Belmont Club

The Subversive Ordinary

Yesterday I wrote that the “Guardians of the Peace”, that shadowy group responsible for stealing a major chunk of the intellectual property  of the Sony Corporation, might soon find themselves attacked similarly nameless programmers.

How about hiring the Justice League of America, who now have day jobs on Playstation Portable Systems, to take on the Guardians of the Peace? There may be many mild mannered programmers in the CIA, NSA, FBI and DOD, not to mention the PSP who are secretly Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman and the Flash by night. This may be happening even as we speak, except that nobody talks about it.

Maybe invisible supervillains can only be countered by invisible superheroes, if only to give them pause. You have got to make the Guardians of the Peace worry; to ponder each time they get into the elevator in the high rise building which serves as their secret hacker’s headquarters, whether the lift might not suddenly plunge straight into the parking basement.

The Justice League may already be striking back. Reuters reports that “North Korea experienced Internet outages on Monday, a U.S. company that monitors Internet infrastructure said, adding that the reason for the problems was not known.

“For the past 24 hours North Korea’s connectivity to the outside world has been progressively getting degraded to the point now that they are totally offline,” said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at New Hampshire-based Dyn Research.

“There’s either a benign explanation – their routers are perhaps having a software glitch; that’s possible. It also seems possible that somebody can be directing some sort of an attack against them and they’re having trouble staying online.”

The average North Korean may not notice that his Internet connection is down because the average North Korean doesn’t have a connection. Wikipedia notes: “Internet access is available in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), but only permitted with special authorization … as of late 2014 there are 1,024 IP addresses in the country.”

But the outside world will conclude that president Obama has fulfilled his vow “in a place and time and manner that we choose” and consider chastisement delivered.

The sparseness of the North Korean grid is what makes proposals like John Fund, writing in the National Review, probably more realistic. Fund approvingly cites efforts by the “the New York–based Human Rights Foundation (HRF) … to help counter the secrecy and restrictions on information that North Korea uses to control its people. The group has devised an ingenious weapon: a durable, vinyl balloon that can carry pamphlets, money, transistor radios, flash drives, and, yes, copies of movies that could open the eyes of North Koreans to the outside world and the exact nature of the Kim-family regime that oppresses them.”

What North Korea has is a sneakernet. That may sound old-fashioned, but in North Korea a sneakernet is high-tech. The idea of Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet inspiring rebellion in North Korea is mind boggling, but it may actually be true. One person told Fund how ordinary culture is subversive in North Korea.

I met Yeonmi Park at HRF’s Oslo Freedom Forum last October and was captivated by her story. The petite 21-year-old told NRO’s Jay Nordlinger she had no idea of the outside world. But her insatiable curiosity prompted her to watch a smuggled copy of James Cameron’s Titanic, even though she had witnessed the execution of a friend’s mother who had been condemned to death for watching a forbidden James Bond film.

Titanic changed her life. As she told me in Oslo, “It showed me noble people who were willing to die for love. It made me realize I was controlled by a regime that wanted me to only love the Kims. North Koreans don’t realize they are slaves, but after the movie I did.” She became emboldened to embark on a dangerous two-year escape through China and Mongolia until she finally reached South Korea.

It’s hard for the ordinary citizen of the 21st century globalized world to actually put themselves in the shoes of people who’ve been imprisoned in a real life historical museum. They’ve no idea of the impact of a Mars Bar, a lightstick or computer tablet on someone who has been told all her life that such things simply do not exist.

In 1976 Soviet fighter pilot Viktor Belenko defected with his MIG to the United States. Like every defector he had misgivings about the wisdom of his switch of allegiance. While being debriefed by the CIA they had to shop for clothes and on the way he insisted on stopping a while at a supermarket. He was stunned at what he saw. At first he believed his minders had brought him to a Potemkin store and all the shoppers in them were actors. But as the day wore on the realization struck him that supermarkets in America were ordinary. It was the ordinariness of supermarkets that hit him like an iceberg.

The Justice League cyberwarriors are probably what brought the North Korean Internet down.  That is all right and proper. But what will finally crush the rule of the Kims is the contrast between their gimcrack worker’s paradise and the world built by ordinary men. As Yeonmi Park said, an ordinary movie “showed me noble people who were willing to die for love. It made me realize I was controlled by a regime that wanted me to only love the Kims. North Koreans don’t realize they are slaves, but after the movie I did.”

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