« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - Evil In Our Time

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  The United Nations released a report on human rights in North Korea yesterday. Human rights don’t exist there – not by any standards in the modern world.

There are three video documentaries about North Korea you should watch if you’re interested in the situation there.

National Geographic Explorer snuck a camera crew into North Korea in 2007 as part of a humanitarian medical mission. A eye doctor from Europe was allowed into the country to perform sight-saving surgery on glaucoma patients there. (Although the operation to cure glaucoma is usually very simple, North Korea’s sparse health system doesn’t cover it.) Reporter Lisa Ling got to interview some of the patients and their families. Some of my observations: since North Korea imagined this would be a humanitarian-propaganda piece, you’d assume only the healthiest, wealthiest, pro-government families would be shown. And yet even the most favored party-loyalists live in sparse apartments with bare cupboards. They appear to be malnourished, have few personal belongings, and know that if they don’t refer to Kim Jong-un as ‘the blessed leader’ they’re in trouble. In one scene a mother has a look of abject fear on her face while her kindergarten-age daughter sings a song about the iron-fisted ruler. Mother seems to know that if her daughter doesn’t do it right, there’d be repercussions.

Seoul Train is an older documentary (2004) about the Underground Railroad that helps persecuted North Koreans escape into China, where – if they’re lucky – they can make their way South Korea. It’s tricky. China’s policy is to send ‘em back to North Korea where they’d face execution or be sent to prison camps. But if they can get to a friendly government’s embassy or consulate, they can get travel documents that will get them to Seoul and win them their freedom. One scene shows a North Korean family – a pregnant mother, her 4-year-old daughter, her husband, uncle, grandmother and grandfather. They’re hiding in a hotel across the street from Japan’s consulate, studying the movements and changing-of-the-guard of the Chinese police who are outside the gates. If they can somehow push their way past the checkpoint and get into the courtyard of the compound, they’d be able to apply for asylum. Their plan is crude. The men in the group engage the guards in conversation, then try to body-block them while the women try to run through the gate. The men would need to push or shove their way past the checkpoint – only 10 or 15 yards to be out of arm’s length – to make it to safety. The plan didn't work. The men’s distraction wasn't effective. The pregnant woman was tackled to the pavement as she tied to run through the gate. Her young daughter, who made it through the gate, went back to her mother's side and was also caught. The grandmother, who tripped while trying to run through the checkpoint, was dragged back by police. One of the younger men was overpowered and caught. Only two managed to get through to safety. Activists back at the hotel videotaped the incident, hoping the footage would offer those who were caught some level of publicity and safety if there was enough international outrage. As best we know, the unsuccessful refugees were sent back to North Korea to face a firing squad.

The most disturbing North Korean documentary is Camp 14: Total Control Zone (2012). It’s the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, one of the few escapees from a North Korean prison camp. He was 25 when he burrowed under an electrified fence, crossed a river into China, and was smuggled into South Korea. His story of life behind the barbed wire is shocking. He was born in the prison camp – the “crime” against the beloved leader was committed by his uncle whom he never met. But North Korea rounds up family members and sends them all away. Dong-hyuk wasn’t even alive when his family’s crime happened; he was born in the camp as a product of the rape of his mother by a guard. She was lucky. Sometimes female prisoners are killed if a rape leads to a pregnancy. His story (admittedly, it cannot be independently verified) is one of starvation, forced labor, brainwashing, and unendurable brutality. He fled because his brother stole food, and his entire family would be punished for it. He saw his mother executed before he escaped. He suspects that his father and brother were killed after he turned up missing as an example to others.

Dong-hyuk’s story gives us pause about what might happen if the North Korean regime were to collapse. It would create a moral dilemma. North Koreans in prison camps (there are estimated to be 150,000 of them) may not be able to assimilate into a free society. Dong-hyuk says he does not know of human kindness or the normal emotions that free people feel. He received no love from his mother -- he felt no emotion seeing her executed. There are no family bonds; family members are more likely than outsiders to snitch on each other to avoid trouble or to win privileges for themselves. Obviously there are no societal underpinnings that are needed for people to live in freedom. For the larger North Korean population the traditions of capitalism or democracy don't exist, which are critical to assimilating into South Korean society. Would the south survive if a larger underclass from the north were suddenly foisted upon them?

I believe Kim Jong-un is the Adolph Hitler of our generation. And again, the world stands by while he does his evil work.

Watch one, two, or all three of these North Korean documentaries. Then we can discuss just how much of an idiot Dennis Rodman is.

Chris Conley

Image: Kim Jong-un addresses North Koreans in Pyongyang. Photograph: Reuters from wsau.com