Let’s bomb North Korea!

Of all the little victories in the Cold War, few were as inspirational and instructive as the story of Irina Margareta Nistor and her movie revolution.

Irina was a multilingual censor for Romanian State Television.  In 1985, she was approached with a risky offer: would she like to earn some extra income by dubbing a smuggled foreign film?  She agreed, and her audition film, Dr. Zhivago, was a great success.  For the next four years Irina went on to dub voice tracks for, she estimates, nearly 1,000 bootlegged movies.

That's even harder than it sounds.  Irina dubbed every voice in every movie.  Hers was the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone (action movies were especially popular in Romania), and all the other leads, supporting actors and actresses, as well as the dozens of lesser characters that constitute a finished film.  Irina Margareta Nistor's voice became the most listened to and beloved in the country.

But this story is about more than entertainment.  It's also about the power of film to change people's expectations and lives, and about starting political earthquakes.

Watching a foreign film in 1980s Romania was forbidden, and if you were caught, you could be hauled away by the Securitate.  But so hungry were the people for entertainment and for glimpses of the outside world that, despite the dangers, they began to hold secret movie showings with gatherings of friends in small rooms.  As more films became available, word spread, and audiences grew and – paradoxically – the danger from authorities began to subside because state employees had begun to enjoy the black-market movies, too.  Irina's voiceover films had become too popular to suppress.

This is the way despots fall.  Cracks in control start a chain reaction that can sweep rapidly across a totalitarian state.  The Ceausescu regime collapsed in 1989.  The story of this movie revolution that helped topple a tyrant is documented in the film Chuck Norris vs. Communism.

So I say: Let's bomb North Korea!

Let's launch a million tiny parachutes to rain down upon the Dear Leader's hermit kingdom.  Let's arm each parachute with a videotape, a battery-operated viewer (batteries and instructions included), and some candy bars or the North Korean equivalent of popcorn.

Kim Jong-un will regard this as an act of war.  He will threaten terrible retribution and may even initiate minor military retaliation – he's done this before – but he would not start a war.  He realizes he'd be annihilated in any real war, and he'd never commit suicide over movies and candy bars.  His most draconian measures would be directed against his own subjects.  Punishment for unauthorized movie-watching would be severe, indeed.

A few of the films – 1,000? 5,000? – will find an audience despite Dear Leader's best efforts.  Those few will be watched by some bravely curious peasants and laborers, and – importantly – many will be watched by government apparatchiks and military members.  Word will get out about the curious cargo carried by those mysterious parachutes.  Those who have seen one movie will learn of the existence of others, and they'll want to see those, too, and a secret intelligence network in movies and movie news will evolve.

Every North Korean who sees a movie will be awestruck by the pleasure palace portrayed therein (for the streets of Seoul would seem as Xanadu), and they will be astonished at the unimaginable wealth and the restaurants and food stalls beyond count, and they will yearn to join the well-fed and untroubled throngs of people going wherever they please, whenever they please, and doing and saying whatever they please.

Every North Korean who sees a movie will whisper to his family about it, and his relatives will mention it to members of extended families, and soon everyone will have heard the whispers and will want to see the movies, and everyone will begin to dream about that amazing land to the south that produced such wonders.  And after a while, they will come to realize that they live in a prison.

The hermit kingdom is in a precarious position.  It is fragile, as family tyrannies tend to be, and it is especially fragile now as family members are being assassinated.  Members of the inner circle must be very nervous.  They should take some time off and see a good movie.

Of all the little victories in the Cold War, few were as inspirational and instructive as the story of Irina Margareta Nistor and her movie revolution.

Irina was a multilingual censor for Romanian State Television.  In 1985, she was approached with a risky offer: would she like to earn some extra income by dubbing a smuggled foreign film?  She agreed, and her audition film, Dr. Zhivago, was a great success.  For the next four years Irina went on to dub voice tracks for, she estimates, nearly 1,000 bootlegged movies.

That's even harder than it sounds.  Irina dubbed every voice in every movie.  Hers was the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone (action movies were especially popular in Romania), and all the other leads, supporting actors and actresses, as well as the dozens of lesser characters that constitute a finished film.  Irina Margareta Nistor's voice became the most listened to and beloved in the country.

But this story is about more than entertainment.  It's also about the power of film to change people's expectations and lives, and about starting political earthquakes.

Watching a foreign film in 1980s Romania was forbidden, and if you were caught, you could be hauled away by the Securitate.  But so hungry were the people for entertainment and for glimpses of the outside world that, despite the dangers, they began to hold secret movie showings with gatherings of friends in small rooms.  As more films became available, word spread, and audiences grew and – paradoxically – the danger from authorities began to subside because state employees had begun to enjoy the black-market movies, too.  Irina's voiceover films had become too popular to suppress.

This is the way despots fall.  Cracks in control start a chain reaction that can sweep rapidly across a totalitarian state.  The Ceausescu regime collapsed in 1989.  The story of this movie revolution that helped topple a tyrant is documented in the film Chuck Norris vs. Communism.

So I say: Let's bomb North Korea!

Let's launch a million tiny parachutes to rain down upon the Dear Leader's hermit kingdom.  Let's arm each parachute with a videotape, a battery-operated viewer (batteries and instructions included), and some candy bars or the North Korean equivalent of popcorn.

Kim Jong-un will regard this as an act of war.  He will threaten terrible retribution and may even initiate minor military retaliation – he's done this before – but he would not start a war.  He realizes he'd be annihilated in any real war, and he'd never commit suicide over movies and candy bars.  His most draconian measures would be directed against his own subjects.  Punishment for unauthorized movie-watching would be severe, indeed.

A few of the films – 1,000? 5,000? – will find an audience despite Dear Leader's best efforts.  Those few will be watched by some bravely curious peasants and laborers, and – importantly – many will be watched by government apparatchiks and military members.  Word will get out about the curious cargo carried by those mysterious parachutes.  Those who have seen one movie will learn of the existence of others, and they'll want to see those, too, and a secret intelligence network in movies and movie news will evolve.

Every North Korean who sees a movie will be awestruck by the pleasure palace portrayed therein (for the streets of Seoul would seem as Xanadu), and they will be astonished at the unimaginable wealth and the restaurants and food stalls beyond count, and they will yearn to join the well-fed and untroubled throngs of people going wherever they please, whenever they please, and doing and saying whatever they please.

Every North Korean who sees a movie will whisper to his family about it, and his relatives will mention it to members of extended families, and soon everyone will have heard the whispers and will want to see the movies, and everyone will begin to dream about that amazing land to the south that produced such wonders.  And after a while, they will come to realize that they live in a prison.

The hermit kingdom is in a precarious position.  It is fragile, as family tyrannies tend to be, and it is especially fragile now as family members are being assassinated.  Members of the inner circle must be very nervous.  They should take some time off and see a good movie.

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