

As Kang heads off to the Central Tree Nursery, he remembers the words of KJI, “Because of Comrade Kim Jong Un, our revolution and our socialism is secure, and our future is endlessly bright and promising.” 


Understanding Environmental Problems

This story demonstrates the educational uses of North Korea's state fiction. It opens with a lengthy quote from the book that KJU sent to Kang:
   The third planet in our solar system, home to tens of thousands of organisms – this is our Earth. Of all the planets revolving around our sun, only the third has the heat, light and gravity conducive to life, and various life forms thrive there....
   For the life forms that are born and grow there, the sun is like a benevolent father and the earth is a gracious mother. Of all her hundreds of thousands of children, only one has the capacity for laughter and tears, for joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure – human beings. Humans are mother earth’s most precious and beloved children, and she surely believes that they will observe their filial duty to bring her boundless happiness forever.
   But today, because of human carelessness, the earth is suffering from terrible wounds. It has grown haggard, withered and infected with a sickness that threatens the existence of all life – and humans are no exception.
   Air and water cross national boundaries without a passport. Dust-filled sulfur dioxide gas can blow from London in England to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and polluted water from the US can follow the rivers to take a trip abroad. Poisoned air can travel freely from the western hemisphere to the eastern hemisphere. Therefore if a country is to protect its own environment it must consider the global environment, and in order to protect the global environment we must surgically remove the greed-organs of imperialists who care only about their own immediate interests. Imperialism is a malignant tumor on the planet as well.
    Botanists of the world, never forget! The same American imperialists who destroyed countless lives with atomic bombs and poisoned the air with radiation also spread poison to kill the primeval forests during the Vietnam War. Grass still won’t grow there.

In this passage, the reader is invited to look over Kang's shoulder as he reads up on global environmental problems. This form of political communication is perhaps marginally more engaging than simply sending the same text around as an intra-party document.


At the Central Tree Nursery tour, Kang makes a long speech to the group about the importance of trees.
The ozone layer, which protects all life from the sun’s harmful rays, is created by trees, and thus humans cannot live without trees. Not only that, they generate oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, absorb water, help prevent erosion, and remove toxins from the air.
The story is peppered with textbook-like sections like this, which seem intended to brush up the reader's general ecological knowledge.

It's interesting that the story refers to polluted air travelling across borders but refrains from explicitly mentioning China, whose dust North Koreans have been breathing for decades. It’s also interesting that the text identifies “imperialism,” rather than capitalism, as the root cause of environmental destruction, although the description of selfish corporations ruthlessly pursuing profits reads more like capitalism. 

Communicating Party Environmental Policy

Insofar as this story has a climactic moment, it comes when KJI gives his speech to the assembled tour group at the end of the Tree Nursery tour:
   "Planting and caring for trees is a ten-thousand-year long-term job that can only be done by a true patriot. Short-sighted people who live only for today can’t do it correctly. We must broadly promote patriotic people to care for our forests… Our generation must further beautify the 3,000 li of beautiful landscape (삼천리금수강산) inherited from our ancestors, to pass down to future generations. To do that we must adapt the best trees for our land, properly manage our seedling crops, and develop tree varieties with the most economic value…  Comrades, let us promote national land protection work around the country to fill it with blue sky and fresh air, to make our mountains into a socialist fairyland of thick forests, giving golden mountains (황금산) and treasure mountains (보물산) to our next generation."
A deforested hillside in North Korea.
In this straightforward way the story communicates a new policy priority of reforestation. KJI is the principal character who communicates this priority, while KJU takes on the role of quietly vowing to implement it out of filial duty. In this way, an essential policy correction is repackaged as a continuation of a goal that the late leader had simply not had time to implement.

In his phone call after his father's death, KJU tells an emotional Kang,
   “Only those who possess true Kim Jong Il patriotism can carry out the work of land management. I say it all the time, but our General really was a great man who led with his heart and his feelings. We must learn from Kim Jong Il patriotism, the sacred patriotism of the General who devoted his life’s labor to the fatherland and the people. Let’s create the socialist fairyland that was his dying wish.”
In this passage, we can see that the Party is trying to draw a connection between patriotism and environmentalism, specifically tied to the new propaganda buzzword "Kim Jong Il patriotism." In this way, even as land management is promoted as a major new priority of KJU's, this is portrayed as carrying on the wishes of his predecessor KJI. "Kim Jong Il patriotism" was also a key buzzword in "Green Mountains, Green Fields."

KJI did in fact visit the Central Tree Nursery in October 2011, two months before his death. According to this archived article from Yonhap, he was accompanied by KJU as well as Jang Song Taek and Party Secretary Pak Do Chun.

This fascinating article from Scientific American includes one foreign delegation's impressions after a visit to the Central Tree Nursery.


“On Bringing about a Revolutionary Turn in Land Management to Meet the Demands of Constructing a Strong and Prosperous Socialist Country”

KJU’s 2012 treatise on land management was his first published work. It was published on April 27th, 2012 and distributed at the National Land Management Mobilization Conference (국토관리총동원운동열성자대회) on May 8thBefore this, the most recent major  statement on environmental policy was a 1984 speech by KJI on land management. 


Some sample text: 
  • “The land that can be brought under cultivation can be found everywhere. A man who strives to find reclaimable land and increase the area of the land under cultivation even by an inch is a genuine patriot.” 
  • “[A]fforestation and forest conservation are not on a proper track now. Many trees are planted every spring and autumn, but there is no marked improvement in the afforestation of the country. Many mountains in the country remain denuded of trees. In provinces there are not a few bare mountains even among the ones with the signboards reading, 'Forest Conservation,' 'Youth Forest' and 'Children’s Union Forest.' Measures should be taken by the Party and the state to promote afforestation and forest conservation.”
  • “We should take careful measures to prevent earth and sand from flowing into rivers and landslides from occurring. To this end, we should plant many trees along rivers and build stone terraces or buttresses where necessary.”
Here we observe an implied problem that trees that are being planted are subsequently disappearing. This could mean either that desperate people are cutting down new saplings, or that the trees are not taking root due to the North's persistent soil problems. This problem is not referenced in the above story, which speaks only of the resounding success of the national tree-planting mobilization.


Dams vs Trees

This is the second story we've seen which describes the problem of overenthusiastic dam construction felling trees and causing soil erosion and flooding. We can assume from this level of literary attention that something like this must have actually happened in the recent past, and the Party is trying to correct its workers' awareness through depictions in state fiction.

Recall that in "Morning of Departure" (2016), the main character was a dam construction brigade leader who faced prosecution from the Ministry of Justice for cutting down trees for the dam project. After saying he would "take responsibility" for the damage, he was excoriated by the Justice Ministry officer:
"Responsibility? What good is responsibility, when the forests are destroyed and the land is unusable? Look, if the reservoir overflows before the hillsides are repaired, they'll wash out and destroy the forest. How can you possibly take responsibility for such a disaster? Of course, if you finish this dam you'll be commended and promoted, but what of the damage you do to the poor mountains that can't speak for themselves?"
The brigade leader ended up remorsefully accepting a demotion, but the bigger problem of how to build dams without destroying forests was never resolved.

In this story, which was actually published two years earlier that "Morning of Departure," it appears that the deforestation caused by the dam construction actually did result in severe flooding, which ended up destroying the dam itself. The story conveys a dual message: that it was wrong to cut down trees to build dams, and that it was wrong to punish the environmental workers who protested the damage.