‘Everyone Is Watching Each Other’: Author Explains North Korea’s Isolation From the World

North Korea is famously isolated from the rest of the world, with the government blocking internet access and controlling everything from food to hairstyles to social groups. It’s almost impossible for two North Koreans to conspire together because people are watching and listening all the time for anything that goes against the government.

“This did not happen overnight,” author Michael Malice said of North Korea’s isolation. “This was a 70-year methodical process.”

Malice, author of “Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il,” explained that the Kim family has been working to build up barriers between North Korea and the rest of the world for decades.

North Korean society is divided into government-designated groups, and once a week, North Koreans talk about what they did “wrong” that week in front of their peers. This level of scrutiny makes it nearly impossible for North Koreans to speak against Kim Jong Un and his regime even in casual conversation.

“Everyone is watching each other all the time and reporting on each other all the time,” Malice said.

GLENN: Michael Malice is a guy who went behind the Iron Curtain. It's a very closed country. And he left there and he wrote a book called, Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Biography of Kim Jong-il.

Michael, welcome to the program. How are you, sir?

MICHAEL: Oh, it's a great honor, Glenn.

GLENN: Thank you.

First of all, tell me, what got you to go to North Korea? I mean, you stalking Dennis Rodman, or?

MICHAEL: Well, here's the thing and something you kind of touched upon: It was bothering me a lot how so much of the press about North Korea is complete misinformation. And I said, "I'm going to do something about this once and for all." Now, I was born in the Soviet Union. I'm Jewish. These were two chances for my family to have been sent to a concentration camp. And there's concentration camps in North Korea right now. You know, people ask, how did we let the Holocaust happen? They have the camps right now. You can see the camps on Google Earth. And yet so many of these news reports want to look at North Korea and be like, "Aren't these people all silly?" It's like, yeah, these are 25 million hostages. If the government had a gun to your head and the heads of your children, you would be doing pretty silly things too.

So that's why I wrote my book Dear Readers, so that people could understand exactly what's going on there. Because it's not at all how it's portrayed in the press.

GLENN: So I would like to get into the concentration camps with you. Because people don't understand that it's not your sentence. It's they sentence you and your family for three generations. I mean, it's -- it is -- it's evil and crazy what is happening there. Most people in the west can't even begin to understand it.

But can we go back and try to explain and tell us some stories that you saw firsthand on how the North Koreans are so isolated that they have really no concept of what's really going on in the world. And they think that they can beat the United States.

MICHAEL: Well, they're not completely, completely isolated because the barriers, thankfully, have been breaking down a little. However, to your question, this did not happen overnight.

GLENN: Yeah.

MICHAEL: This was a 70-year methodical process by this gangster family. And step by step, they built up barriers to separate North Korea from the rest of the world, things like anyone who spoke other languages or who studied abroad were sent to the concentration camps. Things like books in other languages being destroyed and no longer being allowed to be taught.

Let me give you an example of the mechanisms that they use to control their population. And, again, it's things we can't even wrap our heads around here.

Everyone in North Korea is slotted into some group. Your school. Your office. Your neighborhood. And once a week, that group gets together, and you have to stand up in front of your peers and say, "This is what I did wrong this week." And then your peers have to stand up and say what they noticed you doing wrong.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh.

MICHAEL: So everyone is watching each other all the time and reporting on each other all the time. So a lot of times, the people are like, well, why don't they just get together and overthrow the government. If you have two people conspiring, they're done.

And as you said, the founder of North Korea, the great leader Kim Il-sung said, "Class enemies must be exterminated to three generations." So they take three generations of a family -- and even Stalin at least had trials. There's no trials. You get a knock at the door in the middle of the night. The family gets taken. And you don't even know which one of you got you sent to the camps or to the countryside. They don't tell you. It's just, "Come with me."

GLENN: Let's -- let's -- can we go back to the Korean War and how they're viewing America. They've been -- you know, we had the Korean War. And it became a TV show called M*A*S*H. And that's it. For them, they have been preparing for this time since the 1950s.

MICHAEL: Right. So according to one of their books and according to their worldview -- by the way, you can't refer to us as Americans. We are always referred to by a slur like the US Imperialists. And it's just how the language is taught there. So automatically, when they're talking about us, they're using offensive terminology. There's a book in North Korea called The US Imperialists Started the Korean War. They are taught that we started the Korean War, that we've been waiting to conquer Korea since the 1860s when General Sherman went to Pyongyang. That part is true. We did visit them back in the 1860s.

And now we've been biding our time to come back and to finish the job that we started. Now, many of your listeners are veterans. The Korean War was completely devastating to the Korean Peninsula. You had China, Russia, and North Korea at the north. South Korea, US, and the UN at the south. And between the two, the devastation was complete.

So their whole point is, you remember how bad it was in the '50s. Well, any day now, the Americans are going to come back and finish that job. And, but for the leader, you would all be dead.

GLENN: And you say "but for the leader," what's remarkable is the calendar has been reset. It's the year, what?

MICHAEL: So the calendar starts -- again, they're not going to have a Christian calendar. Because having a Bible is the death penalty, right? So you're not going to have BC and AD. So their calendar starts with the birth of the great leader Kim Il-sung in 1912. So that's year one.

GLENN: Okay. So -- and he was -- I remember one of the Kim family was brought down, you know, by angels or birds. And -- I mean, crazy kind of stuff that he remembers the day of his birth. Do they -- do they believe this?

MICHAEL: There is a lot -- it's very funny because they claim to be an atheist country. But there's all sorts of supernaturalism that revolves around the Kim family. So Kim Il-sung, the great leader, the founder of North Korea, he had missionaries in his family. And he adopted a lot of Christian mythology and applied it to his life and the life of his son and his wife. So they have a holy trinity, which is the great leader Kim Il-sung, who is the founder of North Korea, and Kim Jong-un's uncle. We have Kim Jong-il, who was the dear leader. He's their Jesus figure. And Kim Jong-il's mother, who is always referred to as anti-Japanese heroine, Kim Jong-suk. They always picture here with a gun in her hand. So this is the holy trinity that keeps Korea safe. And they have Mount Paektu at the north, which is basically like their Mount Zion, which is the spirit of Korea and basically the embodiment of the Korean energy. So they have a lot of mystical stories about this family and basically -- but for Kim Il-sung, you know, who is almost a messiah figure, Korea would still be under the boot of Japan.

GLENN: So when the UN passed these really tough sanctions -- I'm for the sanctions. I don't know what else to do. Going in with military is just -- is almost and may be an act of insanity.


GLENN: But, you know, when you see the sanctions, the people have no idea that their leaders are the ones that are starving them and choking them to death. And this will only be blamed on us. And it will only make their lives worse.


GLENN: How do you break that, in that culture? Is it even possible to get people to understand, "No, no, it's -- your leader is evil?"

MICHAEL: Well, it started happening on a micro level. You remember towards the end of the Cold War, despite decades of communist propaganda, what happened is Russia people were watching American soap operas on television. And they were thinking to themselves, it's all well and good what I'm taught in school, but why does the maid on this television show have a fur coat and I'm literally wiping my butt with newspaper? You know, I don't care about Marx, whatever. I just want food for my kids.

GLENN: Right.

MICHAEL: And North Korea, the same thing is happening. They are seeing that all these other countries are wealthier than them. It doesn't matter what you teach me in school. I want my kids to have food. It's as simple as that.

So one of the things that has happened is they have changed their propaganda from, we are wealthy, and the world envies us. And now the propaganda says, we are keeping Korea pure. So it is also the most homogeneous and most racist country on earth. This is something that's not talked about in the press, that they believe Korea is the only country that has been racially pure since Neolithic times. And they regard the South as a region under US occupation, where we basically assault southern Korean women -- Americans do -- and do with them as we please. Us -- we being barbarians. So that's another aspect of their propaganda.

GLENN: So looking at what you know about North Korea and hearing the president yesterday --


GLENN: -- how is that interpreted by Kim Jong-un and -- and the people around him?

MICHAEL: I would honestly say it's going to be interpreted with a bit of respect.

GLENN: Oh, good.

MICHAEL: And here's why: They are bullies. Right? So let me -- when they talk about we know how to treat America -- in their words, they say, when necessary, we'll slap her across the face.

And, you know, I remember last year, year and a half ago, there was this photo released of Kim Jong-un in front of his Apple Computer. And there were nukes striking Austin. And the things that they get away with saying are just completely outrageous. So Trump was basically using their language against them. So on some level, they're going to have a bit of respect for it, just like anyone who runs his mouth. At a certain point, you have to get in his face. Now, I'm not saying you have to get in his face and shove him, but on some level, they're going to say, okay. This is going to be a difference in tone at least, from previous administrations.

GLENN: So where does he go from here? You know, he has killed everybody in his family who could have challenged him. He's done it openly. He's killed everybody around him that could challenge him.

MICHAEL: He's only killed one person. And actually, let's talk about how evil this family is: Kim Jong-un's aunt. Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il's sister, that was her husband who was killed. And she's such an evil woman, that when her daughter married someone who was below their social station, she drove her daughter to suicide.

STU: Hmm.


PAT: Didn't he have both his uncle and his brother killed -- the guy in the airport, right? Which one was that?

GLENN: The brother.

PAT: Wasn't that his brother? And then supposedly he had his uncle torn apart by dogs.

GLENN: Yeah. I thought -- he had somebody else killed by standing them in front of a cannon and blowing a hole through.

PAT: Are these urban legends, or did that actually happen?

GLENN: Is that the way he is, Michael?

PAT: Did we lose him?

GLENN: We've lost Michael.

Okay. So get him back on the phone. Let me take a quick break. Fascinating --

PAT: I guess we'll never know.

STU: Yeah.

GLENN: Having somebody -- I can't wait to also talk to him about his experience in the former Soviet Union.

STU: Yeah.

GLENN: Anyway, he'll be back in just a second.

First, our sponsor this half-hour is Goldline. What would the opening salvos of war with North Korea bring?

Thousands dead. Some say that a million plus could be dead within the first 24 hours. The region surrendering North Korea has become the world's industrial powerhouse. It is, you know, some of the biggest economies in the world are there. And would be affected immediately. Which would wreak havoc on not only a human scale and human life there, but also I believe the rest of the western world --

PAT: Yeah, you have South Korea who is the eleventh largest, and you have China the second largest.

GLENN: And you have Japan, which is, what? The fifth largest? The fourth largest?

PAT: Yeah. In there somewhere.

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(OUT AT 10:23AM)

GLENN: We're talking to Michael Malice. He is the guy who went over to North Korea, wrote a book called Dear Reader, and saw behind the curtain, if you will. He's also a former citizen of the Soviet Union. So he has -- he has seen it from both sides. We were just talking to you, Michael, and we lost our connection, about, you know, we have heard that he killed his brother and his uncle.


GLENN: And then a lot of the people around him who could have challenged him, he has taken out and done horrible things to. True or false?

MICHAEL: Okay. So the last part is false because theres no -- there's no one around him who could have challenged him because the point is, it's only a descendent of the great leader Kim Il-sung, who could be in the leadership position. So the people at the very top there, it's not like they were voted in. They're only at the very top specifically because of their loyalty to the regime. In fact, unless you're loyal to the regime, you're not allowed to even step foot in Pyongyang. You're geographically assigned where to live in North Korea, based on how loyal you and your family has been to the regime. That's number one.


MICHAEL: So he killed his elder half brother, who he only met once, I believe, because, again, only a descendent of Kim Il-sung can be the leader. So if your brother is killed, there's no plan B for you, if Kim Jong-un is taken out. There's not a Mike Pence sitting in the wings.


MICHAEL: And lastly, one of the things that I was fighting about -- fighting, you know, when writing Dear Reader is the sensationalism. We tend to believe the craziest possible stories about North Korea. And South Korea reported that his uncle -- technically, his aunt's husband was eaten by dogs. That's not true. He was shot. But he was killed, and with her agreement.

GLENN: So then, you know, we keep hearing that he feels backed in a corner.

MICHAEL: That's right.

GLENN: Who is he backed in a corner by if there's no -- if there's nobody to take his place?

MICHAEL: Well, he's -- there's increasing pressure from America. There's increasing pressure from China. And what would happen is when -- you remember possibly Romania, when Ceausescu, the evil dictator of Romania for decades, when he was take -- there was a moment, and it's a very beautiful moment for everyone who loves freedom, when this horrible dictator was on TV, and for the first time the crowd starts booing. And you see the look on his face. And two or three days later, him and his wife were shot.

Kim Jong-il took that video and showed it to all the leading party cadres and said -- said, "If the masses rise up, this is what is going to happen to us." So when these regimes go down, the people at the very top like Gadhafi, like Hussein are personally killed, and with good reason.

So that's another very important incentive for Kim Jong-un to do anything he can to stay in power. It's not like if he's removed from power, he's going to, you know, retire to Saint-Tropez. This man is a monster.

GLENN: So I've only got about 30 seconds here, so perhaps I ask it and then we come back on the other side. Because I really want to know also about, you know, the former Soviet Union and your life there.

MICHAEL: Sure. Yeah.

GLENN: But I guess what I would like to know -- and I don't know if you could answer this: So is he likely to just kind of be quiet and allow himself to be put into a box, or is he the type that will fire off a missile because he's a god?

MICHAEL: He's the type who was taught and believes, you fight fire with twice as much fire and escalate whenever possible, especially when you're the small dog.

GLENN: Okay. So what that means exactly, we come back. You can find Michael at

(OUT AT 10:30AM)

GLENN: Michael Malice, he is an author and commentator. He's an expert to North Korea. Traveled to the very closed country. Wrote a book called Dear Reader. The unauthorized autobiography of Kim Jong-il.

You just said to me, Michael, that Kim Jong-un is a guy who believes if you're hit, you hit back twice as hard. You don't back down. And as you're describing the traits of Kim Jong-un, you're also describing our president.

MICHAEL: Well, I mean, to some extent. You remember during the campaign, Trump did apologize for the audio that got out. And I don't think President Trump would be comfortable starving 10 percent of the population.

GLENN: Oh, no, no, no. I don't mean it that way. No, no, no, I don't mean it -- I do not mean to equate the two of them. I mean, just as far as tactics.


GLENN: You know, last night, I thought the press -- the press was crazy last night.


GLENN: They were almost saying, you know, we got to have war because, Mr. President, now you're not going to have any credibility. You can't back down. It was crazy.

MICHAEL: Glenn, it was terrifying that they're basically saying, "Oh -- first of all, the idea if North Korea is going to attack us, that they're going to go after Guam is insane on its face. They're going to have one shot, they're going to make it count, to be totally Machiavellian about it.

But let's have some perspective: For decades, we had hundreds, if not thousands of nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union pointed at us and our allies. And that was something that we managed to deal with. So this situation is not entirely without precedent.

GLENN: Okay. So that is --

MICHAEL: So everyone should take a deep breath, you know.

GLENN: So my position today has been pretty much that: Take a deep breath.


GLENN: There is no good answer to this. The thing to do is walk away, keep your eye and ear to the ground.


GLENN: But just walk -- there's no good answer to this.


GLENN: Is that enough for Kim Jong-un?

MICHAEL: Well, it's scary to me how so many people are saying that because Kim Jong-un is treating our country and our president with disrespect, that we -- I saw one commentator say, "We should rain hellfire on North Korea."

GLENN: That's craziness.

MICHAEL: I mean, these are 25 million -- you want to talk about having the moral high ground, being the moral leader of the free world, and you're going to be killing 25 million slaves and hostages. What kind of person are you that -- not only that, what kind of person are you that that's your first reaction, as opposed to a last resort? It's terrifying.

GLENN: No. I was watching last night -- I'm so glad to hear you saying this, Michael. I was watching CNN. And they kept going on and on and on about, you know, how the president said all these things. And now there's a red line. And -- and -- and -- and commentator after commentator yesterday was saying, "You know, we don't have a choice. We can't be embarrassed. We can't, you know, be the laughing stock."

And I'm thinking, "We're talking about the possibility of millions dead. Who cares about your stupid honor if all it means is, you know what, I said something I shouldn't have said? I'm going to shut my mouth now, and what do you say we leave those millions alive?"

MICHAEL: Glenn, I'm going to make it even worse. The people in these concentration camps are told constantly and explicitly -- there's like 100, 200,000 people. Should the US imperialists invade, we will kill you all and burn these camps to the ground. So like you're saying, if someone has a gun to my kid's head, if someone -- if at some school, someone has a bomb that they're going to blow up a school, they can call me every name in the book. Please, call me all the names you want. Just don't kill the children. And the idea that, well, we better go in and kill the children first, as the response, is even more demented.

GLENN: How is North Korea -- if the United States would respond, I can't imagine that South Korea -- because it would be almost like our American civil war --


GLENN: -- is going to sit happily by as, A, Seoul is most likely destroyed.


GLENN: And, secondly, they have family members up there. It would be viewed as the United States killing their family members, would it not?

MICHAEL: To some extent, those families have been separated now for 70 years with no communication with each other.

But let's talk something else: You know, people saying they have nukes now. This is unprecedented. They've had missiles pointed at Seoul for decades.

GLENN: Yeah.

MICHAEL: Seoul is a city with, you know, tens of millions of people, with skyscrapers. Can you imagine the imagery of missiles hitting a city full of skyscrapers? Even if they didn't have nukes, is that something people are comfortable with? Or it's just, well, at least it wasn't nukes that are hitting these skyscrapers. I mean, is that what we're talking about? And that is what we're talking about.

So it's a very dangerous situation. And, Glenn, I know you remember very well the -- the war mania that led up to the Iraq War, and how everyone was like, "We got to do something. We got to do something now. Emergency. Emergency. Emergency." Let's freak out. Let's do things as quickly as possible.

And it's like, what I was taught growing up in school is that war is a last resort. It's not the first thing you do, and it's not your best option, especially when you're dealing with a regime that is comfortable with killing its own citizens to maintain its hold on power.

STU: Talking to Michael Malice. is the site.

Michael, is there an increase in their resources lately? I mean, they've been able to outpace all of our intelligence estimates as to what they've been able to develop.

GLENN: Like crazy.

STU: They're dumping money into things like renovating the Hotel of Doom, which, you know, is only the Hotel of Doom because they didn't have money at one point. Are they --

MICHAEL: Well, no, the Hotel of Doom -- so let's talk about how North Korea uses their army. North Korea, everyone in the army does construction. So they're not just sitting around or whatever. They actually build things.

So that hotel, which is I think at one point, the largest building in the eastern hemisphere or something crazy, the Ryugyong Hotel was structurally unsound. So it was never completed because it can't be completed. It's a complete mess.

And it just looms like this giant hulk over Pyongyang. But let me also talk -- you talk about having empathy for the North Korean people. When I went there and we were taking the bus from the airport to the capital city, my guide pointed at that hotel, and she goes, "Look, there's our latest rocket launch."

And, you know, we don't think of them as human beings. They have a sense of humor. They have families. You know, when you're on the street, you see the grandmothers doting with their grandkids. You see teenage girls giggling when you wave at them. The fact that these people are capable of having some semblance of humanity in the most inhumane country on earth behooves us when you read news reports and trying to make them out to be clowns. Keep in mind, again, like I said earlier --

GLENN: They're not clowns.

MICHAEL: -- if someone has your family as a hostage, you're going to put on clown makeup too.

GLENN: Yeah. And it's not -- the people are -- you know, when -- I think when somebody says, you know, these people are clowns, they're meaning, you know, I think people like Kim Jong-un, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He's not a clown.


GLENN: He knows what he's doing. He just operates with a completely operating system than we do.

MICHAEL: Right. And the whole point of my book is spelling out how they operate and what they're doing. Because it's very logical. It's very methodical. But let me speak a bit about the clown issue: Like, I remember there was an article in a British paper that showed the marching. And it referred to Kim Jong-un's miniskirted robot army, that these young women, you know, in the army are all marching in lockstep and ha-ha-ha. It's like, you know, they're hostages. Of course, they're going to march like they're told. They're not robots. To call someone a robot is to act like they don't have a soul or a mind of their own, and they very much do.

GLENN: Okay. Well, let me ask you -- first of all, can we have you back? We're running out of time. Can we have you back tomorrow?

MICHAEL: Of course. It's an honor. We'll figure it out. We can figure it out, yes.

GLENN: Let me ask you two other questions: First of all, Otto Warmbier, the kid that went over.


GLENN: Was caught stealing a propaganda poster.


GLENN: Fifteen years.

MICHAEL: Trespassing.

GLENN: What did you say?

MICHAEL: Trespassing.

GLENN: Yes. Fifteen years to hard labor. Looks like they pretty much tortured him to death and dumped on our body, I thought, in a way that was very reminiscent of the Godfather.


GLENN: Sending us a message: Here's -- here's your citizen back.

MICHAEL: No, no, no, no. That's not it at all. They had him as a hostage. If you have a hostage, you want to return the hostage in one piece so you get your ransom. So when things turned south, they knew they couldn't take care of him, and that's why they dropped him off here. Think about it.

He didn't serve a day of hard labor. They treat their hostages very, very well because they're a valuable resource. Remember when they kidnapped that Ling reporter, they got President Clinton to fly to Pyongyang and kiss Kim Jong-il's ring? That's a great coup.

GLENN: Right. But this guy it looks like he was drugged and tortured. That's --

MICHAEL: My understanding is that the autopsies showed no signs of trauma, and this could have been self-harm.

STU: Hmm.

GLENN: Okay. Had not heard that one.

STU: Wow.

GLENN: One last question.


GLENN: Is there a -- is there something that we could be doing right now, other than sitting on our hands and just hoping for the best now? Is there something that we should be doing or we should be encouraging some other country to be doing?

MICHAEL: Yeah. We should be sitting down with China and saying, what is it going to take for you to turn on these people once and for all? And, frankly, Glenn, if they have --

GLENN: Oh. Did we lose him again?

MICHAEL: -- of food and they don't have concentration camps, I'm fine with it.

GLENN: You're saying: If -- if China would just roll in and they were still communists, but they were fed and no concentration camps...

MICHAEL: Right. Communism in the Chinese model, do you know what I mean? I could live with that. They don't have to have some Western liberal democracy. As long as they don't have to live in constant fear that their children are going to be murdered, that's all I need.

STU: Hmm.

GLENN: How old were you when you left the former Soviet Union?

MICHAEL: Two years old.

GLENN: And your parents came over here with you, when?


GLENN: So they escaped and knew what they were escaping?

MICHAEL: Oh, yes. Oh, of course. And it wasn't anywhere near as bad towards the end as it had been, you know, when they were growing up. And it certainly wasn't anywhere near as bad as North Korea.

GLENN: Do you watch the TV show The Americans?

MICHAEL: I couldn't because they have being patriotic Russians, and that wasn't a thing. By the '80s, everyone was cynical and knew that the system was nonsense.

PAT: Huh. Wow.

STU: Hmm.

GLENN: Okay. So I'd love to have you on, maybe again tomorrow. Because I'd like to talk to you about what it's like to live in a communist country.

MICHAEL: Oh, absolutely.

GLENN: What you know. And how we've kind of blown it here on our side. And maybe perhaps you have some insight on Putin as well, on --

MICHAEL: Well, I'll just tell you one sentence: We fought the KGB, and now we have the NSA. No, I'm not joking. I'm not joking. What's the difference?

PAT: Oh, man.

STU: Hmm.

GLENN: Mike, good to have you on. Michael Malice. You can buy the book, Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Biography of Kim Jong-il, and we'll talk to you again tomorrow a little bit about, you know, what it's like to live in a communist country and what your family saw and how that relates to today. Thank you so much, Michael. We'll talk to you again.

MICHAEL: Thank you so much, Glenn.

GLENN: You bet.


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