Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Worse Than 1984 - North Korea, slave state.

Copy of a report by Christopher Hitchens, May 2, 2005:

How extraordinary it is, when you give it a moment's thought, that it was only last week that an American president officially spoke the obvious truth about North Korea. In point of fact, Mr. Bush rather understated matters when he said that Kim Jong-il's government runs "concentration camps." It would be truer to say that the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea, as it calls itself, is a concentration camp. It would be even more accurate to say, in American idiom, that North Korea is a slave state.

This way of phrasing it would not have the legal implication that the use of the word "genocide" has. To call a set of actions "genocidal," as in the case of Darfur, is to invoke legal consequences that are entailed by the U.N.'s genocide convention, to which we are signatories. However, to call a country a slave state is to set another process in motion: that strange business that we might call the working of the American conscience.

It was rhetorically possible, in past epochs of ideological confrontation, for politicians to shout about the "slavery" of Nazism and of communism, and indeed of nations that were themselves "captive." The element of exaggeration was pardonable, in that both systems used forced labor and also the threat of forced labor to coerce or to terrify others. But not even in the lowest moments of the Third Reich, or of the gulag, or of Mao's "Great Leap Forward," was there a time when all the subjects of the system were actually enslaved.

In North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power. Every minute of every day, as far as regimentation can assure the fact, is spent in absolute subjection and serfdom. The private life has been entirely abolished. One tries to avoid cliché, and I did my best on a visit to this terrifying country in the year 2000, but George Orwell's 1984 was published at about the time that Kim Il Sung set up his system, and it really is as if he got hold of an early copy of the novel and used it as a blueprint. ("Hmmm … good book. Let's see if we can make it work.")

Actually, North Korea is rather worse than Orwell's dystopia. There would be no way, in the capital city of Pyongyang, to wander off and get lost in the slums, let alone to rent an off-the-record love nest in a room over a shop. Everybody in the city has to be at home and in bed by curfew time, when all the lights go off (if they haven't already failed). A recent nighttime photograph of the Korean peninsula from outer space shows something that no "free-world" propaganda could invent: a blaze of electric light all over the southern half, stopping exactly at the demilitarized zone and becoming an area of darkness in the north.

Concealed in that pitch-black night is an imploding state where the only things that work are the police and the armed forces. The situation is actually slightly worse than indentured servitude. The slave owner historically promises, in effect, at least to keep his slaves fed. In North Korea, this compact has been broken. It is a famine state as well as a slave state. Partly because of the end of favorable trade relations with, and subsidies from, the former USSR, but mainly because of the lunacy of its command economy, North Korea broke down in the 1990s and lost an unguessable number of people to sheer starvation. The survivors, especially the children, have been stunted and malformed. Even on a tightly controlled tour of the place—North Korea is almost as hard to visit as it is to leave—my robotic guides couldn't prevent me from seeing people drinking from sewers and picking up individual grains of food from barren fields. (I was reduced to eating a dog, and I was a privileged "guest.") Film shot from over the Chinese border shows whole towns ruined and abandoned, with their few factories idle and cannibalized. It seems that the mines in the north of the country have been flooded beyond repair.

In consequence of this, and for the first time since the founding of Kim Il Sung's state, large numbers of people have begun to take the appalling risk of running away. If they make it, they make it across the river into China, where there is a Korean-speaking area in the remote adjoining province. There they live under the constant threat of being forcibly repatriated. The fate of the fugitive slave is not pretty: North Korea does indeed operate a system of camps, most memorably described in a book—The Aquariums of Pyongyang, by Kang Chol-Hwan—that ought to be much more famous than it is. Given what everyday life in North Korea is like, I don't have sufficient imagination to guess what life in its prison system must be, but this book gives one a hint.

It seems to me imperative that the human rights movement, hitherto unpardonably tongue-tied about all this, should insistently take up the case of North Korea and demand that an underground railway, or perhaps even an overground one, be established. Any Korean slave who can get out should be welcomed, fed, protected, and assisted to move to South Korea. Other countries, including our own, should announce that they will take specified numbers of refugees, in case the current steady trickle should suddenly become an inundation. The Chinese obviously cannot be expected to take millions of North Koreans all at once, which is why they engage in their otherwise criminal policy of propping up Kim Jong-il, but if international guarantees for runaway slaves could be established, this problem could be anticipated.

Kim Jong-il and his fellow slave masters are trying to dictate the pace of events by setting a timetable of nuclearization, based on a crash program wrung from their human property. But why should it be assumed that their failed state and society are permanent? Another timeline, oriented to liberation and regime change, is what the dynasty most fears. It should start to fear it more. Bravo to President Bush, anyway, for his bluntness.

[via Slate Magazine via Disinformation with thanks]

Related in Slate
Fred Kaplan questioned whether President Bush understands the situation in North Korea in this "War Stories"; Kaplan's other Slate articles on North Korea can be found here. In March, Soyoung Ho filed a "Foreigners" detailing her conversation with a North Korean defector living in Seoul. Brendan Koerner explained why the North Koreans kidnapped Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s in 2003. This 2002 "Assessment" of Kim Jong-il said that, "It would be easy to dismiss Kim as a madman, but his behavior is too consistent for that."

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays, in which a longer account of North Korea can be found.

1 Comments:

Anonymous George said...

The best thing for all nations is not to enslave their people but to allow them to have both political and religious speech.God our Creator desires that all men have freedom including movement to move freely,associate with who they see fit,ets.The reason many times there is not is because not all men are open to listening to Gods word,The Authorized King James Holy Bible.God so loved the world,that he gave his only begotten son;that whosoever believeth in him,should not perish but have everlasting life.(John3:16).God sent his son to live a sinless life,and die for all our sins on the cross,he was buried,and rose from the dead and was seen of men and went back up to Heaven.To have his gift of eternal life starting now and in Heaven forever we must repent of our sins against God and trust The LORD Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour and God.For by grace are ye saved through faith,and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God;not of works lest any man should boast.Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,and thy house.(Acts16:31).Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.Ask him now to forgive your sins and save your soul from Hell and give you his gift of eternal life now and in Heaven forever someday.He is coming back for his own someday for his own children,the saved.Thank You very much.

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