Brian Reynolds Myers
|Born||1963 (age 59–60)|
New Jersey, U.S.
|Alma mater||Ruhr University|
University of Tübingen
Busan, South Korea
|Known for||The Cleanest Race (2010)|
A Reader's Manifesto (2002)
|Relatives||Glenn Lynn Myers (father)|
Brian Reynolds Myers (born 1963), usually cited as B. R. Myers, is an American professor of international studies at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea, best known for his writings on North Korean propaganda. He is a contributing editor for The Atlantic and an opinion columnist for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Myers is the author of Han Sǒrya and North Korean Literature (Cornell, 1994), A Reader's Manifesto (Melville House, 2002), The Cleanest Race (Melville House, 2010), and North Korea's Juche Myth (Sthele Press, 2015).
Early life and education
Myers was born in New Jersey, near Fort Dix. His mother is British, and his father was a U.S. Army officer from Pennsylvania who served in South Korea as a military chaplain, often helping out local orphans. Myers is also a descendant of John F. Reynolds though his father.
Myers spent his childhood in Bermuda and his high school youth in apartheid-era South Africa, and received graduate education in West Berlin during the early 1980s, occasionally visiting East Germany. He earned an MA degree in Soviet studies at Ruhr University (1989) and a PhD degree in Korean studies with a focus on North Korean literature at the University of Tübingen (1992). Myers subsequently taught German in Japan and worked for a Mercedes-Benz liaison office in Beijing during the mid-1990s.
Before his appointment at Dongseo University, Myers lectured in North Korean literature and society at the Korea University's North Korean Studies Department. He also taught globalization and North Korean literature at the Inje University Korean Studies Department.
Myers’ opinion columns for the Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal generally focus on North Korea, which he says is not a Marxist-Leninist or a Stalinist state, but a "national-socialist country." He has also commented in The New York Times on the common view of the ROKS Cheonan sinking in South Korea with regard to its perception of North Korea. He stated that there was a lack of outrage over the incident among South Koreans due to the racialized nature of Korean nationalism; in other words, there was no major uproar over the incident in South Korea because of the concept of racial solidarity with the North Koreans that many South Koreans feel, which Myers said overruled patriotism towards South Korea in many cases. Myers stated that inter-Korean racial solidarity manifests itself by South Koreans supporting the North Korean soccer team at the FIFA World Cup and such. He contrasted the racialized nature of South Korean nationalism with the civic nature of U.S. nationalism, stating that South Korea's antipathy over attacks by North Korea was potentially dangerous to the national security of the South Korean state:
South Korean nationalism is something quite different from the patriotism toward the state that Americans feel. Identification with the Korean race is strong, while that with the Republic of Korea is weak.
His book reviews have included denunciations of American historian Bruce Cumings (who he says is an admirer of the North Korean regime), American author Toni Morrison, American author Denis Johnson, South Korean novelist Hwang Sok-yong, and American author Jonathan Franzen.
Myers' Han Sŏrya and the North Korean literature: The Failure of Socialist Realism in the DPRK (1994) was adapted from his 1992 dissertation at the University of Tübingen and published as the sixty-ninth volume of the Cornell East Asia Series.
A Reader’s Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose (2002) was developed from his critical review essay of the same name published in the Atlantic in 2001.
The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (2010) is a discussion of North Korean propaganda, contending that North Korea under Kim Jong Il was guided by a "paranoid, race-based nationalism with roots in Japanese fascism." Myers asserts that the North Korean political system is not based on communism or Stalinism, and he contends that the official Juche idea is a sham ideology for foreign consumption and intended to establish Kim Il Sung's credentials as a thinker alongside Mao Zedong. Myers also claims that post-Cold War attempts to understand North Korea as a Confucian patriarchy, based on the filial piety of Kim Jong Il and the dynastic transfer of power from his father, are misguided and that the North Korean leadership is maternalist rather than paternalist.
Myers furthers his argument about the status of Juche as a non-ideology in his book North Korea's Juche Myth (2015). According to his own account, promoting him to write the book was the realization he was making "not the slightest bit of headway" with The Cleanest Race in challenging the conventional wisdom about Juche in the academia. North Korea's Juche Myth develops a three-pronged categorization of North Korean propaganda. Some works are in the "inner track", meant for North Korean eyes only. Others are in the "outer track", meant primarily for North Korean consumption but mindful of the fact that foreigners can access them too. "Export track" propaganda specifically targets foreigners.
Reception and criticism
Myers’ book The Cleanest Race has been challenged by several academic critics. Charles K. Armstrong, then of Columbia University, suggested that the book "gives an intellectual gloss to attitudes many in the West already have about the DPRK". Felix Abt, a Swiss business affairs specialist who lived in North Korea for seven years, describes Myers' claims in The Cleanest Race as "flawed" and "shaky". Abt wrote that it was "rather absurd" to describe Juche as "window-dressing" for foreigners.
South Korean literary critic Yearn Hong Choi also regards the thesis of Myers' Han Sǒrya and North Korean Literature as erroneous:
How can Myers say that he [Han Sǒrya] is not a socialist realist? How can Myers say that Han's thought is not compatible with communist ideology? I can understand Myers’s views on orthodox socialist realism, yet I see socialist realism abundantly present in North Korean literature: North Korean writers still advocate socialist realism. Myers simply does not interpret socialist realism as they do.
Tatiana Gabroussenko points out that Myers is the only Western academic who thinks that North Korean literature does not have the hallmarks of socialist realism.
Scholar Andrei Lankov favorably reviewed The Cleanest Race as taking a "fresh approach" on North Korea. Lankov also says Myers' work is "informative" but is not sure whether his thesis has any relation to reality.
Personal life and politics
Myers is married to a South Korean woman, Myung-hee Myers. He lives and teaches in South Korea, where he moved to in September 2001. During the late 1990s, he lived in Valencia County, New Mexico. Politically, Myers is a supporter of the Green Party of the United States and animal rights. Myers can speak Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, and German. He is a vegan.
- Myers, Brian Reynolds (1994). Han Sǒrya and North Korean Literature: The Failure of Socialist Realism in the DPRK. Ithaca, New York: Cornell East Asia Program. ISBN 0-939657-84-8.
- — (2002). A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness of American Literary Prose. Hoboken, New Jersey: Melville House Publishing. ISBN 0-9718659-0-6.
- — (2010). The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. Hoboken, New Jersey: Melville House Publishing. ISBN 978-1-933633-91-6.
- — (2015). North Korea's Juche Myth. Busan: Sthele Press. ISBN 978-1-5087-9993-1.
- "Myers, B. R., 1963-". Lawrence Public Library Catalog. Archived from the original on June 30, 2012. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
Myers, B. R., 1963-
- "Faculty>Faculty - DIS". uni.dongseo.ac.kr.
- "Dongseo 114". Dongseo University. Archived from the original on August 2, 2009. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
- Rosett, Claudia (August 30, 2002). "How Dare He! Reviled Critic Gets the Last Word". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on January 20, 2015. Retrieved March 24, 2013.
- "Propaganda in the age of Kim Jong-Un: A discussion with Professor B.R. Myers". freekorea.us. August 2017.
- "GLENN L. MYERS Obituary (2014) the Washington Post". Legacy.com.
- "Glenn Myers". mountcastle.net.
- "Franklin News Herald Archives, Jul 23, 1982, p. 3". newspaperarchive.com. July 23, 1982.
- Myers, B.R. (January 8, 2018). "A Response to Twitterati". Sthele Press. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
- Patton, Benjamin; Scruby, Jennifer (March 6, 2012). Growing Up Patton. Penguin. pp. 236–237. ISBN 9781101560013. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
Then, while driving in his jeep one night that winter, he came upon the Waegwan orphanage. 'There were over a hundred children there, and I couldn't believe how shabby they looked,' [Myers] remembers. 'They were barefoot — and it was cold outside. One kid had a belt made out of wire to keep his pants up. They didn't even have anywhere to take a bath — they just had helmets filled with water occasionally dumped over their heads. And, of course, most of them were GI babies who'd been fathered by soldiers and just left at the police station.' If was especially bad to be an orphan in Korea. 'If you can't trace your family back five or six generations, you're nobody,' Myers notes. So he decided to add some theater to his anti-VD campaign: to raise awareness about the orphans' plight in every crevice of the camp — and, true to his mission — use it as a reminder of sexual consequences. Myers raised money among the soldiers to buy clothes and shoes for the orphans. He enlisted Army engineers to build them a proper bathhouse. At the end of every month, Myers sat at the head of the pay line with a 'For the Orphans of Waegwan' donation can. Some of his in-your-face tactics hit too close. When Myers got permission from the mess sergeants to bring a group of children to the mess for Thanksgiving dinner, for instance, one of his commanders, a lieutenant colonel, lashed out. 'He pulled me aside and said, "This is our Thanksgiving, not theirs. What the hell are they doing here? You have no business doing this and you'll pay for it" — the implication being that he'd get me,' Myers remembers. 'And this is a guy who'd just come from church!'
- "Where Are the Seoul Watchers? — B.R. Myers – Sthele Press". sthelepress.com. Archived from the original on January 7, 2022. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
- "[Rebroadcast] The Cleanest Race: An Interview with Author B.R. Myers". KEI. Korea Economic Institute. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017.
- "Interview with Chad O'Carroll". 2012. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
- "Korea Tour: Outsider Status with B.R. Myers". Notebook on Cities and Culture. February 5, 2015. Archived from the original (MP3) on April 5, 2016.
- Myers, Brian Reynolds (April 7, 2019). "South Korea's Nationalist-Left Front".
- Kim, Sun-jung (May 29, 2005). "The Remarkable B. R. Myers Revealed". Joong-Ang Daily. South Korea. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "What North Korea wants" – via soundcloud.com.
- Karen K. Smith. “KS Contact Info for Brian Myers?” KoreaWeb.ws. 20 November 1998. Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- 북한학과 (Puk’an hakkwa; North Korean Studies Department). Korea University. Archived February 16, 2005, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- 2006학년도 1학기 강연내용 (2006 School Year First Semester Lecture Content). Korea University. (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- “The Constitution of Kim Jong Il.” Wall Street Journal. 1 October 2009. Archived September 23, 2013, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- Myers, Brian Reynolds (May 27, 2010). "South Korea's Collective Shrug". The New York Times. New York. Archived from the original on April 19, 2015. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
- “Mother of All Mothers: The Leadership Secrets of Kim Jong Il.” Atlantic. September 2004. Archived October 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- B.R. Myers. “Mercy!” Atlantic. January/February 2009. (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- B. R. Myers. “A Bright Shining Lie.” Atlantic. December 2007 Archived August 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- B. R. Myers. “The Caged Bird Sings.” New York Times. 8 September 2008. Archived September 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- B. R. Myers. “Smaller Than Life Atlantic. October 2010 Archived January 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved October 15, 2011)
- “Han Sŏrya and North Korean Literature.” Bibliothekskatalog Tübingen. Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen. (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- Myers, B. R. (July–August 2001). "A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose". Atlantic. Archived from the original on January 4, 2010.
- “Book Discussion with Author B. R. Myers.” North Korea International Documentation Project. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Archived June 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- "Immersion in propaganda, race-based nationalism and the un-figure-outable vortex of Juche Thought: Colin Marshall talks to B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters". April 12, 2010. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
- Myers, Brian Reynolds; Bunch, Sonny (June 1, 2010). "North Korea's Cultural Shackes. The Cleanest Race". Policy Review. Hoover Institution (161 (June–July 2010)). Retrieved December 15, 2014.
- O'Carroll, Chad; Myers, B.R. (2013). Interview with B.R. Myers: pt. 1, "North Korea's Juche Myth". SoundCloud. NK News. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
- Silberstein, Benjamin Katzeff (July 1, 2016). "Book Review: 'North Korea's Juche Myth'". 38 North. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
- Charles K. Armstrong, "Trends in the Study of North Korea," Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 70, 2011; and Suzy Kim, "(Dis)orienting North Korea," Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 42, No. 3, September 2010.
- Charles K. Armstrong, "Trends in the Study of North Korea," Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 70, 2011, p 360.
- Abt, Felix (2014). A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 62–63. ISBN 9780804844390.
- Yearn Hong Choi. Review of Han Sǒrya and North Korean Literature. World Literature Today. Vol. 69. No. 1. Winter 1995. p. 230. JSTOR. (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- Gabroussenko, Tatiana (2010). Soldiers on the Cultural Front: Developments in the Early History of North Korean Literature and Literary Policy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-8248-3396-1.
- Andrei Lankov. Review of The Cleanest Race. Far Eastern Economic Review. 4 December 2010. Archived January 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved February 1, 2010)
- Lankov, Andrei (2013). The Real North Korea. Oxford University Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-19-996429-1.
- Andrei Lankov (November 30, 2017). От защиты к нападению. Может ли ядерная программа Северной Кореи стать наступательной (in Russian). Carnegie.ru. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
- Rosett, Claudia (August 30, 2002). "How Dare He! Reviled Critic Gets the Last Word". Wall Street Journal.
- "Pyongyang's Familiars — B.R. Myers". Sthele Press. April 2023.
By the way, I used to live in New Mexico too, in the small town of Los Lunas, which is now less famous for having had Bo Diddley as deputy sheriff than for being the site of the hardware store in Breaking Bad. I took the 2-hour drive up to Los Alamos circa 2000, when I delivered an abandoned husky to the state's only husky rescue service.
- A 2015 interview with B.R. Myers on Notebook on Cities and Culture
- "Getroffen: Brian Myers, Uni Busan / Südkorea; Korea wohin? (2. Teil)". www.alf-tv.ch.
- Myers, B.R. (April 1, 2009). "To Beat a Dictator, Ignore Him". The New York Times.
- — (May 28, 2009). "North Korea Will Never Disarm". The New York Times.
- — (February 11, 2010). "The Cleanest Race". BookTV. C-SPAN.