To put it gently, we in Canada are living in a political paradise. Unless you're an income trust investor, it's hard to make the case that Stephen Harper has made a negative impact on your life personally. Politics are something you are free to ignore or consider, both at your own peril. And even things like the income trust scandal are kind of, well, complex.
And then there's the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Or, colloquially, North Korea. Isn't it funny, though, how some countries tend to name themselves after what they're emphatically not?
Lately there have been worries about North Korea's nuclear arsenal. I humbly put forth the idea that their nuclear arsenal is the least of our worries. It would almost make things simpler, were they to launch a strike (they won't, because...) because they would be nuked into radioactive grit. The young and healthy and appropriately brainwashed who have been permitted by the DPRK to reside in the capital, Pyongyang, would be the first to go. Our focus on this is entirely wrong. There are accounts coming out of there (I don't even know where to begin hyperlinking, but this Wikipedia entry is where it began for me, before branching off onto other sites that are admittedly more reliable) that, taken on aggregate, are competitive in horror with the Holocaust. Now when you read that word (and I even hesitated to type it), it produces a certain reaction, doesn't it? This isn't quite the same thing; that was genocide and then some, this is... Juche in action. But it is the same in a generic sense of brutality and a complete, institutionally-sanctioned assault on human freedom and dignity. At the same time that "Holocaust" isn't a word to just be thrown around, one of the saddest parts of the Holocaust is that it's just another chapter in the long annals of human tragedy.
In Auschwitz, I saw many things; I think the part that stuck with me was the display with the shoes. Children's shoes. From the kids who'd been gassed, along with the feeble, elderly, and pregnant...
From the DPRK, you hear about gassing too, about whole families dying together in a gas chamber, the parents trying to keep their children alive by mouth-to-mouth...
Maybe there isn't physical evidence for much of this... yet. Just wait. How much of the Holocaust could have been proven before the war was over? And, gee, wow, if I and everyone at linkglobal.org and One Free Korea, and some BBC journalists and crew and the few Koreans who have managed or been persuaded to defect turn out to be wrong, Hallelujah, I say! Wouldn't it be great if all these soul-destroying atrocities against nature itself never happened?
I've been working on this post for more than
- Speaking of defecting, that's a difficult thing (to be charitable). The soldiers on North Korean side of the DMZ line up with their backs facing the South so they can easily shoot anyone trying to defect before they cross the line.
- Okay, so go through China. Well, this may work if you're a ranking North official who's been permitted to travel and provided you know something of value - something could surely be arranged. For everyone else (especially women), it means living in hiding, as the PRC Chinese have gotten together with the North and put a bounty on the capture of any North escapees. Resultingly, these women cannot live out in the open, and share about the same freedoms as a PRC Chinese defence lawyer who's been on the wrong side of a case: you're virtually under house arrest. It's easy to see how this is a recipe for exploitation.
- In the late 1950s, Chongryon, an agency in Japan representing the interests of (North) Korea
- On another baby-related note, a North Korean doctor who defected, Ri Kwang-chol, has claimed that babies born with physical defects are rapidly put to death and buried.
- Japan thinks that North Korea is hanging on to some of its citizens that were abducted between 1977 and 1983, and doesn't want the US to take North Korea off its list of terrorist states. [Article.] Kyoko Nakayama, special adviser to the new Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, also states that the North had kidnapped people of other nationalities / states, especially South Koreans. "A country that does not free its hostages is a terrorist state, pure and simple," she said.
This could end up being a serious sticking point between Washington and Tokyo, and let's hope Bush isn't so blinded by his desire to get nuclear conciliations that he ignores any of Korea's neighbours.
And forget about the nukes, what about their gulags? Their gas chambers? Their scientists that watched and took notes on people being tortured and slaughtered? A BBC documentary asks that very question.
And, yes, even the people who aren't political prisoners (don't steal food, that can get you killed - I mean, unless you want to be killed, which we've established isn't a bad idea) are starving. The South has long been taking the high road on this, under their "Sunshine Policy" - they are spending billions on food aid for the North. As well they should, for the people in the North are (sometimes literally) their brothers. It's probably having more of a diplomatic effect than an aid effect (how many of those sacks make it out into the country?), but even that is something. Plus these sacks are marked as being from the South, and it's hard to maintain the idea that the South cannot be trusted because they are hopelessly corrupted by the Imperialists of the USA (the same ones that sank to their knees and begged for the war to be over, according to a plaque on the North side of the DMZ), while they're sending you aid. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Kim Jong-Il finds a way. But at least it might plant those precious slivers of doubt.
- I want to do something myself, but what? You know how it is; hundreds, thousands, and more likely millions of politicians, diplomats, and citizens have been immersed in this for decades, and some yahoo (me) thinks they have a bright idea that hasn't be tried or at least considered 10,000 times. Well, anyway, I had an idea of distributing Khrushchev's Secret Speech denouncing the cult of personality surrounding Stalin. You'd think it was a lesson North Korea needed to hear, and could listen to - it gives solid Marxist and Leninist reasoning concerning the dangers of the cult of personality, and it doesn't promote capitalism in any way. The problem with that is, in response to its original leak, the cult personality leaders in China and Korea, Mao and Kim Il-Sung, just hung on more than ever, and killed the members of their parties that had or would have had open ears for Khrushchev. The speech helped precipitate a Sino-Soviet split that allowed North Korea to slip away and become its own little island of twisted ideology: Juche. Still, one of our few hopes is that we'll get lucky and whoever replaces Kim Il-Sung when he dies will have a more pragmatic approach. If so, I can see a speech like Khrushchev's happening. Unless the majority of the other leaders are brainwashed like most of their citizens, in which case we're screwed.
Broadcasting? Forget it. If you're wondering why the south side of the DMZ isn't lined with television and radio transmitters (as was sort of the case in Germany; about the only place that couldn't get signals from the West was Dresden, because they were in a river valley), it's because all of the televisions and radios sold in North Korea can only be tuned to government stations. The radios have seals on them to prevent them from being tuned to any other stations, and local authorities check regularly to make sure that the seals are intact. People who have been caught listening to South Korean radio (God, I hope it was never something fluffy like a commercial or a pop song...) have been sent to prison.
And going there? Completely out of the question. Even innocently documenting what you can see is pointless, because your government-appointed tour guides will only show you what they want you to see (though Pyongyang might be worth visiting on its merits alone, it's about all you'll get to see (with a few exceptions, I admit, like the DMZ and some kind of secluded mountainous tourist region on the east coast)). On top of that, they restrict what types of photo and video equipment you can bring into the country; lenses over a certain aperture and telephoto lenses are strictly forbidden. This video of the Yodok Concentration Camp (where they imprison family members of those who are politically convicted, since dissent must be rooted out down to the third generation) looks like it was shot entirely in digital zoom - it's crappy footage, but it's all you can get with what they normally let you take into the country.
Going there, and trying to distribute literature or at least unlocked solar / dynamo radios, and getting caught is probably about the worst fate one could possibly experience. There are fates worse than death. They don't shackle the prisoners at these concentration camps because the guards get paid for shooting escapees. In fact, the guards encourage the escapees. If you end up in one of these camps, and are performing outdoor labour, I wholeheartedly suggest the attempt, since it's win-win whatever happens: If you die quickly, great, if you escape, excellent (but fat chance on that).
But who am I to comment on any of this? I'm just a Maritimer. When we hear "Korea," we think, "Oh, the place where everyone goes to teach English!" (mais, pas moi! je dois toujours fais quelques choses differents, vous voyez)
Maybe we should think about it in a different way now. North Korea isn't just politically totalitarian, it's simply inhuman.