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Features » International

Barking rascals, devious dogs and a boiled pumpkin

N. Korea upholds the traditional art of the diplomatic insult

Barking rascals, devious dogs and a boiled pumpkin
A triumphalist North Korean poster depicting its founding leader, Kim Il-sung (Wikimedia Commons)
Roger Crutchley for the Bangkok Post International

April 22, 2013

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It is good to see North Korea is maintaining its flair for stirring rhetoric. Last week it likened the US to a "boiled pumpkin", which has a certain whimsical appeal. Long-time observers will appreciate that whoever came out with the pumpkin imagery is simply following a grand tradition of spokesmen from north of the DMZ.

It all began in the 1970s, when the commander of US forces in South Korea, Gen James Hollingsworth, was labelled by Pyongyang as a "barking rascal" and his supporters "rascally hooligans". It was noted that the rascal Gen Hollingsworth also had "black-hearted intentions". A real pantomime villain.

US president Gerald Ford was awarded the coveted title of "rascal-in-chief". But with it came the warning that "the rascals will be wiped out".

Even Henry Kissinger did not escape North Korea's derision, being labelled "the notorious troublemaker".

In addition to being rascals, the US generals were routinely termed as "scoundrels" and "devious dogs" and, if you didn't get the message, "belligerent war maniacs". They were all condemned to a "disgraceful doom" by "sinking in a hopeless bog", a particularly nasty way to go.

Swishing skirts

Even the ladies do not escape the wrath of Pyongyang's withering tongue. The new female South Korean president, Park Guen-hye, got an early taste of things to come, being told that the "venomous swish of her skirt" was the main cause of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula. However, she shouldn't feel too bad as her male predecessor, Lee Myung-bak was regularly likened to "a rat" and his supporters "rat-like elements".

When she was US secretary of state , Condoleezza Rice did not escape either, with a North Korean radio station likening her to "a hen strutting around the White House, crowing arrogantly".

More recently, her successor Hillary Clinton was portrayed as "a funny lady" who is "by no means intelligent" and who makes "vulgar remarks". Hillary apparently was "unaware of elementary etiquette" and "sometimes looks like a primary schoolgirl".

Blame hot water bottles

One wonders if the North Korean spokesman have been studying the works of 14th century French poet Eustache Deschamps, who described the English as "poltroons, cowards, skulkers and dastards". There is certainly a similarity in style, although Deschamps missed out on the "barking rascal".

The English have always received an earful from fellow Europeans. Italian physician and scholar Julius Cesar Scaliger once called them the "perfidious, savage, disdainful, stupid, slothful, inhospitable, stupid English". And those were their good points. One thing that is generally agreed upon in Europe is that the English are the most appropriate target for insults. Hungarian-born British writer George Mikes probably pointed to the key to the problem when he wrote: "Continental people have a sex life; the English people have hot water bottles."

The carrion eaters

While we are at it, the most entertaining description of the wretched English comes from the Cold War era during the 1950s when East Germans had an official list of terms they were allowed to use when describing the English. The communist regime certainly had a way with words: "Paralytic sycophants; effete betrayers of humanity; carrion-eating servile imitators; arch-cowards and collaborators; gang of women-murderers; degenerate rabble; parasitic traditionalists; playboy soldiers; conceited dandies." Sounds a bit like my class at school. After all that, Pyongyang's "boiled pumpkin" seems a bit on the tame side.

Advancing sideways

The ability to come up with the right words can be a bit tricky if you are an official government spokesman when things are always going wrong. While working on the newsdesk at the Post in the early 1970s, I adopted a distinct empathy with a Cambodian colonel in the Lon Nol government, who had to give daily press conferences on the battlefront situation. Col Am Rong's unenviable task was to convince a cynical gathering of Western war correspondents that the war was going well, which it most definitely was not. His finest hour came after one particularly devastating defeat at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The newsmen were surprised to learn at the press briefing that the battle had in fact been a government victory. Asked why, if it was a government success, Lon Nol's troops appeared to be in disarray and retreating, the good colonel explained that the troops were not really retreating but simply "advancing sideways".

I couldn't but help admire the fellow for his ingenuity in almost impossible circumstances.

First casualty

Col Am Rong is, of course, not the first person to be economical with the truth by playing with words in a wartime situation. In fact there is a grand tradition to uphold. During the Suez crisis back in 1956, the British prime minister at the time, Anthony Eden, came out with the splendid: "We are not at war with Egypt, we are in armed conflict."

Then there was the US Air Force colonel who complained to reporters about their coverage of the Vietnam war: "You always write it's bombing, bombing, bombing. It's not bombing, it's air support." But when it comes to doublespeak, nobody did it better than the people behind the Iron Curtain. In August 1968, Moscow announced: "The Soviet Union offered fraternal internationalist assistance to the Czechoslovak people." Which was a nice way of saying they had invaded the place.

Full Story: Those barking rascals are wagging their tails again 

Source: Bangkok Post

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