135 years ago, in 1882, an American clergyman and educator wrote a book about Korea. William Elliot Griffis called it Corea: The Hermit Nation.
And y’know what? The name stuck. 20 years later Koreans called their state “The Hermit Kingdom,” and, in North Korea they still do, when referring to the country’s historic past, as a place and a culture that always stood alone.
Today’s reality, that all the people of North Korea are trapped in the hermit’s cave, isolated from the rest of the world, is, the Government says, something to be proud of, a sign of exceptionality and strength, of Korean-ness..
Do people believe that? After all, what the Government says is most of what they hear.
But more and more each year, more bits of the outside world show up on North Korean market tables and more people want to buy them. And those people and their neighbors register how much more there is outside their hermit world.
Dangerous thoughts for a government as controlling as Kim Jong Un’s. Because “stuff” is the least of the things North Korean citizens don’t have. The real hermit part of their lives is, they don’t have foreign visitors. The idea is to keep out foreign ideas, as well as enviable foreign products.
For most of the Kim dynasty’s seven decades in absolute power, one group of foreign visitors carefully kept out was journalists. Except when they weren’t. Very recently, for a group of journalists from the NY Times, the keep out program took a time out, and they were invited in for a visit. One member of that group was our guest today, Carol Giacomo, a distinguished foreign correspondent who is now on the Editorial Board of the NY Times.
Carol Giacomo, a former diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in Washington, covered foreign policy for the international wire service for more than two decades before joining The Times editorial board in August 2007. In her previous position, she traveled over 1 million miles to more than 100 countries with eight secretaries of state and various other senior U.S. officials. In 2009, she won the Georgetown University Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1999-2000, she was a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, researching U.S. economic and foreign policy decision-making during the Asian financial crisis. She was a Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University in 2013 and has been a guest lecturer at the U.S. National War College, among other academic institutions. Born and raised in Connecticut, she holds a B.A. in English Literature from Regis College, Weston, Mass. She began her professional journalism career at the Lowell Sun in Lowell, Mass., and later worked for the Hartford Courant in the city hall, state capitol and Washington bureaus.