North Korea’s Tears

HO CHI MINH CITY – Can an entire people go mad? Sometimes it certainly seems so.

Images of North Koreans in their hundreds of thousands howling with grief over Kim Jong-il’s death suggest something very disturbing. But what? An exercise in mass delusion? A ritual of collective masochism?

Kim was a brutal dictator, who pampered himself with the finest French brandies (allegedly $500,000 a year’s worth), fresh sushi flown in from Tokyo, and the best chefs money could buy, while millions of his subjects starved to death. Yet, here they are, masses of his bullied, downtrodden subjects loudly mourning his death as though they had lost their beloved father.

Granted, the people publicly mourning in Pyongyang belong to the most privileged class, and dramatic bawling is a traditional Korean way of expressing grief. Even so, the behavior broadcast from North Korea looked unhinged. Is there a plausible explanation?