10th August 2017


In the book “Nothing to Envy” written by Barbara Demick, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are depicted in propaganda posters, displayed in the worship rooms and surround their people in a cult of personality, teaching the reader that the most effective villain is one which attracts and repels. Both of these “Great Leaders” are shown as godlike figures, perfect people and flawless rulers, posters show these dictators “smiling benevolently” surrounded by grinning children. However these posters, worship rooms and the cult of personality show more than the intended propaganda; to the rest of the world they show us the more hidden aspects of North Korea, the extreme lengths the so called “Democratic Republic of North Korea” will go to in order to maintain their iron grip on the country that they lead. Despite the fact that the worship rooms are meant to show the might of North Korea, the power that these leaders hold that something so mighty and powerful cannot be wrong, they show us that North Korea is built on lies, that the cult of personality stretches further than any oppressive dictatorship before it. That their leaders are worshiped like gods. This cult of personality, in reality, shows the crippling bad decisions made by these supposedly perfect leaders, creating a broken nation.

“The great leader sits on a bench smiling benevolently at a group of brightly dressed children crowding around him”.The most effective villain is one who both attracts and repels, this is shown  in the text “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick through the depiction of Kim Il-sung


and Kim Jong-Il in propaganda posters. Portrayed in these posters is the smiling figure of Kim Il Sung surrounded by dozens of ecstatic children in turn encompassed by toys. Taught from an early age North Korean children are told to praise and idolize the figures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Characterized in these patriotic posters these depictions of these national figures are shown smiling, happy and loving, standing before a shining sun. These images remind the people of North Korea how their leader is all powerful, however friendly to them. Another poster features a grinning farmer, clutching a large bundle of wheat, from the base of the wheat images of several different products fade into the bundle, representing the effort that the hard working North Koreans put in to achieve a goal, how they must all work together for the good of the nation.


Despite this, a closer look at these posters reveal another layer, hidden to the nationalistic eye of the North Korean people, but prevalent to the remaining population of the world. The ingredients and products of the foods and goods are lies, deception, and manipulation; behind the perfect leaders; red.The blood of the people, the sacrifice for “the good of the nation” the sacrifice people have made for the state, with the “Great Leader” standing in front displaying a warm smile. “The Red Letters Leap out of the gray landscape with urgency. They march across the fields, preside over the granite cliffs of the mountains, punctuate the main roads like mileage markers and dance on top of railroad stations and other public buildings” In one North Korean propaganda poster a farmer in pictured clasping a large armful of wheat. However as the wheat widens at the top and bottom it unintentionally represents a more sinister side of North Korea; the wheat inadvertently, ironically portrays the image of a mushroom cloud, caused by a nuclear explosion, representing the North Korean nuclear research program. Some posters show army men and farmers grinning clasping bundles of wheat, however, in reality, the army takes priority over anything else, consuming around 25% of North Korea’s national spendings, and the population is relying on being fed by foreign aid. North Koreans are taught that they are the best race, “He instructed Koreans that they were special – almost a chosen people – and that they no longer had to rely  on their more powerful neighbours” This quote shows the elitist nature and how this and other similar aspects of the North Korean regime are superimposed on the citizens of North Korea, from an early age North Koreans are told that “The Great Leaders” are perfect; When these people are told they are the most powerful nation on the earth, that they are a special people, the people will believe this wholeheartedly. Propaganda posters are a common occurrence in an elitist nation, an example of this is the Nazi Germany propaganda posters against Jews. The Nazi regime thought that the German people were the ultimate race, and the Jewish people had driven their country into the financial ruin it experienced after the first world war. Posters show fat, greedy sinister looking Jewish man aside from a proud blond haired young man, “showing” us the difference between Jews and Germans.


The text “Nothing to Envy ” by Barbara Demick show that the most effective villain is one who attracts and repels. One of the ways the book displays both an attractive and repulsive character this is through the “Worship Rooms” these rooms feature the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and the official North Korean story of their early life. It is considered a sacred place to the patriotic North Korean people, children are expected from an early age to respect the leaders and value them above anything else.  To idolize; to revere these humans as gods. The rooms are grand, clean, monuments to these mighty inhuman gods to the North Korean people but a monument to the terrible spending habits of this nation and the lengths are gone to convince the nation of the leader’s views.


The worship rooms; a figure of North Korea might, a tribute to the great leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il. Their generous personality clearly portrayed on the faces on the huge statues guarding the grand rooms of North Korean history. These rooms display the birth of Kim Jong Il and the story of his early life, that upon his birth at the base of the sacred Mount Paektu a double rainbow stretched the sky and a new star formed, hiding the fact that these grand leaders were born from humble beginnings, Kim Il Sung in a military camp in Japanese occupied North Korea near the capital of Pyongyang and Kim Jong Il in Vyatskoye Russia. These rooms not only display the History of North Korea but the power that the nation wields; the respect the Korean children show when they visit these rooms a clear example of the respect the nation has towards the great leader; the sun.


However, from an outsider’s perspective, a true version of North Korea becomes clear. These grand worship rooms represent the great leaders as perfect leaders to the nation to the patriotic eye, However, in reality, most of the national population is constantly on the brink of starvation, and relies completely on foreign aid; this shows the gross misuse of the Nation’s spendings, all of the money that should be used to meet basic human rights is instead spent on creating a facade in the capital of Pyongyang, the grand worship rooms and other propaganda for the North Korean people and the rest of the world to see. Most of the North Korean infrastructure and building work is taking place in the country’s capital, Pyongyang. Surprisingly even this is not the most misused portion of the national spendings. Although a mainly deserted city at least the money being poured into this city is being spent on infrastructure. The most misused portion of the budget is the estimated 25% of the national spending being towards the military, driven by constant reminders of the danger of the western world and the fact that they could attack at any time. These grand rooms displaying the “true” history of the great leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il shows the extent that the North Korean government will go to in order to make their country believe that they have Nothing to Envy. According to the North Korean propaganda Kim Jong Il was born on Jong Il Peak, near the base of North Korea’s Largest Mountain Paektu,however according to Soviet records Kim Jong Il was born in Russian village, Vyatskoye on the 16th of February 1941, 4 years before the end of world war 2 and four years before the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea. The obedience of the children; the silence and respect they show to the leader in these mighty rooms show that they hold these great leaders as god like figures show a disturbing nation wide mass brain-washing, this shows that even from an early age children are taught to believe everything they are told about the proud North Korean nation. Kim Jong Il born in a different country to the elitist nation of North Korea in a village in Russia, when the North Korean version states that he was born underneath a North Korean mountain and that a new star and a double rainbow formed upon his birth. Kim Il Sung the founding leader of the North Korea we know today claimed he grew up in a North Korean Presbyterian family on the brink of poverty. This story of his birth holds many similarities to the story of the birth of Christ stated in the bible.I am sure that when the official North Korean story of Kim Il Sung was created it was either consciously or unconsciously inspired by the bible. Not only was the alleged story of Kim Il Sung’s early life most likely based on a pre-existing text but although Kim Il Sung grew up Presbyterian, Religion of any sort is very heavily discouraged. Most likely to help keep control of the nation and prevent people making the links between the origin story of Kim Il Sung and the bible.


To the North Korean people, these rooms are special, a monument of patriotic pride, representing their sacred leaders; an image of the power of North Korea. However, From an outside view, these rooms are incredible in the most disturbing sense. They don’t show the power of North Korea they show a cult of personality, they show an extreme nationalistic pride toward a family of leaders not even from the country they lead. These rooms show the poor spending habits of the government, with spending a huge portion of their budget on forms of propaganda; whether it be more buildings in the vastly deserted capital city of Pyongyang, creating these very Worship rooms, propaganda posters, or other forms of building their cult of personality


A cult of personality is defined as something that arises when an individual imposes their ideas and values of other through the use of propaganda, changing history and creation of an image. This idea is clearly shown in the text “Nothing to Envy” written by Barbara Demick. This cult of personality shows how the greatest villain is both attractive and repulsive. How the people of North Korea are lead to believe how great, powerful and kind their country’s leader is, however from an outsider’s perspective, to the rest of the world, this cult of personality just shows us the extent that the North Korean government will go to in order to keep their country believing that they are the greatest nation on the planet, that their leaders and perfect in every way, that they are a chosen people, above others in the world; that they have Nothing to Envy.


Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung use this cult of personality to appeal to the people of North Korea. “Broadcasters would speak of Kim Il Sung breathlessly, in the manner of Pentecostal preachers, North Korean newspapers carried tales of supernatural phenomena ” These quotes show how the cult of personality is used to appeal to the people. North Korean citizens are constantly told of the heroic deeds that the “Great Leaders” have accomplished and are shown their smiling benevolent faces. The way that the Great Leaders are presented to the people of North Korea creates a cult of personality in which the people of the state believe that these leaders are supernatural gods. “The statues looming over every town square, the portraits hung in every office, the wristwatches with the dictators face on the dial, but Kim Il Sung took the cult of personality to a new level, what distinguished him in the rogues’ gallery of twentieth-century dictators was his ability to harness the power of faith.” Most of these dictatorship leaders of the 20th century used their absolute rule and power in order to control their nation, however, Kim Il-Sung created himself as not only a dictator leader but as an immortal it is the cult of personality that helps unite the nation, under one leader, one flag. In North Korea, because of this mix of fear and attraction toward the leader that almost all of the nation respects their leader in one way or the other and therefore the crime rates in North Korea are extremely low, whether this is the result of the harsh punishments that the government hold for even small crimes.


“North Korean newspapers carried tales of supernatural phenomena” despite the facade presented by the government and the government controlled media of the Democratic Republic of North Korea, despite a few upsides that can be found this does not counter the fact that this nation’s government manipulates and indoctrinates its people throughout their life. This does not justify the fact that this cult of personality twists the truth, represents a family of ruthless and uncaring dictators as the opposite; that these leaders let their people live in constant starvation and poverty in order to present a cover of their country, through their almost completely deserted capital of Pyongyang, and their military. Although in theory as stated before the crime rate in North Korea should be much lower than other countries due to the iron grip the Kim family has on the nation through fear and admiration; despite being true to a level this is mainly countered by the fact that most of the nation is extremely poor, in constant poverty, on the verge of starvation, many people are forced into crime in order to survive


“He (Kim Il Sung) is the sun” This simple quote shows several aspects of the regime how highly the North Korean people hold their “Great Leaders”. In many posters and in these worship rooms these portraits are set in the white and yellow outline of the sun. Although much of the nation reveres the Kim family as immortal beings, perfect and mighty, to the rest of the world this cult of personality shows the visions of a madman, a series of leaders competent only in indoctrinating an entire nation with constant streams of propaganda, a barrage of lies and bogus history, all techniques used in a manipulative dictatorship. Although in a way in today’s society the western world almost has its own cult of personality, through advertisements, others actions, and experiences, telling us to look better, think smarter and work harder; despite the fact that North Korea is not alone in the fact that the country has an overlying cult of personality, North Korea has taken it to a whole other level, describing their leaders as gods, creating the idea that other countries are constantly on the verge of war with them, that they have Nothing to Envy, that their life is the sweetest, that they are lead by the most perfect leaders in the most powerful nation on the planet. The difference between the cult of personality of the western world and North Korea is that although the cult of personality of the western world does not always represent the fairest, most realistic or most important ideas the North Korean Cult of personality is crippling, dangerous and destructive mentally.


“Nothing to Envy” written by Barbara Demick gives an insight into the lives of the North Korean people, where the only color on the streets is in the propaganda posters bright red text, in the faces of the mighty leaders, and the bright smiling children surrounding them. These propaganda posters, Worship Rooms and a cult of personality are all created by the government of North Korea in order to maintain an iron grip on their citizens. Kim Il Sung used these techniques in order to create an idea that these leaders are something greater than what they are.The propaganda posters, with striking red text set in bold underneath a torn American flag or a proud North Korean soldier, the grand worship rooms, taking the propaganda to another level, creating a false history to cover the truth; hiding the truth behind a barrage of lies and finally a cult of personality, manipulation and deception.

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  1. Leon, please place the essay topic at the beginning of this writing. The text-type is also non-fiction.
    This week, you will have the opportunity to refine this essay for a 3.4 Portfolio submission.
    1) Reflecting back to the words of the essay topic more frequently in your discussion. Your references to the essay directive, should not only be placed at the beginning of your points.
    2) Read through this essay out loud and ensure that your expression makes total sense. There is quite a lot of unnecessary repetition (words, phrases, even ideas) here. Also, strengthen your technical accuracy by adding full-stops, commas etc.
    3) You may not have time, however, strengthen what the reader personally learns from this text. Ensure that your personal judgements are strong and clear. Use the “Aspects of Dictatorship” handout if needed.


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