The Biggest Fool of the 21st Century

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Shin Hyo-seop

    February 06, 2007 12:15

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited a frontline unit along the Yellow [West] Sea in 1996. "All wars in the future will be computer wars," he told the troops. "Military commanders must learn computing. I, too, use a computer for more than an hour a day." The effects of his instruction on computers were confirmed in Washington three years later, when North Korea ranked first in a U.S. Defense Department survey tracking back countries that access Internet sites on military affairs.

    Kim reportedly keeps a pocket notebook dubbed the "karaoke ledger." Recorded in it are the names of military units to which he presented karaoke machines, units he plans to present them to, and the number of machines. The Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Workers' Party, reported late in 2004 that Kim, while inspecting military installations, told troops, "When you sing a karaoke song, don't keep the microphone too close to your mouth and make sure you look at lyrics on the screen."

    North Korea staged an anti-smoking campaign in 2004. It was prompted by Kim's success in quitting after 20 years of trying. The authorities immediately legislated a smoking control law and the Rodong Sinmun mounted a nationwide anti-smoking campaign. Public offices got rid of ashtrays, smokers in non-smoking areas were fined, and smokers were disqualified from applying for college. The media often printed Kim's saying, "Cigarettes are like guns aimed at your hearts."

    The Economist reported over the weekend that Kim cites the computer-illiterate, smokers and the tone-deaf as the "three kinds of fool in the 21st century." The report was entitled, "Weird but wired." But while he famously asked former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who visited Pyongyang in 2000, for her e-mail, North Korea is "a country almost as cut off from the virtual world as it is from the real one," the weekly reports. Only a few thousand people have access to the worldwide Web.

    Computers and the Internet remain just beyond the reach of most North Korean citizens. A 2005 poll of North Korean refugees found 1.9 percent had used the Internet and 7.7 percent had used computers. Kim is so fond of South Korean popular songs that he was able to give instructions that "A Maze of Love" be used as a graduation skills test for voice students. But North Koreans are forced into tone-deafness by being forbidden to sing South Korean popular songs. North Korea allegedly produces 2 billion packs of fake cigarettes a year, yet in the North smokers are denounced. The dear leader's finger is pointing straight at his own face.

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