To a large extent the Iranian revolution was sparked by the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose speeches – even while he was in exile in Iraq and France – were able to reach his audience in Iran, despite the Shah’s highly repressive regime and a well-trained and strong secret police, SAVAK.
Khomeini had leaflets and cassette tapes smuggled into Iran, tapes which were easily copied and circulated. Nearly everyone had access to a tape player and Khomeini’s supporters numbered both among the traditional religious elements (the Mullahs and their followers) and a good part of the urban elite who felt systematically excluded by the Shah’s regime.
Many were professionals who often tried to compete for jobs created by arms deals that saw large co-production and assembly facilities set up in the country, such as the big Bell Helicopter plant in Isfahan. Instead of Iranian engineers getting many of the plum jobs, Bell brought over Americans. And when the Iranians who did get work looked at their pay stubs, they found them much smaller than those of their western counterparts.
As new and modern apartments sprung up to house the workers, Iranian employees could not afford to live in them. The result was an angry class of talented people who wanted to see the regime overthrown. In the absence of any alternatives (aside from some old-school Communists), Khomeini was the answer. I know some of this first-hand because I traveled to Iran just before the revolution broke out and had the chance to speak to a lot of people who were only too willing to tell me what was really going on. (For an excellent analysis, see Small Media Big Revolution by Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ali Mohammedi, University of Minnesota Press, 1994.)
Compared to Iran, there is very little traveling to North Korea, and it is even harder in the DPRK to get any candid reading on popular thinking, or for that matter attitudes among the elites, who are mainly working for the regime.
US intelligence agencies believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “does not have a good idea about how tenuous his situation is domestically and internationally,” as CIA Director Mike Pompeo has put it, and the fact that there have been a number of coup attempts in the last two years leads to the suspicion the level of angst over Kim’s dictatorship is higher than ever.
The question is how to make it even higher, enough so that a coup will not only be possible but successful.
It is important to get rid of Kim before North Korea mounts a full nuclear weapons capability that could become a pawn in any upheaval.
There isn’t any doubt that the US has been trying to bring about change: intimidating sorties by three aircraft carrier battle groups, flights along the North Korean border of B-1 bombers and now the addition of the F-22 demonstrates US intent clearly enough (although how much of this is understood by the North Korean nomenklatura is difficult to know.
The Korean people have an idea of the meaning of nuclear weapons and their destructive effect, but it has not been brought home to them that, because of Kim, they are likely to be victims
But how do we reach the elites there in a persuasive manner they can readily understand. The answer: make a movie and smuggle it into North Korea, computer- and cellphone- ready. The movie subject would be to show how a reckless North Korean leader is going to turn North Korea into a wasteland, starting with Pyongyang and reaching out to all the military bases and the elites’ housing developments. Thinking about your kids being incinerated, along with grandma and your aunts and uncles is eye watering and gripping.
Would it work? There is a good chance it would because Kim has made some really amateurish movies, shown incessantly on Korean TV, about incinerating Washington DC. So the Korean people have an idea of the meaning of nuclear weapons and their destructive effect, but it has not been brought home to them that, because of Kim, they are likely to be victims.
American movie makers have all the technology and skill to produce a blockbuster that will be effective, scary and persuasive. The Pentagon likes Hollywood. Now is the time to put Hollywood to work on something really useful – something that can help end the threat from the Kim Jong-un regime.