People, left to themselves, don’t seem to care about people on the other side of the planet. They seem to want to pursue happiness and enjoy themselves if they can. My observations in North Korea reinforced this sentiment.
It raises the question why North Korea and the United States harbor so much animosity. History answers the question at a low level. My visit revealed to me deeper reasons.
In all cases I got to speak to North Koreans, theyÂ distinguished between Americans and our government. In my limited experience there, I saw no individual animosity toward individuals, despite the anti-American propaganda. My greatest discovery in North Korea, so obvious in hindsight, was how similar people were there as any place else, and how unlike their government.
Anyone who travels discovers something similar, our commonalities as people. I found the similarities greater for the greater cultural differences.
It became clear a significant source of the animosity between us came from our governments.
We call our elected officials leaders. They do lead us, but in what directions? As best I can tell, a national leader of either country gains support when they claim the other threatens their security and we have to militarize to defend ourselves. When the other threatens, the local gains support too. Kim Jung Il gained support when George Bush called North Korea evil. George Bush gained support when Kim Jung Il tested nuclear weapons. Citizens of both countries didn’t benefit from those exchanges.
In other words, leaders of mutually belligerent countries share common interests to gain power domestically. They both gain by threatening each other and defending themselves. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four had three countries perpetually fighting but never winning, having achieved a mutually stable situation.
Meanwhile, if some farmer in one country met a farmer from the other country, they’d probably have a beer together before fighting if no one incited them to fight.
I’m not saying anything new, but it bears repeating, to counter messages from our leaders who benefit from polarizing us.
Renoir’s 1938 film, La Grande Illusion, illustrated this principle eloquently — the complexity of relationships between people of different nations, classes, religions, skin colors, and so on. many of our “leaders” don’t benefit from understanding these complexities. They benefit from simplifying them, which explains why the German and French governments destroyed copies of the movie as they prepared to fight what became the second World War.
This clip, narrated by a contemporary reporter, shows some of the movie’s greatest scenes and describes the relationships and mutual ties between humans anyone can see but our leaders sometimes hide.
Renoir’s interview introduces his film’s concepts too.
The United States and North Korea have many grand illusions of each other, polarizing us. Our leaders support and maintain many of them. I believe we benefit from exposing them.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees