The White House on Thursday sharply condemned a lengthy and racist North Korean screed against President Obama, calling the rhetoric from Pyongyang “particularly ugly and disrespectful.”
The rebuke came in response to a recently published diatribe by North Korea calling Obama a “clown,” a “dirty fellow” and somebody who “does not even have the basic appearances of a human being.”
Another part of the tirade declared, “It would be perfect for Obama to live with a group of monkeys in the world’s largest African natural zoo and lick the breadcrumbs thrown by spectators.”
The White House — which often ignores the rhetorical excesses of the North Korean regime — suggested that the new comments from the Korean Central News Agency were especially repugnant.
“While the North Korean Government-controlled media are distinguished by their histrionics, these comments are particularly ugly and disrespectful,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
Propriety has never been a part of North Korean rhetoric, but rarely has Pyongyang so ferociously — and personally — attacked a U.S. leader, in this case pulling language right out of the American 1850s. The attack seems unabashed, except for one thing: Unlike most articles published by the North’s state-run news agency, this one wasn’t translated into English.
“He is a crossbreed with unclear blood,” the North says.
And later: Obama “still has the figure of a monkey while the human race has evolved through millions of years.”
The diatribe, published May 2, almost escaped foreign attention. But Joshua Stanton, who blogs regularly about the North’s viciousness and rights violations, uncovered the Korean-only piece, as well as a separate, milder article that was translated into English and in which Obama was called a “wicked black monkey.”
The Korean-only piece (headlined “Divine retribution for the juvenile delinquent Obama!”) featured four lengthy passages, each attributed to a regular citizen. In the North, quotations of citizens are state-sanctioned and often spoon-fed by the government’s propaganda department, analysts say.
In some instances, North Korea’s verbal attacks can be milked for amusement, their outrage directed at “imperialist lackeys” and “thrice-cursed stooges.” But when North Korea talks about race, it’s almost always important — and telling about the state ideology.
Some academics — most notably B.R. Myers — argue that North Koreans fundamentally have a “race-based” worldview, showing more similarity to fascist Japan during World War II than Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. Myers condenses North Korea’s state orthodoxy into a sentence: “The Korean people are too pure blooded, and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader.”
That notion, of course, has been contorted to allow the most non-parental kind of leadership, but North Korea still goes to alarming lengths to maintain its racial purity. North Korean women often cross into China looking for work or an escape; if those women are impregnated and later forcibly repatriated to the North, they are subject to either forced abortions or infanticide.
The United Nations said in a recent human rights report that this practice points “to an underlying belief in a ‘pure Korean race’ in the DPRK to which mixed race children (of ethnic Koreans) are considered a contamination of its ‘pureness.’ ” The report referred to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korea has proved its willingness to advertise all forms of contempt, racial or otherwise. Last month, its state news agency lashed out against the openly gay leading author of the U.N. human rights report, calling him a “disgusting old lecher.” And last week, the North called South Korean President Park Geun-hye an “old prostitute.”
Obama walked into North Korea’s crosshairs after his recent visit to Asia, which included stops in Tokyo and Seoul. Washington and Pyongyang have gone more than two years without dialogue, and the North faces little risk of direct backlash for its comments.
But there are some clear contradictions in North Korea’s stereotyping. The North maintains active ties with several African countries and just signed a cooperation agreement with Nigeria. Meanwhile, North Korea this year welcomed a team of former NBA players — most of them African American — for an exhibition basketball game attended by leader Kim Jong Un.
Harlan reported from Seoul, and Goldfarb reported from San Diego. Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.