Know what’s missing from the North Korea coverage? North Koreans.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is ruled by the world’s most brutal and oppressive regime, but at this critical hour, its victims remain an afterthought.
In recent weeks, cable news has fixated on the escalation of tensions between North Korea and the United States. Commentators and pundits have focused on the “unusually aggressive” nature of the President’s statements regarding North Korea, iterated details and speculation about how quickly North Korea could, theoretically, strike United States or allies’ territory and explored at length North Korea’s history of threatening nations to its east and west.
That’s useful information for people who are — understandably — worried that the United States and North Korea are girding for a military conflict. And, after all, there are an infinite number of reasons to hold the North Korean regime in the lowest possible esteem — its belligerency, its militarism, the constant stream of threats it’s blasted into the international conversation over the past fifty years. All those characteristics of the Kim regime have been a healthy part of the conversation our country has been having about North Korea.
But there is a critical component missing from our national dialogue about North Korea, and it’s the same one that’s been missing from the international dialogue about the DPRK for fifty years: the North Korean people. No matter which channel you watch or which newspapers you read, absent from the conversation is any discussion of the horrors the North Koreans suffer on a daily basis — and the compulsion to action that those horrors should’ve inspired in the international community decades ago.
For all intents and purposes, North Korea is a 1984 state. For over fifty years, three generations of Kim dictators have brainwashed North Korean citizens with propaganda, made a mockery of their human rights and entrapped them in a permanent state of constant, unbreakable poverty.
The people of North Korea, from the moment of birth, are taught that the Kim bloodline is holy. The stream of propaganda to which they are subjected is so strong, and so constant, that even North Korean defectors feel a strong urge to return home. Citizens are subjected to a psychotic joke of a criminal justice system, in which a crime can be defined as arbitrarily as an “extraordinarily grave act of delinquency” and punishment can consist of anything as brutal and Naziish as being sentenced to decades in a labor camp.
Twenty five million human beings live under these unfathomable conditions, and have for over half a century. That’s roughly the same number of people as the ten most populous U.S. cities, combined. Twenty five million people who, for decades, have been brainwashed, tortured, starved and worked to death.
And over the years, their plight has been largely forgotten, written off by the international community as a unfortunate, but ultimately inconsequential casualty of a sick international pantomime. For fifty years, the international community has indulged the Kims by joining them in a seemingly endless theatrical performance on the world stage, wherein North Korea plays the role of a belligerent hostage taker and the UN plays the role of a peace-seeking negotiator, happy to placate the madman in exchange for the promise of stability.
But the performance hasn’t resulted in stability, and it’s high time the curtain falls on that sick, inexcusable act. Decade after decade, the North Korean people have suffered while their overlords have defied the terms of the negotiators, pushing closer and closer to achieving nuclear weapons technology without relenting in their human rights abuses in the slightest.
It’s good to have a healthy, lengthy national discussion about whether or not we should directly oppose and forcefully challenge Kim Jong Un because of the threat to the United States he represents. We should also commit ourselves the defense of human dignity, and thus, to ending the fifty-year long theatrical failure of the international community to assert that North Koreans are people worthy of the same rights and dignities as the rest of us. We should recognize that the perverse survival of the Kim regime and the human rights catastrophe it has inflicted on the North Korean people is a stain unwashable from the international conscience — and work to finally close the Kims’ sad, disgusting chapter in world history.
We can discuss ad nausea the tactics and politics of confronting North Korea. But if the debate is to hinge — as it should — on the question of whether or not is is morally righteous to forcefully and directly oppose evil and champion the freedom of oppressed people wherever they are, the answer should be nothing short of an emphatic, thunderous yes.