North Korea Won’t Be Liberated in a Day

APTOPIX North Korea Staged in Pyongyang

Inspired by the story of North Korean labour camp escapee Shin Dong-hyuk, Mike Deri Smith decides he wants to do something to help the people of North Korea:

After I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about the prisoners Shin left behind in the gulag. I’d be standing at the meat counter at the supermarket choosing between the highest quality lamb, steak, pork, and chicken, and I would remember the rat meat that helped keep children alive in the camp, and the undigested corn kernels they pulled from cow dung. I felt an urge to act so strong that I couldn’t ignore it. Perhaps idealism is more than just a slur inflicted on the young and hopeful. Perhaps being idealistic is a principle worth standing up for.

And so I found myself, a few months later, ringing the doorbell at London’s North Korean embassy. I was prepared to demand justice, but my shaking hands betrayed my utter fear of what would happen when someone opened the door.

He goes on to discuss idealism as well as the frustration that arises from how little he can do to influence the situation:

Blaine Harden, author of the book about escaped prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk, has said before that North Korea’s diplomats “‘go nuts’ and leave the room” when the subject of the camps in broached in any discussion of human rights. But Hawk says it’s essential, particularly since negotiations on nukes have been set back by North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. “The idea that you would keep human rights off of the agenda for 20 to 30 years while [North Korea] does economic development and allow the present prison population to die off is, to me, extraordinary.” Harden estimates that up to 400,000 people have already died in the North Korean gulag.

“Few people outside of the pro-apartheid figures in South Africa argued to ignore apartheid for a generation until the economic situation of the South African population improved,” Hawk said, sounding genuinely moved and outraged. I asked him what I could do to help. The best thing, he said, was to encourage my government—to send a letter urging my foreign minister to support UN resolutions on North Korean human rights.

I’ll admit I was hoping he’d tell me to jump on a flight to Seoul tomorrow, decked out in camouflage gear with a knife between my teeth. Wasn’t writing letters to the government the kind of thing done by old people and crack-ups? Anyway, hadn’t those people heard of email?

North Korea Won’t Be Liberated in a Day


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