In New English Review Dalrymple disputes the thesis of The Cleanest Race: How the North Koreans See Themselves – and Why It Matters by B. R. Myers, namely that the North Korean dictatorship owes more to fascist imperial Japan than Marx. In doing so, he gets into the difficult and murky distinctions between fascism and communism.
There are some countries that, once visited, retain a disproportionate hold on your imagination. Among them, for me at least, are Haiti and Liberia, two small states that are known to the world at large principally for their political, and sometimes for their natural, catastrophes. They are marginal from the point of view of the world economy, I need hardly say, and yet their history has something about it that makes it seem significant beyond itself. No one, I think, can study the early history of either country without being moved by it; and just as the biography of a single person can also be a portrait of an age, so the history of an otherwise insignificant country can tell us something important about the human predicament as a whole, for example our tendency to turn liberation into a new form of servitude.North Korea is another country that, once visited, is not easily forgotten. Its hold on the imagination, however, has nothing of affection in it, as does that of Haiti or Liberia. This absence of affection is no reflection upon the Korean people, but rather upon the political system that reigns there. Spontaneous contact with Koreans is precisely what the regime attempts at all costs to prevent, and succeeds to an extent unique even for the communist, or formerly communist, world. Compared with North Korea, Hoxha’s Albania was a free country. In short, North Korea has all the fascination of sheer horror.