Frontline World


North Korea, SUSPICIOUS MINDS, January2003



Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story, including responses from the reporter.

Ken Christy - Kailua, Hawaii
This was a fantastic piece.

Robert Krupp - Phoenix, Arizona
What an interesting program. I was stationed at Camp Sears, Ouijongbu, South Korea 1985-1986 2nd Infantry Division. It was an awesome experience. On two occasions I was able to tour Panmunjon (DMZ). When I toured the DMZ the stump of the Poplar tree from the Ax Murders was still standing. Today a monument stands where the stump once stood in remembrance of Captain (Major, Posthumously) Bonifas & Lieutenant Barrett. Most Americans are unaware of the Axe Murders, Operation Paul Bunyan that occurred 3 days after the axe murders or the U.S.S. Pueblo affair. Many Americans are also unaware that our military continues to defend and maintain the peace of the Korean Peninsula. I was very troubled to see one of the axes that were used in the axe murders on display in the North Korean Museum. I hope all diplomatic means will be used to resolve the current situation. Both North and South Korea have large armies. China would again become involved if conflict did erupt again on the peninsula... Great Job Frontline. I salute all who serve or have served our county honorably.

Monique Martinez - Reading, Kansas
I am a high school teacher, in a small Kansas town. With everything going on today, Iraq, North Korea and Afghanistan my students have many questions and concerns. They constantly hear about oppressive leaders and dictators. They have trouble separating leaders from those they lead. They have no sense of what the people are like. Programs like this one allow the eyes of my students to slowly open up and reshape how they view the world. Thank you for your part in this educational process.

Jody Pope - London, England
It's easy to try and turn your head to the problems we are all facing today, to live by media stereotypes that are aimed to reinforce fear. I have so much respect for the makers of this programme; the only way to bring about change is through communication, to see each other's faces clearly.

I feel railroaded by the British Government and the Media, I feel misrepresented and completely disillusioned. It was so refreshing to see a human account of North Korea rather than the News At Ten map graphic with a nuclear war head marker, which might as well be accompanied by the Jaws theme tune.

There are communication barriers that need to be broken down but they shouldn't be violently forced.

Chris Keenan - Boulder, Colorado
Thanks for the excellent web site and the diverse, functional links. A very sad story, to say the least. The suffering of humanity is never-ending. The corrupt North Korean regime can be dealt with in a number of ways, it seems. The current approach, however, is not working. The people of the Korean peninsula want re-unification. What are they willing to do to achieve it?

We American imperialists need a big dose of humility before we will ever be able to help other peoples on this globe, especially ego-manical tyrants like Kim Jong-il. But, as we all know, are leaders are not interested in helping anyone but their friends and families. Our leaders do not have the solution to this problem.

Democracy, not plutocracy! Wake up, friends! We are in this together, whether we like it or not.

Chris Keenan - Boulder, Colorado
One more thing.

Please continue to keep the web site current and useful. It is a marvelous tool for self-directed learning (among those fortunate or powerful enough to have access to the Internet).

I don't have time to watch TV, and seriously doubt its ability to beneficially impact the course of human history ... but the work you people are doing is stellar and the best of what TV has ever offered. I send $$$ to PBS because of programs like this (and just about everything Frontline or Moyers works on).

Thanks sincerely for your contributions to a better world!

Louis A. - Denver, Colorado
What a tremendous job Ben Anderson and his friends did reporting on North Korea. I didn't think the people would of been so friendly. But one can tell, they do not know practically anything about the rest of the world. Can you imagine Mr. and Ms. Pak attending Carnival in Rio, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans? Watching the celebrations in the stadium made me think how much a drone the average person is over there. The great leader is like a god but idol worship is a big, major sin, even if your a atheist. I'm curious to know though, did Mr. Anderson exchange addresses with the Paks when he left, or did it seem futile to do so? Is he going to send them a video copy of the story he did?

James Wingert - Boulder, Colorado
What a great piece was "Suspicious Minds." I think context and reservement of judgement is very important in trying to understand people. I have read all the postings on this page and I don't understand how anyone could be angry about this piece. One writer accuses them of being "brainwashed." Now, that's an assertion that I don't disagree with, HOWEVER, and it's a big however, we as Americans are brainwashed too! We're just brainwashed by Pepsi and Coke and Levi's and...oh, I don't know, 20th Century Fox. Not to mention the propaganda our own government feeds us about who our enemies are and why we should be fearful of what they can do to us. I'll tell you what...I haven't done a great deal of traveling but I've learned in the little I've done that a little respect goes a long way. The other thing I've learned is that for the most part people are great everywhere. It's the governments that are such a pain.

The following conversation took place in response to the first broadcast and launch of "Suspicious Minds" in January 2003.

Michael Harman - Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
This story was a most interesting look at a pretty mysterious place. It was odd and touching at the same time. I think the young lady "guide" was genuinely touched by her contact with Mr. Anderson and his associate. Thank you.

Pippa Holloway - Nashville, Tennessee
Thanks [for] doing this fascinating piece on North Korea. It is so rare to see any footage from inside the country and so rare to hear any voices from citizens there -- though of course I recognize that the two guides served [as] mouthpieces for a repressive government not as actual "voices" of citizens. You were right they do "break your heart."

I have a couple of specific questions about little things that you were not able to fully explain in such a short piece.

(1) Were those Rollerblades? That was about the last thing I expected to see in North Korea.

(2) More generally are all consumer goods manufactured there, or do they trade with other countries? Would Mr. Pak's watch have been made domestically? What about private cars? (I saw some at the beach scene, it looked like). Or do they have stores with imported goods for the urban elite? Would they be government run or are there some kind of private market importers?

(3) The scene of your last dinner, there were a bunch of people in that restaurant who sure didn't look Korean. Who were those people and what was that restaurant?

All this points to larger questions about the condition of the economy and the state of course. I recognize that the urban elite's loyalty is bought while the rural poor starve, but its interesting nonetheless to speculate how resources are allocated and just how isolated the place really is.

Thanks for speaking peace and reminding us that is a core value shared by so many.

Reporter Ben Anderson responds:

(Question 1):
They were rollerblades, but they weren't the best rollerblades I've ever seen. It is very strange to see anything devoted to leisure there though, everything is normally functional, productive, educational etc. etc. Any children who are very good athletes, dancers or singers are given favourable treatment- The 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il loves entertainers more than he loves soldiers, maybe those kids were part of the elite, being groomed to take part in the huge shows the Dear Leader loves so much.

(Question 2):
You see some foreign goods there, lots of old Russian products, and China has donated many products, especially bicycles I believe. There is one department story in Pyongang (it's called 'Department Store Number 1') but its shelves are pretty bare and there aren't many customers there. North Koreans who have good jobs (I believe they earn about $1000 a year) have a bit of spending money to spare, but not much. The few we saw mostly chose to spend that money on drink.

(Question 3):
There are three or four restaurants in Pyongang that are there for foreign visitors, you don't see many Koreans there, and they don't have menus. You get whatever they've got. In the best restaurant, my first course was a burger with a fried egg on top! The customers are mostly visiting Chinese, UN workers and the other group you saw were tourists. An English guy has been running tours into North Korea for a few years- groups of about 10-15 Europeans travel in about twice a year. North Koreans are desperate to welcome tourists, they honestly believe that if they show you all the monuments and museums, you will be converted. It's actually impossible to tell how much the North Korean people believe in their leader.

No-one seems to be bought, this is what's so incredible, despite horrific suffering, the loyalty seems more genuine than the supposed loyalty I have seen in Iraq, Iran, Libya and Cuba. Then again at least 250,000 have risked their lives crossing the border into China, so it's impossible to tell what is really going on inside the minds of North Koreans.

They've been seeking a non-aggression treaty for years. The problem here is that the leaders on both sides always have to look strong. But they, after all, are not the ones who will be fighting and starving as a result of a breakdown in negotiations, usually caused by ridiculous pride.

Ben Anderson

Scott Cusiter - Houston, Texas
Excellent programme. I'd like to see more on North Korea and their wonderful people. Lets hope that one day soon Korea will be a united country.

Colleen Eckhardt - San Diego, California
Thank you for the piece on North Korea. I felt very lucky to have a 20 minute window into this country, wonderfully hosted by Ben Anderson. Each story that Frontline/The World presents is greatly appreciated by those of us interested in current world news.

Doreen Mark and Seaton Lewis - Lakewood, Colorado
We are wondering if the reporter encountered anywhere in North Korea any mention of the non-Korean indigenous people -- the Nivkh/Gilyak, the Orok/Oroquen, the Oroch(i), the Ulch, the Negidal, and/or the Nganasan?...

Reporter Ben Anderson responds:
I had read a little about this before I left, but no, we didn't encounter them anywhere. Kim Jong-il is determined to keep North Korea as a secular state, but I never got the impression he is trying to make it ethnically pure. I think loyalty is all that matters there. Interestingly, an American ran across the DMZ years ago, but no-one knows what happened to him or where he ended up.

Sonoma, California
It should be remembered that the story was produced by a journalist posing as a tourist and was therefore unable to probe the issues facing the US and North Korea. Anyone who has faced the North Korean personnel at the DMZ knows that they are specially selected as totally dyed in the wool party liners. The guides, though charming and disarming know that you cannot say the word American without preceding it with "imperialist". North Korea is a dangerous and threatening aspect for the world. Take a look at the North Korean News agency web site, KCNA, and find the daily rhetoric emanating from this "hermit kingdom" and if you don't sense the foreboding danger you'll be missing the whole point.

Reporter Ben Anderson responds:
I disagree, they would embrace peace tomorrow, as long as it didn't involve a humiliation for the 'Dear Leader,' and have been seeking a non-aggression treaty for years now. The threats are merely a way of gaining power at the negotiating table. Chalmers Johnson called it 'the text book example of how to get a great deal from a weak hand.' All North Koreans are more than happy to discuss US/North Korean relations. they have some very funny ideas about history, they are very paranoid about the US, but they are not insane brainwashed robots hell-bent on war, as they are often portrayed. My producer disagrees with me, but I felt certain the North Koreans would never launch a major attack. The last time they did was in 1950! And that was only after they practically begged Stalin for permission, and eventually got his support. The same is true around the world. Iraq invaded Iran with the backing of the West, and Saddam thought he had a green light for the invasion of Kuwait. Cuba had Russia, Syria had Egypt (or thought it did) the list goes on.... They may all be vicious, vain, mad tyrants, they are not suicidal.
Ken Underhill - St. Louis, Missouri
All 3 segments last night had me riveted, but the North Korean piece left me terribly conflicted. Seeing this obviously proud but outmoded political system striving to maintain itself through forced propaganda to innocent pre-schoolers was disturbing. However I couldn't help feeling kindness and empathy at the "wink and a smile" attitude of the Korean hosts when provoked by the reporter to comment on the west or defend their system. Under the crippling isolation imposed on them, the Koreans have only "The Dear Leader" to cling to for cultural identity. Very sad.

Nashville, Indiana
I was so amazed by this piece.....a real insight and surprise as to who North Koreans really are and what they think of us........

Joshua Giese - Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
I believe North Korea is making their current provocative steps out of weakness. I believe the recent famine and the dissolution of the USSR have left North Korea in a such financial bind that they are attempting to use nuclear weapons to pry economic aid from the United States. I would refuse to play North Korea's games and would impose tough sanctions. I would also consider limited strikes to remove North Korea's existing nuclear weapons.

Sabella Abidde - Mankato, Minnesota
Dear Moderator:
There is no great mystery to the current imbroglio. None whatsoever! This impasse wouldn't have come about if the Bush administration had (1) honored the agreement the Clinton administration reached with Pyongyang. But hey, the realists and hawks in the Bush team were bent on thumbing their noses at the rest of the world, and (2) President Bush erred by including North Korea in the "axis of evil" column. By so doing he poured gasoline on a fire that was dying out. After all, there was no finality to the Korean War - only a temporary armistice. All that the president accomplished by the axis of evil speech was to pour gasoline on the fire in the belly of a dying lion.

As it stands, the only way out is through diplomacy; for this is one fiasco the Great America may not be able to solve militarily. Forget the talk of being able to fight two wars in two regions of the world. Forget the stick, and approach Pyongyang with a carrot - which is how we should approach Baghdad anyway. We all know we live in a unipolar world; therefore, America need not always flaunt its preeminence. Idealists know this best!
Sabella Abidde
Mankato, Minnesota.

Nick Jones - Tennessee
Only near the end of this story did I find where its heart truly lied. Watching Ms. Pak's obscurely sincere interactions with these journalists simply shattered my heart, and it seemed as though the weight of their circumstances fell a little too heavily on hers. This precious time spent was only a flash in the pan. I can only imagine with great sadness what wonderful friends these four people might have made in a different time and a different place or just a different time.

Reporter Ben Anderson responds:,
I couldn't agree more. In many ways this was the purpose of this series. For the original series on the BBC, we traveled to six countries that George Bush has labeled 'Evil' and the people could not have been nicer. This was especially true in North Korea, Iran and Iraq. That's why it's a major mistake to punish a country for the actions of its leader. In Iraq, Saddam is living like a king, he has been listed as one of the 7 richest men in the world, yet his people, who hate him and have tried to get rid of him, are the ones suffering. They are suffering under him, under sanctions and under our bombs. You are absolutely right that politics aside, we had great relations with each other, and really not so different at all. Even the politics was just something that we enjoyed discussing, it was never a source of conflict.
Craig Timberlake - Portland, Maine
The "Suspicious Minds" piece on North Korea was absolutely fascinating. It placed a human face on the tragic state of conditions in North Korea while illustrating the total control that the cult of personality has held over the people.

Thank you.

Eric Yankovich - Warminster, Pennsylvania
I have watched about 10 minutes of your propaganda piece and promptly turned it off. I would hope that one day this country and the British (including that wise guy) would learn how to mind their own business. If a foreigner were to arrive here and behave that way, many thugs (here in USA) would not tolerate it; but yet that wise guy is apparently free to go about and insult his hosts and their regime. Gee, whatever happened to the so-called "hostile behaviour" of North Korea you people keep talking about? They seemed to tolerate that jerk fairly well.

The constant jabbing and innuendo aimed at North Korea and other regimes that are trying to retain whatever independence they have left is annoying and is obviously the same old cheap and stale propaganda.

Please ask that English snot what he thinks of the British thug soccer fans or what he thinks of of his silly countrymen when they pay all kinds of childish homage to "king and queen".

Why doesn't FRONTLINE do a story about that?

Sincerely Yours, Eric Yankovich, P.E.

Toni Russell - Texas
You use the word 'independence' in your tirade as though it is something that exists in North Korea. Please do tell where you were able to see any independence for the North Koreans. Those poor people are brain washed from the time they are born to believe anything and everything their "great leader" tells them. I think it is a great sadness that you are so blinded to the inhumanity these people believe is generosity. Maybe you should spend the day in the life of an average North Korean and then come back and see if your opinion remains the same.

Ron Campbell - Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
As with Iraq, let's leave the North Koreans alone until there are unmistakable signs of a move toward aggression against other nations, such as the massive U.S. buildup in the Arabian Peninsula. The doctrine of pre-emptive war is nothing but an excuse to impose a pax Americana worldwide, and the only reason Bush is espousing the doctrine and moving to back it up is because he can, being the commander-in-chief of the world's only superpower. As for nuclear weapons, the U.S. is the most heavily armed and dangerous nuclear power on Earth today, with the Bush administration threatening to use such weapons in the apparently inevitable Iraq war under certain conditions. The DPRK has maybe two such weapons, according to newspaper reports (and who knows the source of that information? Was it the U.S. Defense Department?). The DPRK is a threat to no one. It doesn't even have oil to export, to my knowledge. So what would be the U.S. interest in attacking it, other than simply to assert worldwide American hegemony...

Geneva Whitecotton - Bossier City, Louisiana
Exactly how did we go from looking for Osama Bin Laden to inspecting Saddam Hussein's country and in the meantime worrying about being bombed by North Korea?

Thomas Roberts - Zanesville, Ohio
Once again a very good story, Ben Anderson should be commended.

Troy, Michigan
Unilateral action by the U.S against North Korea or even Iraq would be unprecedented, and would send a huge message to the world: one of defiance and unjustified aggression. I must ask, what makes the U.S superior so that it is entitled to be the judge as to who can have nuclear weapons? In my opinion, the U.S must restrain itself and control its anger. Unless there is something more to this sudden urge to go to war other than the pursue of national security. Is it about power? money? pride? It is a shame and gut-wrenching that anti-American sentiment is spreading around the world. However, I can't help but understand why such a feeling would develop.

Max V. - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The depiction of North Korea in this show made me think of Nazi Germany with its cult of personality and intense propaganda. The US should ask for Russia's assistance to step in and bring North Korea in touch with the world.

Fred Simpson - Marquette Heights, Illinois
Dear Frontline/World:

Just saw your PBS news article about North Korea. Thank you for adding some information about N. Korea, there hasn't been much available from the news media lately. Especially since the 1950s.

I think conflict resolution between the US and North Korea has to be as careful and tactful as that done between the US and the old USSR or China. Does president Bush get that?? Don't know.

I also found it amusing when, while in North Korea, your reporter found it strange that a siren sounded at noon. The blue-collar community that I live in sounds a similar siren every day. That siren sounds in the AM, at Noon and at 9:45 PM EVERY DAY! It was very stressful when it continued sounding, every day, immediately after 9-11-01. Makes me believe, just a little, that I live in a socialist country too.

Sincerely, Fred Simpson

Johnny Weeks - Memphis, Tennessee
America has lived too long with dangerous enemies waiting to strike at us. Appeasement of food and energy just makes our enemies stronger, harder to defeat. President Bush is right to push back, and let our foes be aware of our power and our willingness to fight for freedom and peace. North Korea, if it had long range missiles and nuclear war heads, might not attack the U S, but do we really want to return to the old Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) days, and periodic threats by Pyonyang whenever they wish to get more food, medicine, Elvis records, etc? My Dad used to say "If you show me your ass, you must know I'm gonna kick it."
No negotiations at the barrel of a gun for me thanks.

back to top