On July 4, 2006, the North Koreans fired off at least seven missiles, a provocative act specifically done on that particular date - the United States’ Independence Day and day of a Discovery space shuttle liftoff. One of the missiles could theoretically hit the western United States; this long-range missile failed 40 seconds after it blasted off. The missiles all landed in the Sea of Japan. It was later reported that the long range missile may possibly have been aimed at Hawaii.
This incendiary act upset many nations in the world, not the least of which the U.S., considered a major enemy by North Korea. Japan, too, was shaken by these launches. On July 10th, news agencies reported that the Japanese government was discussing constitutionality of a pre-emptive attack on the North Korean launch pads. Japan feels threatened by the North Koreans; Japan has limited defense capabilities due to the pacifist constitution forced on them by the U.S. after World War II, and they are starting to rethink some clauses of their constitution. Japan could be a major target for North Korean missiles. South Korea, too, could be a target, although they as a nation do not seem as put off-balance by the North Korean missile launches. By the time this review comes out, more related events will undoubtedly have occurred - hopefully no war.
In this informative book, Tim Beal suggests that the conflict between North Korea and the U.S. is more of President George W. Bush’s making than it is of the North Koreans. During the Clinton administration, relations between the U.S. and North Korea seemed to be heading in a more positive direction. By contrast, in January 2002, during the State of the Union speech before Congress, President Bush declared North Korea to be part of the “Axis of Evil” along with Iraq and Iran. Throughout this book, Beal compares North Korea’s situation with Iraq before it was invaded. He strives to show similarities in how President Bush has dealt with both countries. If so, it would make sense for North Korea to be concerned that it might be next on the Bush hitlist, whether before or after Iran.
Beal presents a condensed history of North Korea to help the reader better understand today’s North Korean culture and its apparent belligerence. China has had a great influence on the Koreans in several positive ways, on Korean religion, language and civilization. Japan has had a negative influence on Korea by conquering it and keeping it as colony. The Japanese were brutal toward the Koreans, and this animosity is likely still very much alive, especially in the North where the government has greater control on those who live there.
Beal details American hypocrisy on several issues like human rights, religion, and nuclear arms. In North Korea, religion is said to be tolerated - as long as it does not cross over into politics. The government is reportedly cruel to its own people and controlling of their lives. Starvation seems to a major problem for the North. Beal and others fault the U.S. for holding back food from the North as leverage. While the U.S. has the nuclear capability to destroy the world many times over, an ironic complaint against North Korea is that its military is too large and too costly. The North feels threatened by the U.S., and possibly by South Korea, so it is on guard against invasion at any time.
This insightful book dishes out food for thought. Beal provides many timelines, charts, and quotes from various sources. Copious endnotes, a good-sized bibliography and an index round out the book’s extras. Three maps are found in the front of the book, but otherwise no illustrations break up the text. The top half of the front cover pictures Vice President Dick Cheney speaking to an audience of American soldiers in South Korea; on the bottom half is a picture of North Korean soldiers on parade.
Tim Beal is a senior lecturer in the School of Marketing and International Business at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has visited North and South Korea and is the author of Astronauts from Taiwan (1999), China’s Terms of Trade (1984), and Calculating China’s Terms of Trade, 1930-1969 (1982). This book on North Korea is recommended to those interested in the present tenuous North Korean situation.