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human experimentation in North Korea
February 2, 2004 2:09 AM   Subscribe

BBC documentary interviews ex-North Korean concentration camp boss. Kwon Hyok explains, 'I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.' Now Pyongyang's gone nuclear, can anything practical be done about this? Can it be legitimately argued that we have no moral right to intervene, even if we could, as it doesn't threaten us?
posted by Pericles (67 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
By "we" do you mean the US or the world community?

If the US did a little to clean up its own house so it could credibly assert some moral authority in the world then, yes, perhaps a moral case could be made for US intervention. But the US would have to have a completely militarized society in order to keep intervening in such a manner.

The world community already has such authority as nasty regimes threaten the well-being of the world in one way or another. How to marshall the resources of the world to such a task?

And, of course, there's no tried and true formula for spreading liberal, constitutional democracy and the rule of law to places where it is currently unknown. The Prime Directive looks better and better every day.
posted by rocketpup at 2:48 AM on February 2, 2004


I'm a Brit, so by "we" I mean the liberal democracies.
posted by Pericles at 3:30 AM on February 2, 2004


As I've said before here, if it wasn't for the 30 000 artillery tubes pointing at Seoul and a murky nuclear program I'd have absolutely no qualms about troops going in.
posted by PenDevil at 3:45 AM on February 2, 2004


Nation of "brown people"? - check!
Demonized leadership? - check!
Baby killing propaganda? - check!
Sold them enough weapons nuclear equipment to make a nice firework show? - check!
Britain bitch ready to give the illusion of a coalition? - check!
Far enough of China missiles? - oups!

Ummm...
Iran:
Nation of "brown people"? - check!
etc.
posted by kush at 3:46 AM on February 2, 2004


I don't think that much can effectively be done about this at the diplomatic level, beyond some outraged armwaving at the UN, perhaps. Individuals can register their displeasure about conditions in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea here: but neither, sadly, can I imagine mass letter-writing having much of a useful effect.
posted by misteraitch at 4:18 AM on February 2, 2004


Free people tend to be comfortable with what they have, so, as long as no one is getting gassed in our back yard, tough luck for them. (I remember reading a letter that a woman wrote to Roosevelt during WW2. She said Hitler would leave us alone if we left him alone. Yes, but one wonders about all those Hitler won't be leaving alone, no?)

I suspect that it is a form of racism. The US only objects to genocide and gun toting psychos when the victims are white, or have oil.

You can bet your sweet bippy that if old Kimmy were in Canada, we'd be there already. If Canadians were crossing our boarders with these stories it would be a media %&$# storm like there was no tomorrow. Call out the guard! Oh wait, we already did that. Via La Revolution! Two axes down, one to go! Oh wait, there's the whole freakin' continent of Africa... and uhh, the rest of the Middle East... unless anyone thinks Iran is free.
posted by ewkpates at 4:53 AM on February 2, 2004


And so begins the demonification of North Korea as pretext for "intervention".

See also (Panama, Iraq)
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:58 AM on February 2, 2004


And so begins the demonification of North Korea....

You don't have to demonise them when they pretty much are the text book definition of evil.
posted by PenDevil at 5:04 AM on February 2, 2004


Depends. What's the oil like?
posted by kaemaril at 5:12 AM on February 2, 2004


Yes, North Korea sounds horrible. However, it's worth pointing out that for most people, it's probably not as bad as all that. It is, however, an opporessive government that keeps its people down.

My advice? Listen to what the Iraqis have been saying. They wanted to get rid of Saddam, however they also didn't want to be invaded and occupied.

Yes, by all means let's see what can be done to give North Koreans more freedom, more truth, less brutality and personal economic hardship, and greater control over their own destiny. A huge amount can be done simply through linking international relations and economic ties with human rights, for example. Ultimately, however, the North Koreans will have to take back their country themselves and choose for themselves how they want to run it.

The situation is not helpless, however. The horrors of China's Cultural Revolution took place just 35 years ago, and about 40 years ago, the Soviets were saying that they would bury us. As much as we would like greater change, I think it's safe to say that much has improved.

Our problem is that we're looking at these seemingly intractable international problems on too short a timeline. Does that mean that we must tolerate regimes that torture and kill their own people? Depends what you mean by tolerate. If you mean that we acknowledge the problem yet, by not taking armed action, we still allow it to happen, then yes. However, if you mean turn a blind eye, the answer is definitely not.

Compare and contrast today's world with the Star Trek universe. What the Bush administration is effectively arguing for is the complete revocation of the Prime Directive, so to speak. And yes, while there are times where intervention is called for, it's usually best not to do it at gunpoint... or phaser point, for that matter.

Sometimes it's best just to plant the seeds of democracy, sit back, and let history work things out by itself. While that is small comfort for families being killed by poison gas in some petty dictatorship, the fact of the matter is that a whole lot of people in their country are choosing to make such horrors a reality. Let's see what we can do to empower them to make other choices instead.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:16 AM on February 2, 2004


Last time we tried to "empower" them we found out they'd been lying to us for years:
'In October 2002, North Korean officials acknowledged the existence of a clandestine program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons that is in violation of the Agreed Framework and other agreements.' - FAS article on NK Nuclear Weapons Program.
posted by PenDevil at 5:21 AM on February 2, 2004


I like all the snide quips in re: oil and so on, using the term "quip" very loosely.

We got it, you don't approve of the invasion of Iraq, you think Bush et al. are corrupt, yes, thanks, abundantly clear, you can stop repeating yourself every god damn day at least on MeFi.

Now, please take a stand on North Korea. Do you agree that the government and especially Kim Il is in fact evil? If not, why not? If so, what does that mean? Should the world intervene in cases like this, and if the world is unwilling, should sufficiently powerful coalitions undertake it themselves?

Personally, I am extremely loathe to engage in any activities like that. Once N. Korea starts trying to invade neighbouring countries, ok, stop them in their tracks and hell, take the war to their capital to push for a surrender there. If they're just torturing their own citizens, that's awful... But it seems much easier to make the situation worse than it is to fix it.

Also, what insomnia said.
posted by kavasa at 5:24 AM on February 2, 2004


I'm a Brit, so by "we" I mean the liberal democracies.

well, that lets the US off the hook.
posted by quonsar at 5:46 AM on February 2, 2004


Once N. Korea starts trying to invade neighbouring countries, ok, stop them in their tracks and hell, take the war to their capital to push for a surrender there.

You probably don't remember this, then? Or this war in which North Korea was the aggressor, and has never officially ended?
posted by hama7 at 6:08 AM on February 2, 2004


Yes, North Korea sounds horrible. However, it's worth pointing out that for most people, it's probably not as bad as all that.

If they're just torturing their own citizens, that's awful... But it seems much easier to make the situation worse than it is to fix it.

Wow. I want to be outraged, but all I can do is hang my head and chuckle sadly.
posted by Mick at 6:15 AM on February 2, 2004


"Can it be legitimately argued that we have no moral right to intervene, even if we could, as it doesn't threaten us?". I deliberately didn't mention "invade" here - but it strikes me that, as last night's documentary suggested, preserving the status-quo is what most countries aim for. South Korea illegally gives millions to Pyongyang, on the grounds that if the regime collapsed, South Korea would be nearly bankrupted if it had to absob 26 million "country cousins" from the North, the programme alleged.

The documentary was shocking, by the way, and made me question my own opposition to the Iraq invasion. How much repression and murder can we tolerate from a regime if it is directed at its own people, rather than its neighbours?
posted by Pericles at 6:25 AM on February 2, 2004


Yes, North Korea sounds horrible. However, it's worth pointing out that for most people, it's probably not as bad as all that. It is, however, an opporessive government that keeps its people down.

GAH... statements like that are infuriating. Do some research.

Here is a good place to start.

There won't be a solution until South Korea does more than just pay lipservice to the attrocities happening in the North. That is something that will never happen when you have idiots like the head of the human rights coalition in South Korea making statements like this.

For some other interesting discussion going on about this you might try here.
posted by Plunge at 6:27 AM on February 2, 2004


No hama7, I haven't forgotten. You'll note that there are currently no N.K. troops in S.K., so... what's your point?

Good job Mick. I expressed an honest opinion that you apparently disagree with, it's good to see your first reaction was outrage! or at least dismay! at my inability to grasp the obvious truth of this admittedly elementary situation. I'm also impressed with your "well, I think you're wrong and an idiot, but I won't deign to say why" posting style. Very.... internetty. I like it.
posted by kavasa at 6:36 AM on February 2, 2004


Do you agree that the government and especially Kim Il is in fact evil?

Have you stopped beating your girlfriend? "Good" and "evil" are unhelpful concepts. Take a look at the history of CIA interventions in foreign countries, their support for torture, terrorism, murder and rape, and you would have to unequivocally qualify the US government as evil by any reasonable definition thereof. As for experiments on human subjects, do a search for the MKULTRA program. There were many others like it.

North Korea has just suffered a massive hunger catastrophe with hundreds of thousands of deaths without receiving enough help from the western world. If you want to talk about human rights violations, how about that one?

If the actions of the United States (or the British) government were made within a moral framework, then we could realistically talk about what means of intervention there are. Given the many dictators who have been or continue to be America's friends, such a moral framework is obviously non-existent. As such, it is also easily explained why the conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been constantly worsening -- making them better was never the goal of US foreign policy.

When the allies stop covering up their own involvement in massacres, we can talk about what can be done to prevent them elsewhere. When the western world starts talking seriously about regulating arms exports and democratizing the African content, we can take their pronouncements about "evil" in other countries seriously as more than just propaganda. In the current situation, any morally conscious citizen must focus on their government first instead of trusting them to represent their interests -- and human rights -- around the globe. For one thing, without a trustworthy government, you never know when you are being lied to (remember those baby incubators? remember those WMD?). For another, you can't trust them to be genuinely interested in improving human rights, rather than reaching economic or strategic goals.

"I think we're all sinners. One of my favorite Bible verses says, 'Why would I take a speck out of your eye when I have a log in my own?'" -- George W. Bush
posted by Eloquence at 6:38 AM on February 2, 2004


What a damn nightmare. What a true SNAFU. What an unglorious clusterfuck.

Arguably, if there is any scenario for morally-justified unilateral intervention or police action - or even better - true international community policing, N. Korea is currently it. (And for me to say that, that's saying something. I'm a pretty hardcore pacifist.)

But I don't even trust my own government any more. I can't trust them to not to drum up the worst imaginable propaganda in favor of whatever they want to do. I can't trust them to put delicate or gross spins on anything and everything they'd ever want to do. I can't trust them to not fabricate 'evidence' or other proofs in support of whatever whim seizes the hydra-headed juggernaught next.

It makes me wonder how the international community truly feels about it. It's easy to extrapolate and make educated guesses.

We've wasted and blown our street cred, our wuffie. Over and over again. Cried wolf. Taken a legacy and shot it to hell.

It's all too easy to point at almost any nation on a globe at random and find horrifying human rights abuses. There are far too few shining examples of total innocence. The US is no exception. Granted, I can sit here and write this, but for how long?

(MKULTRA, for starters. COINTELPRO. The Bikini Atoll incidents. Millions of non-violent drug offenders in jail and stripped of their right to vote. A suspect voting system. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of families poisoned by hundreds if not thousands of places like Rocky Flats, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, all of which exist/ed due to a lack of true public oversight and a cronyist graft system. A genocided native/aboriginal population. Whatever.)

Where do you draw the line? If these things are known, what do we not know? About us? About others?

And who is going to come liberate us after we're done liberating the world?

The concept of the "Nation State" as a mechanism for Peace, the concept of "War" as a mechanism for peace have been entirely suspect since Sumeria, and I suspect until we learn to evolve and truly self govern peacefully as sovereign "Nation States" of one, we'll always have war, oppression, abuse of power, and horrifying violence.

War begats war begats war begats war.

It has never begat lasting peace. Ever.

An Army of One indeed.

"Someday after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire."

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
posted by loquacious at 7:03 AM on February 2, 2004


loquacious looks up at Eloquence and whistles a Frank Sinatra tune innocently.

Has anyone seen weird-uncle Polyloquent around?
posted by loquacious at 7:07 AM on February 2, 2004


A defector wouldn't lie or exaggerate, would he? Didn't we get much of the "intelligence" "justifying" our invasion of Iraq from defectors? Is Kwon Hyuk being prosecuted?

I'm not saying what he's saying is not true - I'm saying I don't know. But I do know we get lied to regularly, and defectors often have axes to grind . . .
posted by kcmoryan at 7:12 AM on February 2, 2004


"Have you stopped beating your girlfriend? "Good" and "evil" are unhelpful concepts."

First - did you even read past that sentence? To the point where I said "so I think armed intervention would be a bad idea"? Because it really looks like you read one sentence out of a comment and went OMFG HE MUST VOTE REPUBLICAN AND BE IN SUPPORT OF INVADING EVERYTHING EVER OMG OMG. OMG. I could be wrong! But that's what it looks like you did.

Anyways, the sentence isn't even an example of that particular setup. It was entirely clear that I think Kim Il is in fact evil, and asked if a hypothetical respondent agreed or disagreed with me on that. You can agree, or you can say "no, I'm a moral relativist" or "no, I think he's a morally well-adjusted individual" or "no, I think he's off his rocker and thus is off the current moral map" or any of a number of other options.

Second, I reject wholesale your statement that good and evil are unhelpful concepts. It may not always be easy to tell which is which, but I will hold to the belief that there are right actions and wrong actions until the day I die. Gandhi was a good person and Andrew Jackson was an evil person.

You can make the argument that America as a nation does not currently have a coherent enough moral vision to be engaging in activities like invasion with a clear conscience. In fact, I would find that argument highly persuasive, and in fact I subscribed to it before you made it! Neat, huh? Regardless, that argument does not mean that individuals can't attempt to make ethical judgements - however tentative! - about the world around them.

Is it just me or is the mefi population getting damn lazy?
posted by kavasa at 9:19 AM on February 2, 2004


Frankly, I don't think it is all that difficult to effect regime change in any country. Just blow the mofo away with a sniper rifle. Sure as hell that must be possible with enough planning and intelligence support.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:23 AM on February 2, 2004



Frankly, I don't think it is all that difficult to effect regime change in any country. Just blow the mofo away with a sniper rifle. Sure as hell that must be possible with enough planning and intelligence support.


You have been playing too many FPS games.
posted by ednopantz at 9:27 AM on February 2, 2004


Right. Because, you know, political assasinations never succeed.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:30 AM on February 2, 2004


I think everyone's getting hung up on whether or not an invasion of North Korea would be justified on humanitarian grounds. A better question to ask would be, would an invasion be effective vis-a-vis humanitarian goals?
posted by Coda at 9:31 AM on February 2, 2004


Frankly, I don't think it is all that difficult to effect regime change in any country. Just blow the mofo away with a sniper rifle. Sure as hell that must be possible with enough planning and intelligence support.

Well.. that'll get a government friendly to us. Or, we can keep doing that until it does.

And so begins the demonification of North Korea as pretext for "intervention".

*rolls eyes*
posted by RobbieFal at 9:42 AM on February 2, 2004


War begats war begats war begats war.
I'm a pretty hardcore pacifist.

"the meek shall inherit nothing"- Frank Zappa.

Actually, a lot of the responses in this thread make me wonder if any of the respondents actually give a shit about Korea, or are merely interested in seeing how they can use events there to shore up their current political position/rant about a pet cause/demonstrate their intellectual superiority.

Yes, North Korea sounds horrible. However, it's worth pointing out that for most people, it's probably not as bad as all that.

If they're just torturing their own citizens, that's awful... But it seems much easier to make the situation worse than it is to fix it.


Good lord.
posted by jonmc at 9:57 AM on February 2, 2004


kavasa: I did read your comment. It was the "Do you agree that X is evil part" that bugged me, so that's the part I responded to. Human beings are the product of their genes and their environment -- the terms good and evil are unhelpful because they distract from these causes. If Hitler was "evil", then we don't have to look at the ideas that enabled exterminatory anti-Semitism, at the individuals and corporations who backed him, at similar patterns in our current time. Good and evil are essentially religious concepts which have always been used to prevent rational thought. What do they mean?

Hitler was genuinely convinced that eliminating all Jews would make the world a better place, and that the world would be grateful to him for solving the "Jewish problem". He clearly had good intentions. Saddam Hussein genuinely believed that it was necessary to rule Iraq with an iron fist to keep the religious extremists in line. It's the way he was brought up. Ariel Sharon genuinely believes that Israel needs to strike fear into the hearts of its neighbors because it will never be accepted into the international community. His personality is the direct product of the Holocaust.

The worst criminals are often the children of the worst parents. Even the most selfish action has biological origins. Not acknowledging this makes it difficult if not impossible to determine what these origins are. For example, cross-cultural scientific research has shown that cultural value systems can be well predicted by child rearing practices and socio-sexual norms. Research into the psychological profiles of conservatives has shown that their views are heavily informed by fear and aggression. There is no "evil" here. There are causes, and if we want to change the effects we need to know what precisely these causes are.

Giving up the concepts of "good" and "evil" does not make you a moral relativist, nor does it mean that you need to give up the concepts of "right" and "wrong". There's an important distinction here: good and evil are judgments which relate to the individual, while "right" and "wrong" relate to their beliefs and actions. There's a good reason why George W. Bush used the term "axis of evil" and not "axis of wrong". Evil needs to be eradicated. You can't reason with Darth Vader (unless he's a close relative of yours). Whereas the terms "right" and "wrong" trigger our curiosity - what's wrong, and how can we fix it? - the terms "good" and "evil" are merely supposed to keep us quiet ("I know him, he's a good guy") or get us agitated. Good and evil are almost always absolute: If Kim Jong-Il is evil, any good things he may have done are irrelevant. Right and wrong are almost never absolute: If Kim Jong-Il is wrong, the inevitable follow-up question is "wrong about what?".

Consequently moral absolutists will be disappointed by these terms. "Right" and "wrong" are not strong enough, they say, to condemn the bad people of the world. They call for harsh punishments, but they do so not because it makes good policy, but because it satisfies their own emotional urges. It resonates deeply with our reptilian brains to condemn and punish those who commit the worst sins, but it is not good policy.

Those who are not able to look beyond their emotions at cause and effect should not judge and they should not rule. Their moral compass is too limited.
posted by Eloquence at 9:59 AM on February 2, 2004


It resonates deeply with our reptilian brains to condemn and punish those who commit the worst sins, but it is not good policy.

Says you. I'm comfortable with my reptilian brain. I have no problem with condemning and punishing those who commit unarguably (to any sane person) heinous deeds.

There comes a time when all the reason in the world means nothing, and peoples lives become more important than abstract ideas and semantics.

Where the debate comes in is when these times are.

Human beings are the product of their genes and their environment -- the terms good and evil are unhelpful because they distract from these causes. If Hitler was "evil", then we don't have to look at the ideas that enabled exterminatory anti-Semitism, at the individuals and corporations who backed him, at similar patterns in our current time.

No it dosen't. We absolutely should look at the roots of these events, if for no other reason than to nip them in the bud. But that dosen't mean we should tolerate the deeds. And for some threats, force is the only answer. I wish it wasn't but there you have it.
posted by jonmc at 10:10 AM on February 2, 2004


On the subject of the documentary in question, I thought that it was propaganda from start to finish. And not very well made propaganda at that.
I am indeed damn lazy kasava, as I cannot be bothered to go into detail of why I reached that conclusion.
However, I will say that the coverage of North Korea in this documentary was the antithesis of coverage of China that I have seen recently on the same television channel.
One thing I will say is that North Korea may choose not to use electric lighting at night for military reasons. Also, it is a great waste of electricity. I bet the starscape is wonderful!
I do not see the political systems of these two countries as being particularly different from the point of view of a low income farmer in a rural area.
I have seen footage of happy North Koreans and unhappy Chinese too, but I would not go so far as to make judgements on the population as a whole from these personal anecdotes.
The people of North Korea could, perhaps, be better off as a nation, but at least they live in a stable environment. There are many millions of people who live in countries which are many years away from the kind of stability that the populations of the 'liberal democracies' take for granted.

on preview, jonmc, when does the use of force to punish those who commit heinous deeds become itself a heinous deed? From whose perspective?
posted by asok at 10:24 AM on February 2, 2004


All this talk of "nipping in the bud" is simply laughable. No buds have ever been nipped, because:
"we didn't know it was that bad"
"well, we need their political support"
"Yikes, they've got a pretty nasty ally there"
"I don't want my kid to die saving their kids"
...and so on...

So quit talking about studying causes and nipping anything in the bud -- because all the studying in the world won't stop the next atrocity. Sure, we'll all watch it on TV, and maybe even donate to some random charity, but when the commercial is over we'll go back to the game, maybe with a tiny little feeling in the back of our heads that we're better than those people dying over there because they're just too stupid to save themselves.
posted by aramaic at 10:29 AM on February 2, 2004


"Good" and "evil" are unhelpful concepts."

Of course they are with those ridiculous quotation marks around them. That should be:

Good and evil are extremely applicable when it can be empirically established that they apply, which in this case, evil does, actually.
posted by hama7 at 10:31 AM on February 2, 2004


Jonmc, while I don't think intervention in Iraq was a good choice, I'm not against action per se, and there's a pretty big spectrum of options ranging from nothing to invasion, with lots of espionage and insurgency in the middle. But my question to the hawks out there is: what do you do that won't make things worse then when you started?

I used to honestly believe that the people of N. Korea, if given the option, would revolt against the famines, totalitarianism, and absurd cult-of-personality that Kim has been responsible for. Then I read this and had second thoughts. Iraq is peanuts compared to North Korea. In Iraq you had soldiers throwing down their guns at the thought of the American military juggernaut. In North Korea you're talking about millions of people who are basically brainwashed from birth to love their country and their leader, and defend both to the death. Yes, there's a small (very small, very quiet) amount of middle-class, educated people that would support an overthrow, but the possibilities for insurgency in general are practically nil. The country is a pretty efficient 1984 regime and they can smell dissidence miles away.

Then, of course, there are the hundreds of unseen ramifications of taking action. Just about anybody could have predicted the Islamist rise in power in post-Saddam Iraq. But what would happen if military action were taken in N. Korea? What would China do? What if (completely hypothetical) Taiwan were to decide in a fit of anti-Communist sentiment that followed a N. Korean invasion to formally declare their independence from China? China and the U.S. could be locked in a standoff.

My point is, even when you've decided you've got the moral authority to intervene in another country's affairs, you've still got to deal with the very real prospect that your best option is to sit on your hands -- do nothing and wait for the situation to change.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2004


U.S. Senate Comittee on the Judiciary: Testimony of Ms. Soon Ok Lee: North Korean prison camp survivor, Seoul, South Korea
posted by hama7 at 10:37 AM on February 2, 2004


at least they live in a stable environment

...that quote is going in my personal file. Priceless.
posted by aramaic at 10:38 AM on February 2, 2004


So your contention is essentially this:

1. The terms "good" and "evil" necessarily stifle or entirely stop debate and questioning.
2. Things which stifle debate and questioning are bad.
3. From 1, 2: we shouldn't use those words.

I think your first premise is more than a little suspect, for reasons which should be obvious in the way I stated it. You also make another sally in the direction of "no one does things which they think are bad. Hitler thought the holocause was a good idea, and I'd define an evil person as he or she who thinks something is morally wrong and does it anyways, and such a person does not exist."

Nuts to that. Once someone's moral sense is so far out of tune that they think genocide is ever morally acceptable, they are wicked. Furthermore, understanding them to be wicked does not necessitate some sort of blind, unreasoning, and purposeless flailing. Quite the contrary, it should motivate a calculate, morally considered response to them and what they're doing.

"Those who are not able to look beyond their emotions at cause and effect should not judge and they should not rule."

Doing my best to demonstrate some level of cognition past the survival level here.

"Good lord."

That's twice now someone has done this. Respond at greater length or don't respond at all. Korea is not Iraq, it is not open desert combat where our overwhelming armor battalions can operate freely with easy access to air support, facing an opponent with nonexistent morale. It is mountainous jungle terrain occupied by an incredibly large army with possible Chinese backing, and possible nuclear weapons in possession of a madman who is quite possibly willing to use them. It seems likely to me that an invasion of North Korea would unleash a worldwide shitstorm releasing a hail of human suffering such that Kim Il would have to rule for a hundred years to equal it, in Utilitarian terms.

At the least we as the West need to improve our tactical, strategic, and diplomatic position before we consider invadin N.K.

asok - I'm glad you liked my italics. I'm very proud of them.
posted by kavasa at 10:40 AM on February 2, 2004


A better question to ask would be, would an invasion be effective vis-a-vis humanitarian goals?

Thank you. We can go on and on about whether the "Western World" has the "moral authority" to invade North Korea, but the simple fact is that the reality on the ground makes such an invasion absolutely impossible. The North's immediate response would be to fire their artillery tubes and kill a million people in Seoul. From a "humanitarian" perspective, that's an unacceptable price to pay.

Never mind the fact that the reason for the recent famines in NK is that all of their resources go into their military. It might be a poor country, but it's a large, well funded, disciplined army, defending difficult mountainous terrain. I don't think an invasion would be successful, especially with large portions of the US military committed to ongoing hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. It certainly wouldn't be easy: casualties would be orders of magnitude greater than the several hundred deaths per operation that we've grown used to.

Oh, and then there's China.

Can we please begin discussing the real world, now?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:47 AM on February 2, 2004


3. From 1, 2: we shouldn't use those words.

I now have George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words," running through my head. "Bad Words!"

Hilarious. Liberals telling us what words we can use now. More proof that all ideologues think the same, and want you to think the same way. Only damn thing that changes is which words are "forbidden."
posted by jonmc at 10:53 AM on February 2, 2004


It might be a poor country, but it's a large, well funded, disciplined army, defending difficult mountainous terrain. I don't think an invasion would be successful, especially with large portions of the US military committed to ongoing hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If I've learned anything over the past fifteen years, it's to quit underestimating the U.S. military, specifically its ability to knock over governments. China, I think, is the hairier problem. All the same, I share your pessimism.
posted by furiousthought at 11:03 AM on February 2, 2004


The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save [the] kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.

Regardless of the number of troops or bombs or whatever, the world has to make it clear to the thugs in power that some things aren't tolerated. National sovereignty doesn't apply when homicidal maniacs are in power.

And yes, when the maniacs in question are sufficiently depraved, you can and should talk about good and evil. Regardless of what Western countries may have done in recent years, we can and should bring this up in the negotiations. Evil persons usually know they are doing wrong and usually have a hard time defending their evil ways.
posted by Triplanetary at 11:06 AM on February 2, 2004


RENK: Rescue The North Korean People
posted by hama7 at 11:22 AM on February 2, 2004


Regardless of the number of troops or bombs or whatever, the world has to make it clear to the thugs in power that some things aren't tolerated.

Just to make it clear, we're probably talking at least two million deaths in the case of an invasion, at least a million of them South Korean civilians dead within the first week of hostilities. Then there's the massive economic disruption (Southeast Asian and Japanese economies thrown into chaos) and the attendant displacement, famine, etc. It would be easy to imagine casualties among the invading armies in the tens of thousands. You cool with all that?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:22 AM on February 2, 2004


aramaic, I am glad I made the file! Do you think that the situation of majority of the population in what was the USSR is presently better than it was before the end of the nominally communist system?
Societal stability is good for many people. I may not think that totalitarian regimes are good for people, but many people will defend the status quo independent of what that may be.

kavasa (got your name right this time): 'Once someone's moral sense is so far out of tune that they think genocide is ever morally acceptable, they are wicked.'

When does the use of force to punish those who commit heinous deeds become itself a heinous deed? From whose perspective? Hirishima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Henry Kissinger etc.

I think that using terms such as good and evil as absolute moral positions can be used to demonize more often than illuminate.
I am pretty sure that the Dear Leader lives in a fantasy land, much alike many other people in power, the ultra-rich, the ultra-famous and ultra-religious. It is easy to talk in absolutes when you have a polarised myopic outlook.
It is not easly to detect these absolutes in reality.
posted by asok at 11:53 AM on February 2, 2004


There's more on NK's gulags in this thread.
posted by homunculus at 11:57 AM on February 2, 2004


kavasa (got your name right this time): 'Once someone's moral sense is so far out of tune that they think genocide is ever morally acceptable, they are wicked.'

When does the use of force to punish those who commit heinous deeds become itself a heinous deed? From whose perspective? Hirishima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Henry Kissinger etc.


Now we're back to the classic "your atrocity is worse than my atrocity," "my asshole despot is better than your asshole despot" treadmill. End result: inaction and the needless suffering goes merrily on.
posted by jonmc at 12:16 PM on February 2, 2004


Yes, we should intervene. But we can't or won't, for a variety of reasons, some of which were previously outlined.

The North Koreans have put a lot into their military, but in a straight fight the west wins, no question. We would quickly have complete dominance over their airspace, plus the satellite advantage, whereas the Koreans could only muster local intelligence. That alone tips the scales. And I don't care how fanatical an army appears when serving a dictator, even if that fanaticism translates to actual support it won't overcome corruption, inefficiency, and shortages. It might not be quick and painless, but if there was the will to remove this dictator, the west could achieve it.

But there's the missiles, and China, and South Korea to consider. Plus the United States, which would have to be the lead power, is overextended as it is*. Once Afghanistan and Iraq are secure, peaceful, secular democracies, then we can talk about North Korea. Then there's the big debate about becoming the world's policeman, because that's what this is truly all about. Are we (the west) willing to put ourselves in that position? That's not an easy question to answer, because once you set yourself up that way, people then expect you to live up to it. You need to follow rules - when to intervene, when to let it resolve itself - and you need to be accountable for your actions. Plus you need oversight, some agency to police the police. (*in terms of small, not-really-a-direct-threat wars, I mean - if the US population truly perceived a direct threat to their interests, mobilization in WW2 terms would allow some dramatic intervention.)

If we in the west can assume the right to intervene where these kinds of abuses occur, then we must open ourselves up to possible intervention. It subsumes the rights of nations. We've only had about 50-60 years of limited experience in that, and it's not something we're especially comfortable with yet.

But all that doesn't mean we can't or aren't doing anything. If you can only deal with one or two problems at a time, you need to contain the others. And so far, NK's been contained. That's the first step. Then you have to work the diplomatic channels, try to pressure them into doing what's right. We're doing that by going through Beijing. As well, it's a problem that might resolve itself in a satisfactory way with time. It's hard to transfer power in a dictatorship. Passing power from one generation to another generally provides a better opportunity for a non-dictatorship to emerge than open confrontation (Franco's Spain, Cromwell's England, Marcos's Phillipines). That's the American thinking with Castro, it's happening to some extent in Iran. That NK managed to do it once is surprising, but I don't think they'll be able to pull it off twice.

Gah. That's more than I expected to write, and I doubt it's coherent or logically presented. Feed from it what you will. In simple terms, yep NK is (western-oriented) evil, but not quite evil enough yet to overcome all the negatives associated with outright intervention.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:21 PM on February 2, 2004


Do you think that the situation of majority of the population in what was the USSR is presently better than it was before the end of the nominally communist system?

That's a pretty good comeback, but Kim Jong-Il's a lot closer to Stalin than to Gorbachev, don't you think? Heck, he's probably closer to Stalin than he is to Castro.
posted by furiousthought at 12:36 PM on February 2, 2004


It would be easy to imagine casualties among the invading armies in the tens of thousands. You cool with all that?

No.
posted by thirteen at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2004


1. "If they try to gas my family, I'll shoot them." Most of us, admittedly not all, but most of us (maybe even the Dalai Lama and Jesus) would agree with this sentiment.

2. For those among us who do agree with this sentiment, I purpose another one: "If they try to gas my neighbor's family, I'll shoot them." This one is a little tougher and the group who accept this is smaller.

3. For this smaller group, I propose this: "If anybody tries to gas anybody else as a solution, I'll shoot them". If you buy into the first, I can't see any way for you not to go the whole distance.

World War 2 was horrible, it was more terrible than anything we've ever seen. Dresden was worse than Hiroshima. But the gas chamber solution was worse than these. If you think war doesn't solve anything, then you should certainly give some thanks that you don't have to face the gas chamber in your life time, and that there are people who agree with 1-3 to see that you won't.

And even more, I'll suggest that people who won't fight to preserve the safety of those who can't are "A bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes."

And hey, I have no problem with using the word Evil. It isn't devils with little horns, it isn't boogie men, its killers and rapists. That's what evil is. If you are unwilling to use the force necessary to stop them once they've started, then hey, you are either uncivilized (unable to participate and preserve the rule of law) or evil (also a rapist or killer). There's room for you in a free society. But I'd volunteer at a women's shelter for a little while if I were you. Get some perspective on those harmed by evil.
posted by ewkpates at 1:21 PM on February 2, 2004


I think it's important to note, ewkpates, that not a single nation entered World War Two in order to save the Jews of Europe from the gas chambers. Hell, I don't think there even were any gas chambers until mid-'41 or so, and the Allies certainly didn't realize the horrifying extent of the "final solution" until the camps were liberated. It was an undeniably good thing that the Nazi death machine was stopped, but it's also undeniable that it was stopped not out of international humanitarian concern, but as a side effect of the international response to Hitler's militaristic expansionism.

And even more, I'll suggest that people who won't fight to preserve the safety of those who can't are "A bunch of mindless jerks...."

Well, your hypothetical is a simple enough moral situation. We're not talking about walking up to Kim Jong-il and blowing his brains out, though. We're talking about starting a war. In any war, innocent lives will be lost. In the proposed war, enormous numbers of innocent non-combatants could be killed. Don't these innocents deserve some consideration, too?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:56 PM on February 2, 2004


"If you are unwilling to use the force necessary to stop them once they've started, then hey, you are either uncivilized (unable to participate and preserve the rule of law) or evil (also a rapist or killer)." - I disagree, and my objection can be illustrated by a simple reductio ad absurdum : Imagine a terrorist or a criminal who is inflicting suffering on a small group of kidnapped citizens. Then, imagine a response to this "atrocity" which is wildly disproportionate, such that it kills ten innocents for every one potential atrocity victim rescued. Of course, the long term killing potential of that criminal-terrorist must be taken into account - but recent history has showed that murderous regimes can be resolved through peaceable means, as with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process.

So my question - are there cases in which the moral imperative to prevent atrocity is undermined by the potential ramifications of doing so ?

To demonstrate that I'm not unaware of the DRK's atrocities, here is a comment which I wrote earlier today and never posted :

"kasava - The mention of the US invasion of Iraq in the context of this discussion was appropriate, in my opinion, for the fact that on the basis of the Bush Administration's stated justifications for invading Iraq, North Korea should logically have been invaded instead of Iraq.

Weapons of Mass Destruction ? North Korea probably has biological weapons, and it likely has at least one crude nuclear weapon, maybe more - it is making a desperate bid to join the nuclear club. And, as PenDevil notes, the combined force of the tens of thousands of artillery tubes pointed at Seoul constitute a brutally effective "WMD". One cannot argue against the sheer brutality of a regime which seeks to preserve itself and ward off invasions by holding millions hostage.

As for North Korea's human rights record......after a brief review of the subject, I decided that I thought the use of the term itself, "Human Rights", in relation to North Korea, to be perhaps inappropriate for the fact that "Human Rights", as commonly understood around the world, do not generally exist in North Korea. I don't want to ruin anyone's day with the details - but suffice it to say that the range of human rights violations (mass starvation, mass killings, concentration camps, the most appalling types of torture, biological experimentation on live human subjects, and so on) and the sheer scale of the violations, in proportion to the size of North Korea's overall population, place the Kim Il Sun/Kim Jong Il regime at the top of my personal "Evil Regime" roster.

And the Bush Administration charges and insinuations - that Iraq, under Hussein, had close connections to Islamic terrorism.....I won't even grace these claims with a rebuttal. They are too feeble for that.

Saddam's Baathist regime could not hold a candle to the DRK, in terms of This is a regime which devoted scarce resources to it's grotesquely large military, paramilitary and indoctrination/political enforcement cadres while hundreds of thousands starved. Overall, about 10% of North Korea's population has died from starvation - some 1.5 to 3 million (by most accounts though the exact figures may never be known), and this regimes' direct killings amount to, certainly, hundreds of thousands.

In the event of an invasion, reports one escaped refugee, the DRK's specially trained (and fed) political enforcement guard-goons are under orders to herd their concentration camp inmates into mineshafts which will then be - if the threat proves real (as in the approach of an invading force) - blown up.

Not that anyone needs this information, but to hammer home my point : "SHOCKING REPORT : Political Prisoners' Camps in North Korea (1/10)" : "The testimony of An Myong-chol, an ex-guard at a political prisoners' camp in North Korea" (PDF 268K). US Dept. of State :     
"Korea, Democratic People's Republic of :
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices  - 2001

( "Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor" ). I found this excellent, if somewhat dated tabulation of mass killings in the 20th Century, to place the crimes of the DRK in proper perspective ( Note : the DRK's "death count" his risen since this web resource was compiled ) . For an excellent overview, see The Madness of Kin Jong Il Human Rights Watch's 2002 report on the mass exodus of refugees from North Korea

Meanwhile - in comparison - the larger part of Saddam Hussein's mass killings seem to have occured either immediately following the close of the first Gulf War, [ during the abortive uprisings against the Hussein's Baathist regime, in the north and far south of Iraq - which were touched off by US exhortations to revolt but not supported by US troops - as the rebel forces were ruthlessly slaughtered by Republican Guard forces, some using chemical weapons. ] or earlier, when Iraq was a US ally of convenience as a counterweight to Iran and George Bush Sr.'s administration gave tacit approval to Hussein's outnumbered army's use of gas attacks to blunt Iranian army offensives. Baathist atrocities during this period were - of course - overlooked by Rumsfeld and company.

______________________________________________

So it is no wonder that - on this well established historical record showing, at the onset of the US invasion of Iraq 1) North Korea posed a substantially greater WMD threat than Iraq (and subsequent investigation has revealed that Iraq posed little to no WMD threat at all) and 2) North Korea's crimes against humanity possibly exceeded those of Iraq's by up to one order of magnitude.

Little surprise, then, that observers in the US and around the World have looked elsewhere than to the Bush Administration's stated (and shifting) rationals for invading Iraq. Uncovering the actual reasons for the US invasion of Iraq has been made simple for the fact that they were 1) laid out quite explicitly in the 2001 PNAC document, "Rebuilding America's Defenses" (with an accompanying geopolitical rational elaborated in Zbigniew Brzezinski's 1997 work, "The Grand Chessboard") and 2) Also rather painfully obvious as well in the convergent financial connections of the many in the Bush Administration and associated politcal allies who stand to financially benefit from the Iraq gambit both directly and indirectly.

This perfect storm of underlying motivations - the "Iraq as the Democratic domino to transform the Mideast" rational of Wolfowitz and Perle (with a corollary interest in the subsequent benefit to Israel for a number of reasons including the elimination of Iraq's patronage of radical palestinian elements), The dynastic obsessions (as described by Kevin phillips) of George W. Bush - Iraq, Saddam, oil, etc., The larger geopolitical strategy of Brzezinski, Don Rumsfeld's desire for a testing ground for his new, streamlined and technologically empowered, wired military, the overall benefit to the military-industrial complex connected Bush cabinet implied - in a boost in defense spending and a handy new proving ground for new weapons systems ( and a training ground for urban warfare tactics likely to be especially useful in 21st century conflicts ) - in the invasion of Iraq......Motivations aplenty, but not those served up to a skeptical world public.
"
posted by troutfishing at 7:52 PM on February 2, 2004


I'm in rare agreement with hama7 on this - the DRK is EVIL.... I won't mince words.

But how this situation can be best dealt with - with minimal loss of human life - that's a difficult question.
posted by troutfishing at 7:55 PM on February 2, 2004


Me too, FWIW.

North Korea sounds horrible. However, it's worth pointing out that for most people, it's probably not as bad as all that.

This is one of the most stunningly ignorant things I've ever read here, along the lines of, "Sure, slavery was a bad thing, but at least the slaves were well taken care of."

Do some goddamn research before you favor us with gems like this, will you?

(I'm intemporate here, I know. I'd apologize but for the fact that, past a certain point, ignorance is indistinguishable from complicity in evil.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:16 PM on February 2, 2004


Meanwhile, "Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has told investigators that he helped North Korea design and equip facilities for making weapons-grade uranium with the knowledge of senior military commanders, including Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, according to a friend of Khan's and a senior Pakistani investigator."
posted by homunculus at 9:09 PM on February 2, 2004


Can I just say that "Pervez" is, like, the world's coolest name? I wish I had been named Pervez.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:15 PM on February 2, 2004


troutfishing said: But how this situation can be best dealt with - with minimal loss of human life - that's a difficult question.

And that is the million dollar question that all of us Koreaphiles struggle with. I've yet to see a decent solution, it is most frustrating. Saying that sounds lame, it is the maddening!
posted by Plunge at 9:28 PM on February 2, 2004


Some little factoids that hasn't come up yet in this thread:posted by Schnauzer at 12:32 AM on February 3, 2004


"They call for harsh punishments, but they do so not because it makes good policy, but because it satisfies their own emotional urges. It resonates deeply with our reptilian brains to condemn and punish those who commit the worst sins, but it is not good policy.

Those who are not able to look beyond their emotions at cause and effect should not judge and they should not rule. Their moral compass is too limited."

Eloquently put, and I agree with Eloquence on this - that the calls of the moral absolutists, those who wield the language of unqualified "Good and Evil", are politically counterproductive and their fitness as rulers is thus in question. And even - as the case could perhaps be made - if the absolutist rhetoric of "Good and Evil" could sometimes be reasonably and productively wielded by politicians, questions of political language and rhetoric are largely irrelevant to the question of North Korea :

As I argue below, the Bush Administration's manichean "Axis of Evil" rhetoric ( credit Mr. "God is on the side of the Bush Administration" Frum for that one ) has inflamed the long simmering crisis of North Korea even as the US occupation of Iraq has left the Bush Administration - and perhaps a succeeding democratic US administration as well - few options in dealing with North Korea. Short of the construction of a truly internationalist military coalition as was patiently built by George Bush Sr.'s Administration prior to the first Gulf War (and this likely would take a year, at the least) the US' North Korea policy is, for duration, mostly toothless.

Well then. We can equip an army of our most zealous moral absolutists - girded by the rectitude of their moral clarity - to boldly march across the DMZ ( hama7 can provide rhetorical suppressing fire ), amidst a ringing chorus of the "Battle Hymn of The Republic", and on to Pyongyang, to gum Kim Il Jong to death.

_______________________________________________

"Iraq was no North Korea" - Troutfishing

I know that this post isn't explicitly about Iraq - insofar as it concerns the question of whether there is a moral imperative for the world (read - the US, perhaps with a backing coalition) to arrest the atrocious ongoing human rights violations of the DRK.

With occasional exceptions here on this discussion, there is an unusually broad (for Metafilter) agreement in this discussion on the fact that the DRK is guilty of extensive atrocities and human rights violations and that it would be appropriate - in theory at least - to overthrow that brutal regime.

But there are practical considerations - the most salient of which is the DRK's WMD threats, by way of it's 30,000 artillery tubed pointing at Seoul and also the possibility that the DRK has a few nuclear weapons with which it might be able to use to obliterate one or more Asian cities.

I argued a year and a month ago in my "Proliferation 101" Metafilter post that the DRK accelerated it's nuclear weapons program in response, at least partially, to overheated Bush Administration rhetoric on WMD's, the new Bush Doctrine of Preemption, it's "Axis of Evil&quoit; rhetoric, and so on. Here is my fantasy, from that post, of what the dark's highest level military analysts, writing a brief for Kim jog Il, had likely concluded :

CONCLUSION - Due to numerous US statements, and the inclusion of North Korea in the US' so-called &quoit;Axis of Evil&quoit;, we must assume that the US will, in the near future (1-4 years), attempt to exert significant military pressure to topple the North Korean Government. We must also assume that the US may have the capacity to neutralize (or substantially neutralize) our counterforce measures aimed at Seoul. We must assume, for our national security, that we may lack a sufficient counterforce to deter the Americans, and that the only way we can prevent this is to develop, as fast as possible, the largest possible force of nuclear weapons - which can be delivered reliably by our missiles (at LEAST within the Asian theatre). Due to the American efforts to develop anti-missile defenses, presumably to be deployed to neutralize out counterforce, we must marshall all available national resources to build the largest possible nuclear force in the shortest possible period of time.

RECOMMENDATION: Restart reactor program, optimize for maximum plutonium production. Channel maximum resources towards nuclear weapon and missile development programs."


But despite the Bush Administration's incandescent "Axis of Evil" and preemption of WMD threats rhetoric, the new doctrines did not, apparently, apply to North Korea :

"January 1, 2003, New York Times

"President Makes Case That North Korea Is No Iraq
By DAVID E. SANGER

CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 31 ? President Bush drew a sharp distinction today between the nuclear standoff with North Korea and his confrontation with Iraq, saying he was certain that weapons projects in North Korea could be stopped "peacefully, through diplomacy." He said that Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, "hasn't heard the message" that he must disarm, or face military action.

Answering questions on his way into the only coffee shop in this one-stoplight town near his ranch, Mr. Bush issued no demands that North Korea halt the nuclear programs it has threatened to restart, and he did not mentioned the ouster today of the international inspectors who have monitored activity at the country's primary nuclear site.

"I believe this is not a military showdown, this is a diplomatic showdown," the president said, on his way to get a cheeseburger and to chat with his neighbors here. "

(from my "Proliferation 101" post) "Considering Y2karl's background links, wouldn't it be more accurate for George Bush to say "Iraq is no North Korea"? North Korea sounds like a far more cohesive, potent military threat to me. Any challenges on this one? - posted by troutfishing at 10:09 PM PST on January 1 [2003]"


Josh Marshall - a far more practiced political observer than I - nailed the Bush Administration weakness and flip-flopping on North Korea : "[ The Bush Administration ] flip-flopped back and forth between Powell's policy of engagement (which was essentially a continuation of the Clinton policy) and the hawks' policy of confrontation. In so doing it's let the whole thing spin out of control.....One of the most important rules of foreign policy is not to let yourself get pushed around. An even more important rule, though, is not to make threats or issue ultimatums that you either can't or won't follow through on. That not only makes you look weak. It also makes you into an object of contempt. That's just what the administration has done in this case.

The White House called the Clinton policy craven and dishonorable. That policy was essentially to pay the North Koreans to behave and hope that in the medium-term a better solution -- perhaps a soft landing in the North -- would arise. Not pretty certainly, but it was a difficult situation.

The Bushies told the North Koreans that they either had to shape up or we'd take them out. Now the North Koreans have called our bluff...."


_______________________________________________

So what has changed over the course of the following year ? Well, the US invaded Iraq and now - with troops in two different engagement - has a military which is stretched to the breaking point. Short of the reimposition of the draft, the US simply doesn't have the trained troops necessary for the project of invading North Korea. Not even close. I'd imagine that we would need 500,000 troops on the ground (probably one million, even). I don't think the US really has 50,000 to spare at the moment.

So the invasion and occupation of Iraq has precluded military options for dealing with the DRK.

Now, I do think that the Bush Administration thought that Iraq had some sort of tattered WMD threat prior to the invasion - but I suspect they considered it a low probability that Iraq had the capability to actually deliver those WMD's to any foreign population centers. I imagine that they planned to find enough chemical weapon artillery shells, a low level nuclear weapons program many years from building an actual nuclear device, and a program to build crude biological weapons. Plenty - in their estimation - to justify their alarming pre-invasion claims, if not the British government's "45 minute" hyperbole.

But that didn't happen. Iraq had - for the practical purposes of all but the die-hard loyalists of the Bush and Blair Administrations - exactly zero WMD's (Zip. Zilch) and so the Bush speech writers have retreated to emphasizing Iraq's "Weapons of Mass destruction Related Activities" . This label is quite safe - as it can be extended to an absurd range of human activity. For example : if I wanted to build my own personal WMD force, where would I start ? Well, I know very little about WMD construction, from a technical standpoint. So I would need to make a trip to my local library. That, then, would be a "Weapons of Mass destruction Related Activity", as would be my get-rich-quick mass emailing spam empire which I cranked up to fund my WMD program. In fact everything I did, bought, sold, learned, talked, ate, excreted - my entire life, really - would amount to "Weapons of Mass Destruction Related Activities".

So Iraq was a WMD paper tiger. And then, then........

There's North Korea.

Lacking credible support for it's WMD justification, the Bush Administration has taken to talking up it's Iraq venture as a humanitarian mission. No one is challenging the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime, and so this justification carries some weight with Americans but much of the world looks at the US' shifting justifications with a jaundiced, cynical eye.

Rather than convincing the World that US foreign policy is driven by benign humanitarian motives, the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq has achieved quite the opposite and hence Loquacious' quote on this thread : "We've wasted and blown our street cred, our wuffie. Over and over again. Cried wolf. Taken a legacy and shot it to hell."

So now, I suspect that a Bush Administration campaign to gather World support for an invasion of North Korea on humanitarian grounds would be greeted by peals of laughter ringing 'round the glode.

____________________________________________

The net effect of the US invasion of Iraq has been to preclude, on the two most crucial fronts, any significant action on North Korea. This is unfortunate for the fact that - as brutal as Saddam Hussein's regime was - North Korea's human rights violations are even more egregious and - further - they actually possess a credible WMD threat, at least by virtue of their ability to lay waste to Seoul with artillery, if not also by way of crude nuclear devices and maybe by way of biological weapons as well.

So the Bush Administration has effectively managed to teach North Korea and the World that - 1) Per the example of Iraq, the US is to be taken quite seriously and 2) Per the example of North Korea, when it comes right down to it - the only language the US understands is the language of force and so, finally, 3) the only way to make one's country relatively immune to US military pressure or a US invasion is to acquire a credible WMD threat !

Proliferation 101.

Remember that these Machiavellian lessons come amidst a substantial degradation of international treaties and obligations on weapons and WMD's, as the US has pulled out of a wide variety of International treaties and conventions on nuclear and biological weapons, antimissile technologies, and so on.

Regarding these developments and also the lessons on Iraq and North Korea which I outline above, nations of the World must conclude - and especially if George W. Bush is re-elected for a second presidential term - that they would be best advised to put the highest priority on (quietly) acquiring WMD's or accelerating existing WMD programs.

Proliferation 101. And, now, back to North Korea -

The US is now tied down in the Mideast - it cannot project a credible military threat for the moment, to the DRK. So North Korea will continue grinding along, brutalizing it's own people and building up it's WMD arsenal.

For this, the Bush Administration's bombastic "We will tolerate no WMD proliferation anywhere on the Globe" rhetoric has been revealed for what it was - a gassy wind reeking of bullshit.

And so we return, finally, back at our starting point - the men, women and children being starved, brutally raped, devoured by dogs, tortured in unspeakable ways, and generally degraded toa subhuman level in the North Korean concentration camps.......For a start, those who care could try praying for them.
posted by troutfishing at 8:28 AM on February 3, 2004


the Allies certainly didn't realize the horrifying extent of the "final solution" until the camps were liberated

This is untrue. Henry Morgenthau, FDR's Treasury Secretary, had been urging Henry Stimson, the War Secretary, to bomb Auschwitz as early as 1943. FDR would authorize nothing on this front, as he was politically sensitive on appearing too open to Jewish interests.

The truth is that the countries of the world have a long history of standing by while atrocities occur and doing nothing until it is in their political interest to intervene.

I am terrified by the DRK and Kim Jong-Il, and believe that we will end up in a second, very destructive Korean War before the end of my life.
posted by rocketman at 10:04 AM on February 3, 2004


"This is untrue. Henry Morgenthau, FDR's Treasury Secretary, had been urging Henry Stimson, the War Secretary, to bomb Auschwitz as early as 1943." - Rocketman, I questioned that point too, and seemed to recall differently, but a quick googling pulled up only junk and so I filed it for future reference, though I was considering posting this as an AskMetafilter question.

To return the favor, you might be interested in this recent comment by Languagehat concerning : "This obsession with colonizing Palestine and overwhelming the Arabs led the Zionist movement to oppose any idea of rescuing the Jews who were facing extermination, because this would have impeded the ability to select and divert manpower to Palestine. From 1933 to 1935, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) turned down two thirds of all the German Jews who applied for immigration certificates.

The WZO did not only fail to seek any alternative for the Jews facing the Holocaust, but it also opposed all efforts aimed at finding refuge for the fleeing Jews."






posted by troutfishing at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2004


What I recalled, among other things, was that 1) The US and the allies knew of the concentration camps and that the Nazis were killing jews on a large scale - even though, as some argue, they might not have known the full extent of this, and 2) The Allies had the resources to open up a second front, in France, at least a year before they actually did so and perhaps even earlier than that. They would have suffered far more casualties. Instead, they chose to hold off and let the Russians do the bulk of the fighting on the Eastern Front. But this probably sealed the fate of many killed in the Holocaust.

Nobody - no government at least and not even the WZO - seemed to give much of a damn about the fate of the European jews.
posted by troutfishing at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2004


Sorry to derail but how could the WZO turn down immigration applications? I was unaware the US and the UK turned over their immigration offices to the WZO. They certainly weren't turning down immigrants to Israel considering that the 'fifth aliyah' was in full swing from 1932-1939. That page languagehat cites is less than convincing.

The Brits did however curb all immigration of Jews to then Palestine during 1933-45...

And now back to your regular thread.
posted by PenDevil at 11:48 AM on February 3, 2004


troutfishing:

I'm currently reading The Conquerors by Michael Beschloss, which is a pretty thorough account of Roosevelt's postwar-Germany planning. It supports your assertion that FDR and Churchill delayed opening the second front in France (FDR said it was to save American lives, though it may have also been an effort to weaken the Red Army), and while I would agree that the "full extent" of the Holocaust wasn't know until post-liberation, the Allies knew Hitler was rounding up Jews and killing them. They may have not known how many millions, but they knew it was big.

Again (and here's where I link this back into the thread topic), FDR was sensitive to the accusation that he was under control of the Jews - having a Jewish Treasury Secretary was daring enough - and it was difficult to find political support for saving non-American lives by risking American lives. Similarly, there is close to zero political support for any kind of military intervention in DRK: how many Americans do you think would support putting troops down to stop North Korea from killing North Koreans?

My fear is that the American public will not be interested in stopping North Korea until war in East Asia is inevitable. The Bush administration could make progress there, if only they were convinced that those gains would translate into better polling of President Bush. Unfortunately, Americans are generally disengaged from what's happening elsewhere in the world.
posted by rocketman at 1:25 PM on February 3, 2004


PenDevil - I don't have a quick answer, but I'll look into that objection.

rocketman - "the Allies knew Hitler was rounding up Jews and killing them. They may have not known how many millions, but they knew it was big" - That's what I thought. Do you know of other reputable sources which talk about this ? I'm interested in this specific historical angle.

As for North Korea, well......I think that the situation demands a long range focus which Americans, with their short historical attention spans, find challenging. I think that the ruling structure of the DRK - with sufficient World, American, and especially Chinese pressure as well as immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity - could be persuaded to back off from it's WMD brinksmanship and open up to the world. But that would demand the sort of skilled long term diplomacy which is currently out of vogue with political campaign managers and out of sync with the shifting winds of opinion polling.

In US politics, opinion polls have the sort of "tyranny of the mob" impact which early critics of American Democracy feared - and this tyranny, with it's shifting winds, makes dealing with those foreign powers - especially those long term tyrannies which can hold an unwavering political focus - quite problematic.
posted by troutfishing at 8:07 PM on February 3, 2004


The question, as ever, is how do we help the citizens without helping the government. Alternatively, you could phrase that, how do you attack the government without attacking the citizens?
Diplomacy would seem the best way to acheive these ends.
Maybe the Georgia model could help the citizens in the long run.
posted by asok at 3:27 AM on February 4, 2004


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