The Depths of North Korea and the Limits of Words

“The blue buildings belong to the UN, the other ones – North Korea.”//flickr user kalleboo

North Korea is more than egomaniacal dictators, anachronistic domestic policies, nuclear weapons, and a Vice Guide.  Here’s an excerpt from an article called “It really is that bad: A powerful speech on North Korea

One challenge I always have when I speak about North Korea is I run out of adjectives for how bad things are. And many of you that follow policy or human rights situations oftentimes get jaded with numbers […] It’s very easy for us to write off bad things because we just assume these are bad things that happen ‘over there,’ and many times they don’t necessarily affect us. And the challenge with North Korea in particular is that things are so bad on such a scale and scope that it sounds fake. It sounds unfathomable, it’s impossible to really comprehend.”

Hong discusses the immense dangers that North Korean refugees face after crossing the border into China, where they can face imprisonment, sex trafficking and often a return home to much worse. “To go through that much risk, whatever you’re escaping from back home has to be pretty bad,” he says. “Extraordinarily bad. Far worse than whatever you’re facing to get out of that place. So North Korea is that thing. It is that bad.

A close friend of mine worked for NGOs in Korea for a few years and once, rather unexpectedly, she was called to simultaneous translate the accounts of North Korea escapees (she’s a native speaker of both Korean and English).  The stories were so deeply depressing, so perversely sadistic, and so unimaginably inhumane that she ended up crying on stage.  A more senior person had to go up and replace her as translator.  The whole  10 minute C-SPAN video is worth watching.

This is very different from the Holocaust in one very important measure. It’s that we have documentable, verifiable, overwhelming evidence that anybody can access. There was evidence during the Holocaust that policymakers had access to that that they did not choose to act on that they could have. And many people will say, “If I was in that position back then, I would have acted differently.”


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