That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Chollima vs. the Universe

Putting on a brave face against vastly superior adversaries is nothing new to North Korea. But tomorrow’s World Cup tilt versus Brazil will prove one of the more lopsided altercations in a long, long history of seemingly hopeless battles for the Hermit Kingdom.

The #105 ranked DPRK side will be hoping to count on two main factors vs the #1 ranked Brazilians. They’ll seek to:

1) aim for a draw by adopting a strong defensive game, shutting the South Americans down throughout

2) summon a hitherto-unknown karmic spirit-force who might blow, umm, “divine wind” the Koreans’ way, as willed by their Eternal President, puppeteering the match from the skies.

Who can know which approach the underdogs will focus on. What we do know is that, in 1966, the last (and only) World Cup appearance for North Korea, they defeated top-ranked Italy in the group stages and advanced to a strong quarter-final showing against Portugal – leading 3-0 at half-time, only to be disposed of 5-3 at full time. The Chollima had to fly home, but with heads held high.

Back here in 2010, many observers might pity the North Koreans for having to face football’s ultimate global supremo early in the group stages, but I have to suspect it suits them just fine. In the DPRK, the political-cultural worldview seems to hold (though what do we know?) that the world is full of seemingly unassailable giants, and that it is the noble (indeed holy) duty of the DPRK to be ever-ready to lash at them with the fury of a thousand suns.

It makes me think of this.

But where does the worldview come from? No short answer to this one. I see it as something inherited through a long history of subjugation to, and invasion by, exceedingly well-armed (and just a bit duplicitous) foreign powers. This only reinforced their extreme hermitisation – their isolationist, spiritualised dynastic system was then hijacked by a 20th Century military leadership which twisted itself into a thoroughly bizarre regal Communist/neo-Confucianist military papacy. Or something.

It’s a worldview that’s enabled the military leadership, and its Kim Family god-figureheads, to strengthen their sense of legitimacy everytime they’re dealt a serious blow from outside. Indeed, when blows from the outside are in short supply, the North Koreans do seem to actively seek them out. They wave a pseudo-existential nuclear threat in the face of the UN, with words and promises of war that almost certainly outgun capacity, while the UN is trying to keep its eyes on the serious nuclear game in Iran. They torpedo a South Korean vessel in the midst of a relatively unremarkable period of inter-Korean relations, thus launching both countries back to the brink of war once again.

The natural state for the DPRK leaders is the state of emergency, and there’s a strategic case for it – whatever religious devotion North Koreans do feel for their collective military messiah and its holy objective of total “splendid isolation”, faith can sometimes, surely, be tested. Without actual Goliaths to tussle with, the relevance of a holy army can, in time, diminish all by itself.

How will this translate on the pitch? It’s win-win, really. A DPRK victory is a crushing blow to all those who ever doubted that their land is, indeed, a land of exquisitely talented ubermensch who routinely achieve greatness and can easily smite any enemy, no matter how well-equipped or well-regarded in the so-called “rest of the world.” A DPRK loss, likewise, is an undeniable affirmation that the tournament is rigged, and the group stages are pre-designed with no other purpose than to try to sully the natural dignity of their country. The nations of the Earth conspire endlessly to harass North Korea – why should FIFA be any different?

As always, however strange it seems, North Korea just can’t (appear to) lose.

Filed under: International, Korea, Politics, , , , ,

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June 2010

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