The Horrors of North Korea Require Us to Act
Surprised that North Korea’s youthful leader, Kim Jung-un reportedly distributed copies of Mein Kampf as birthday presents to his country’s elite?
For decades, North Korea has been the most controlled society and its regime among the most repressive. Taking a page from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Pyongyang maintains a Gulag — a series of punitive forced labor camps, where as many as 200,000 ‘enemies of the state’ languish, accused of criminal activity or merely of having the wrong neighbor or parent. Inmates have virtually no rights, no knowledge of the outside world, and little hope of getting out. Nuclear families are difficult to maintain and some escapees describe a system where the jailers choose which inmates can co-habitate and when or if they can have children who then also live in captivity.
There are also chilling parallels to Nazi Germany. As associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an NGO devoted to imparting the lessons of the Holocaust, I was so shocked by reports that innocent people were being murdered in gas chambers on our watch, that I traveled to Seoul to personally debrief three North Korean defectors who reportedly admitted involvement in such activities.
I will never forget the anguish of one defector who described how he supervised the killing of parents and their child in a glass-encased chamber. Shocking details of how long the agony went on and the efforts of doomed parents to breathe air into the lungs of their dying child, were duly written down and forwarded for analysis to those in charge of the production and upgrade of North Korean poison gas (some of which today lies precariously under the tenuous control in Assad’s arsenal in Syria). The youngest defector described how experiments were carried out on live specimens–animal and human.
The oldest of the three was more interested in touting his near-perfect forged $100 U.S. bills. As for using human guinea pigs in gas chambers: “Those (political) prisoners were as good as dead anyway,” he shrugged.
Photo-ops with NBA great Rodman aside, Kim Jong-un’s propaganda experts are keen to present him as a young, but strong leader. The official newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, has even published photos of him scolding senior officials, all of them old. The older or higher ranking the official, the louder Kim Jong-un will shout, apparently, to assert himself, despite his age. Photos of Kim Jong-un in the company of children (and there are many of them) are oddly reminiscent of Hitler’s carefully nurtured public image in the 1930s.
Sources inside North Korea have mentioned that Kim Jong-un was heard saying that North Korea’s Ministry of Public Security should be a force even stronger than the Korean People’s Army, “similar to the Gestapo.”
Whether he uttered those exact words or not, in 2013, the apparent of twinning of a nuclear-armed novice in Pyongyang together with the rabid genocidal rantings of Adolf Hitler should make any rational person in South Korea, Japan, China and the U.S., very, very worried.
Worried, but not passive.
Please take the time to listen to the stories of courageous North Korean escapees like Hyeonseo Lee (“My Escape From North Korea“) and take action — through your elected officials or dedicated NGOs — to make sure that the people of North Korea are no longer abandoned to the whims of tyrants. Activists should also deploy all the powers of social media to put a human face on the suffering of the North Korean people. Remember that Stalin, one of history’s greatest mass murderers said: “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths, a statistic.” Don’t allow the suffering of the North Korean people to wallow in abject anonymity.
History shows that when enough good people care, things will change. But if we stand idly by and do nothing, the menacing posturing by the Mini-me bully in Pyongyang may someday soon threaten anyone within reach of a ballistic missile.