Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ryeoksa ui Daeha (력사의 대하) Pt 1 - North Korean fanfic about the Clintons

Ryeoksa ui Daeha is a full-length novel by Cheong Ki Jong that was published in North Korea in 1997. The title can be translated as either "Great River of History" or "Jumbo Prawn of History." Since North Korea refuses to use Chinese characters in their publications, there is really no way to definitively know which was intended, but I prefer to think it is the latter.

Author Cheong Ki Jong passed away in 2016.
Src: Yonhap
This novel is quite famous in North Korea, and the author, Cheong Ki Jong, received a rare eulogy by the KCNA when he passed away earlier this year.

Dr. Lim recommended this novel when I asked for stories depicting world leaders and current events; it is a fictional account of the events surrounding North Korea's threatened withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993. She said there is a particularly good scene in which President Clinton is depicted cowering in fear under a blanket. Since this is a 500-page novel, I'll be skipping around and posting select segments.

The main story line follows the North Korean scientists and officials struggling to develop the nuclear program, with frequent assistance from Kim Jong Il. At several points, however, the POV switches to show the reaction of the Clinton administration to events. The following is an excerpt from the first Clinton chapter, which begins on page 111.

The Clintons in the White House
   On Friday evening, Clinton was planning his weekend vacation.
   His wife Hillary had been frantically making preparations since yesterday. She had set up their itinerary for the two-day trip, carefully allotting time for each activity - yachting, fishing, golf, duck hunting. They had even argued over how to get there; Clinton loved driving his car at high speeds through the countryside, but Hillary cast his preferences aside and decided that they would take the private plane to Camp David (known as the place where Eisenhower and Khrushchev held the Camp David Talks in 1959).
   This weekend would be his first vacation as president. Ever since Bill Clinton took office on January 23, he had been constantly busy making cabinet appointments, managing his administration, formulating his own political and military strategy (크린톤식 정치군사전략) for dealing with global instabilities, engaging in diplomacy and laying groundwork for the "American economic revival" that he had so emphatically promised during his campaign. There had been not a moment to relax.
   But at last they had a chance to catch their breath. Hillary was particularly happy. In her long career as a lawyer she had only dressed in a scholarly fashion, and her mind was always on her legal work; but since becoming First Lady she had begun to to dress elegantly and involve herself in various entertainments and parties, becoming almost vivacious.
   "Bill! About this weekend," she had said at breakfast that morning. "No talking politics or legal stuff while we're away. Got it? We're going to have a 'Return to the State of Nature' like Rousseau. That's the rule for this weekend."
   Then she had insisted that everything about their trip must be set according to her wishes, not just the itinerary but also the music and TV programs, and even the menu for every meal.
   Finally the time to leave was almost here.
   At 5pm, Clinton phoned from his office in the West Wing to the second floor living quarters, but nobody answered. He tried the number for his daughter's study room; still no answer. On a whim he tried the central hall phone number, and finally his daughter Chelsea picked up.
   "Dad?" Her voice was bubbling with excitement. "Dad, I finally did it!"
   "Did what?"
   "Guess! No, I'll tell you. I finally played 'Dreams of Love' all the way through!"
    12-year-old Chelsea had been working on Liszt's "Dreams of Love" for ages but had been stumped by the arpeggios in the latter section. It seems she had finally had a breakthrough today. It was easy to picture her pirouetting joyfully around the central hall, where the grand piano was.
   "Hey Dad, wanna hear it?" His daughter was already setting the receiver down by the keys. He could hear her excited breathing grow more distant. "Okay, here I go. Listen to this, Dad."
   Shortly, piano chords began emitting from the speakerphone on his desk. As his ears filled with the familiar tune that he had been forced to hear almost daily, his mind turned to other thoughts. In the iron-fenced rose garden on the South Lawn, his helicopter sat waiting. No doubt the house staff were busily loading all the luggage Hillary had packed at that very moment.
   Just then the door opened and in walked White House Chief of Staff Thomas McClarty. Clinton gave him a quizzical look. It was unusual for him to appear unannounced.
   "What is it, Tommy?"  Clinton had called him by this nickname since they were kids. They had grown up in the same town of Hope, Arkansas and had gone to kindergarten together.
   "Mr. President." Thomas' thick jowls quivered and his expression was stern. "There's one thing you need to see. I was going to wait until after the weekend but the CIA director insisted..."   
McClarty hands Clinton an AFP article reporting that South African President De Klerk has publicly revealed that his country developed six nuclear warheads. At first Clinton cannot understand why this has the CIA so upset; Western efforts to help South Africa develop the bomb had been an "open secret" for years. McClarty reminds him of the upcoming IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, and the fact that North Korea has been increasing its diplomatic lobbying in advance of this meeting.
   Thomas was watching him expectantly. "Mr. President?"
   "Tommy, when it's just you and me, you can drop the formality," he said, suddenly annoyed. "Who in the Cabinet is still around?"
   "Uh, the Interior Secretary, the Attorney General, Treasury, Commerce -"
   "Never mind!" The one he really needed, Secretary of State Christopher, was overseas. "Get me the Secretary of Defense and the CIA director, right now!"
   Just then Chelsea's voice rang sharply from the speakerphone. "Dad! You said you would listen, but you're talking again!"
   "Ah, Chelsea." Clinton ignored Thomas' grin. "Something just came up. What can you do, your dad's the president."
   "Ugh! Do you do anything but make speeches?"
   "Hey, listen to me, okay? I'm going to make time to hear it. Now's just not the time. Understand? Okay, Chelsea, bye now."
Clinton switched off the speakerphone and ordered McCarty to gather the two officials, plus the national security advisor, in the Roosevelt Room. He then turned to the bank of TV screens on one wall showing four networks - ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN - and a live satellite feed provided by the DoD. From here, the President could watch events unfold anywhere at any time, down to "the pensive expression on the face of a farmer tilling wheat in a Russian village."

CNN was already abuzz about De Klerk's announcement. A panel was discussing the history of Israeli-South African nuclear collaboration, including suspicions that the "double flash" incident in 1979 was an Israeli nuclear test done with South Africa's cooperation. The CNN panelist noted that the US obtained uranium from South Africa in the 1940s and that France and Germany had also secretly collaborated with it on nuclear development in the past.

Clinton moved to the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing, which "was built by President Theodore Roosevelt to allow more space for his six children and the various beasts they raised." Defense Secretary Les Aspin, CIA Director James Woolsey, and his national security advisor were already waiting there and greeted him with anxious looks.
   Clinton took his seat and began the meeting.
   "We're here today to discuss North Korea's likely response at the IAEA meeting convening in Vienna.   In case they use South Africa's announcement to accuse the US and the IAEA of discriminatory treatment against them, we must ensure that this does not jeopardize 'Operation Focus'."
   The mood grew serious. "Operation Focus" was the Joint Chiefs' secret plan to attack the North Korean nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Around the time of the Team Spirit 93 joint military exercises, they intended to launch a targeted strike against Yongbyon and then use the North Korean response (which would surely be swift and merciless) as an excuse to launch a full-fledged war.
   In order for this operation to succeed, the role of the IAEA was crucial. By using the meeting to highlight the lack of transparency of North Korea's nuclear program and  its refusal to allow "special inspections," they could further isolate the North and justify the attack to the international community.
   "Mr. President," the CIA director began. "Regardless of what North Korea does, the participants are already drafting their resolution."
   "Is that so?" Clinton asked, and immediately felt stupid. The CIA director doubtless had access even to drafts of the IAEA members' speeches.
   "Yes, sir. And if the North Koreans bring up South Africa and Israel, they'll only be implicating themselves. After all, their nuclear program is just as untransparent."
   Defense Secretary Aspin spoke up. "This might actually be a good thing. The more they complain about South Africa, the more they will alienate the Western countries that aided it, and we'll get even more support from them for our strategy."
   To this, the NSA countered, "The world is not just countries like France and Germany. When it comes to the nuclear issue, we have to worry about the influence this will have on problematic countries like India and Pakistan, and Algeria."
   As he listened to their arguments, Clinton began to quietly reconsider 'Operation Focus." The truth was that he did not consider war to be necessarily a desirable outcome. As the last election had proven, the most important issue for Americans was the economy....
   Clinton was well aware that he was neither a great epoch-making man nor a battle-blooded war hero. In his view there were four great American presidents: the independence war general Washington, of course; the civil war era leader Lincoln; FDR who led America in WWII; and Kennedy, who overcame the greatest tension of the Cold War when the Soviet Union tried to put missiles in Cuba. All four were heroes of their eras, with extraordinary courage and leadership capabilities.
   But why couldn't he, Clinton, be the same?
   People thought of him as a jolly guy and an optimist, but few knew that behind the smiling face lay a deep ambition and competitive spirit.... From his unhappy childhood under the care of his alcoholic stepfather, he had been driven by a desperate ambition. This ambition had allowed him to be selected to visit the White House as a youth, even shaking hands with his hero President Kennedy, and his sights had been set on the White House ever since....
The text continues in some detail about Clinton's education history and his early political career, noting that he was both the youngest and longest-serving state governor in US history. After "a ferocious campaign of one year and one month," he had finally become president. Now, his final competition was against the great presidents of the past whose names had been written large in history.

He thought of the long line of presidents who had been humiliated by North Korea - Truman and Eisenhower with the Korean War, Johnson and Nixon with the Pueblo and EC121 incidents. But now the world had changed, the Soviet Union had collapsed and North Korea was left isolated. Now was his chance to end them and, in so doing, write his name large in history.
   With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Clinton regarded North Korea as a trifling matter. He made a public fuss about the advanced weaponry they possessed, but privately he wasn't too worried. America's superior firepower had been proven in the Gulf War.
   So what was there to worry about? A pretext for war, that's what. They could not allow a stain on the veil of democracy that America draped about itself. He must take care not to acquire the "mass murderer" label that had plagued Truman after giving the order to drop the first nuclear bomb.
   Just then Woolsey spoke up. "Mr. President, the important thing is to keep provoking the North Koreans so that their leadership loses their wits."
   "?" Clinton hadn't been following the earlier conversation closely and wasn't sure how to respond.
   Aspin stepped in to the pause. "History shows that wars are always preceded by some strong peace offensive." (강력한 평화공세)
   "What are you saying?" Woolsey demanded. "Are you calling 'Team Spirit' a peace offensive?" The mood grew tense.
   Just then the door opened and Hillary walked in, carrying a tea tray and smiling coquettishly. Hillary was always taking over from the servants and playing hostess whenever guests were around. This allowed her to snoop in on conversations.
   Traditionally the president's wife was not supposed to hold any official position or involve herself in the administration's work, but Hillary had never stuck to that rule. At this point she had become his most influential advisor.  It was said that most of his cabinet had been chosen or recommended by her.... With her wise advise and novel ideas, she had directly influenced policy and earned a formal seat in the cabinet meeting room....
   Her sudden entrance swept away the grim mood in the room. Clad in a black dress, she warmed up the room with her feminine scent and warm smile.  "Drink up, everyone," she said, delivering tea, coffee and soda around the room according to each man's preference. "But why the long faces?"
   "Madam, just now we feel like poets searching for inspiration," said Aspin.
   "Is that so?" she replied with another grin. "But do you really need to search for it? I thought inspiration had to come on its own."
   "Of course! It's just that..."
   "Just that the president is making you all search for it?"
   The room erupted in laughter at her wit.
   "Whatever you do," she continued, "Don't get too far ahead of yourselves or you'll just wear out. Why not sleep on it?" Clinton read the look she gave him to mean that she had given up on the weekend plans, and was proposing to continue discussing this important problem tomorrow.
   "Let's do this," Clinton turned to address the room. "We'll take the position of welcoming South Africa's decision to come clean on its nuclear program. But we'll use that to put pressure on North Korea. We'll strongly urge them to confess what they've been hiding, as South Africa did. The Vienna conference is key to making this work. The pretext for war that we've been seeking depends on that conference. By pointing out their lack of transparency and deepening suspicions about their nuclear program, we can heighten global concern about them. Then the whole world will support our 'Operation Focus'."
   After thinking a moment, Clinton called Thomas in and gravely commanded, "Inform all NSC staff. For the next month, no weekends off for anybody." The order to cancel vacations for all NSC staff, including himself, indicated that he intended to put an end to the nuclear issue - and North Korea - once and for all within the month.
   That left one more matter to address. "And the time has come to send our tactical nuclear bombers to the peninsula.... This will put huge psychological pressure on the North Korean leadership and fill their people with fear."
   At his words, everyone in the room knew that war in the Far East would soon be a reality.

Depiction of US Politics

For a North Korean novel, this passage paints a relatively nuanced portrait of the workings of executive power in the US. The president is depicted as not having much control over the media, making promises to get elected and then feeling obligated to make good on them, and having to appease more conservative elements in order to achieve his agenda. His cabinet members openly disagree and argue with one another in his presence. He is concerned about global opinion turning against the US at the IAEA meeting.

It is notable that the text points out Clinton's humble upbringings, even exaggerates them a little. In describing Clinton's rise to power, the key words "ambition" and "competition" are repeated many times. These concepts have a decidedly negative connotation in Korean popular culture. North and South Korea share a common trove of folk tales endorsing the narrative of the ambitious schemer who seeks to steal power away from the virtuous prince. This narrative can be seen in many South Korean dramas today.

Depiction of Hillary Clinton

The Clintons in the White House
Src: AP
Like Rosalynn Carter in "Maehok", Hillary Clinton is depicted here in mostly positive terms as a "wise" (현명한) and "creative" (기발한) advisor to her husband, if a bit controlling. Clearly, the author had been following US media coverage of Hillary's role early in her husband's administration and the criticisms of her exceeding her brief as First Lady.

What is most interesting is the way the author imagines Hillary using her feminine wiles to interpose into the world of male power. She comes in bearing a tray of drinks, sorted in advance according to each man's taste - a classic female chore in office spaces across East Asian countries. Her "feminine scent" (녀성특유의 아릿한 체취) and "coquettish smile" (애교있는 미소) are described as having a warming effect on the men in the room. She seems to be very adept at using her feminine characteristics to wheedle her way into the policy conversation.