I bought this book against my better judgement, based on the glowing reviews. Negative reviews received complaints for not giving examples of what makes Myers maddening, so here they are:
pp. 28-29-- On Korean behavior under Japanese rule, Myers posits an either/or choice of reluctant collaboration born of fear, or full indoctrination in "a winning racial team. No one familiar with human nature can doubt that the latter assumption is more likely to be true." (Fear followed by self-justification seems like an option to me.) Myers cites "widespread over-compliance" as further proof of enthusiasm. "Widespread over-compliance" is proof of what? It was also seen, for example,in China's Great Leap famine and Cultural Revolution. Survivors of these times cited a complex mix of behaviors and motives, including fear and/or enthusiasm--but Myers is not an and/or person. (He also uses this logic to condemn North Koreans as willing victims.) The complex situation under Japanese rule could use some revisionist coverage, the way the history of Nazi-occupied Europe has received a more nuanced, critical view in recent decades. Myers doesn't do nuance.
p. 29-- Myers tells us "on August 6 the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, emboldening the USSR to enter the war with Japan." Myers doesn't explain in which alternate universe The Bomb, rather than the Yalta conference, caused Stalin to declare war on Japan exactly 3 months after Germany surrendered.
p. 54--On the North Korean famine:"Many migrants remember a widespread yearning for war with America during the famine". Unlike many of Myers' assertions, this one has a footnote, so I turn to see if there is a new book on North Korean migrants/refugees I need to add to my reading list. No migrant: the footnote reads: "War is a common 'flight-from grief device' in tribes going through extreme hardship. Turney-High, 'Primitive War'". Harry Holbert Turney-High was a cavalry officer and anthropologist who thought "war is the most exciting exercise in the world". He was a real nut, but not a North Korean. (North Korean "war fever" has been described elsewhere, including in Martin's "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader"--but as a response to relentless official war-mongering. It's odd for a book supposedly devoted to state propaganda to instead cite famine as the cause. The pages leading up to this conclusion do describe government war rhetoric; this pivot to "human nature" is typical Myers.)
p. 58--Myers claims many South Koreans "feel a nagging sense of moral inferiority to their more orthodox brethren" (meaning North Koreans). No footnote--Myers could be basing this on an opinion poll, anecdotal remarks by his students, or telepathy.
p. 61--"The South Korean electorate's disaffection with the Sunshine Policy played an important role in helping the conservative candidate win in November." Pre-election polling does not bear this out. The most important issues were jobs, jobs and jobs; see Lankov,"The Real North Korea",pp. 173-174.
p. 62--"the South Korean public lashed itself into another of its xenophobic frenzies" over American beef--only someone who hates America could worry about mad cow disease. (Myers is consistent in attributing all anti-American attitudes to a xenophobia hardly less pronounced in the South than the North. American foreign policy, especially during the Park and Chun years, is not mentioned.)
p. 75--Finally, Myers turns to analyzing actual North Korean propaganda. "An especially common motif is the deep forest, which psychologists regard as a universal archetype of the instincts. Informed as they are by our traditional mistrust of spontaneity, our fairy-tales and legends tend to depict the forest as a menacing place of witches and wolves. North Koreans, with their celebration of pure racial instincts, treat it as a safe and womb-like place that affords them an insurmountable advantage over the enemy." This is psychobabble. Our fairy-tales are set in the actual wolf- and bear-filled forests that existed when the tales were first told. Korean forests and mountains gave actual guerrillas advantage over Japanese and American enemies. Myers never misses a chance to substitute psychoanalysis for observation of reality.
pp. 91-92--Myers calls North Korean film romance "reminiscent of Bollywood". This gave me a start, as I imagined wet sari numbers and a North Korean A.R. Rahman--but this is not what Myers means. I'm not sure what he does mean, but he's clearly no expert on Bombay Masala.
p. 108--Just one head-scratching part of the 'maternal Kim Il Sung' argument:"artists and writers...play up the feminine aspects of Kim Il Sung's appearance--the soft, pale face, the dimpled smile, the expansive bosom"--wait-a-minute, expansive bosom?! He's got a fat belly, but not gynecomastia. Myers has few genuinely maternal examples to offer us. He mostly repeats his belief that a fat man looks like a woman, and anything remotely nurturing (including rushing an injured person to the hospital) is maternal behavior.
p. 112--Having psychoanalyzed all and sundry from the first page, Myers stops to admit, "I am not qualified to analyze the cult (or anything else) from a psychological standpoint, but just enough should be written here to counter the reader's skepticism that sane people could give themselves over to the adoration of a male mother figure. Sigmund Freud wrote of every child's yearning for a phallic mother, a truly omnipotent parent who is both sexes in one, and Ernest Becker agreed that the hermaphroditic image answers a striving for ontological wholeness that is inherent to man". If Freud is your idea of an authoritative source, buy this book now. (All that passage did for me was remove any shred of curiosity I had about Becker's books.)
There was much, much more that bothered me than these few nits I've picked. As for the big picture: Myers is not the first writer to notice the legacy of Japanese colonization on Korean culture. His accusations of racism are so hyberbolic as to end up seeming, well, racist. The argument that North Korea is not Stalinist or communist seems pointless. These terms are nearly meaningless from misuse at this point. I'd rather read a more extensive analysis of what North Korea is. Unfortunately, most of Myers' analysis is of the sort I've quoted.
This book is not entirely worthless. I enjoyed reading the summaries of North Korean state myth, what Myers calls "the Text". He makes a few interesting allegations. For example, he claims Japanese collaborators were more common in the government of the North than the South after 1945. I will have to confirm this elsewhere, given his unreliable footnotes. Others have complained of the book's brevity. Do you really want MORE of this? I found the wide margins useful for penciling in my objections (I only write in books I hate). There are some wonderfully awful official North Korean illustrations. If you find a cheap copy, it might be worth getting just for "the Text" and the pictures.