America's NPR [National Public Radio] offers every Friday evening 'All you need to know', a weekly public affairs programme.
Jon Meecham, a Pulitzer prize author, is one of its anchors. On 3 December 2010, he talked with Charles Armstrong, director of the Centre for Korean Research at Columbia University.
Professor Armstrong is of mixed Korean ancestry. His books on Korea have been well received; he is a frequent guest at the New York Korea Society; and has travelled often visited South and North Koreas. Although not much publicised, the US government has sollicited his expert opinion on Korea.
Meechan alloted ten minutes to Armstong on the Wikileaks release of US cables on North Korea, the succession of power in the North, and China,among other matters. GuamDiary wonders if a sixth of an hour is d'all you need to know' about North Korea.
Armstrong is soft spoken, even thoughtful. He doesn't strike you as a man of such great learning and sophistication that he would easily abandon any pretense of critical thinking. Yet, answering Meecham's predictable line of questioning, he dutifully recites the act of faith of recent events in the two Koreans as written by the US and ROK.
On the question of the shelling of the island of Yeonpyeong he voiced dropped when he made mention of the presence of a large flotilla of South Korean and US warships along the NLL [Northern Limit Line], using live fire. Live fire which may very well have fallen in North Korean territory resulting in a return of fire by the North.
Armstrong linked the shelling to bolster the image of the wet behind the ears recently promoted to a four star general Kim Jung un, Kim Jong il's youngest son and chosen successor. He saw this attack by the North, the first in 47 years since the signing of the Armistice agreement, as something to do with the sinking of the 'Cheonan', but without any elaboration.
Armstrong didn't think the Wikileaks relase would do much harm, nor would China exercise much restraint on the North even though it has been quietly turning it into a client state as Beijing's economic engine expands.
Meechan fed Armstrong the usual pablum questions on North Korea. He has a pleasant personality and wears his cloth of the American south's curtesy and civility well to his cut as a journalist and editor. Recently, the 'All to you need to know' host filled in for Charlie Rose. On that programme, David Sanger and Sean Shane of the 'New York Times' and former diplomat James Rubin, an Iran expert, discussed the Wikileaks 'bomb'.
At that time, the jabber on North Korea kept within the 'circle of convergent' opinion which has the US government stamp of approval. Were that the discussion pushed to the limits of the issue, raising embarassing questions, well...that would be too good to be true.
What is true and crystal clear is that 'all you need to know about North Korea' is a pretense of critical and independent thinking. Hardly ever would those critical of US policy towards North Korea be panelists. For, independent thought, critical of US military and political authority, may be and is viewed as unpatriotic, if not treasonous.
Different standpoints may and often elicit questions. And finally the last thing, the US' and its North Korean clerisy's might be challenged and they would then have to defend their views, which in the mainstream go unchallenged.
And why should the clerisy show backbone and moral courage to hold different and differing and at times irritating views? Well what comes to mind by the way of explanation is from Upton Sinclair:'It is difficult to to get a man [or a woman] to understand something when his [purse] depends on his not understanding it'. And that is how it seems that we 'all need to know' about official and officious opinions about North Korea!