Life in a North Korean Concentration Camp
June 23, 2009 2:03 AM   Subscribe

North Korea's concentration camps reportedly contain over half a million citizens, and is possibly one of the worst cases of systematic human rights abuses occurring in the world today. Ahn Myong Chol, an ex-prison guard, describes the conditions of the inmates of Camp 22, in objective and chilling detail. On medical experiments being performed on prisoners: "....the glass chamber has 3 main subdivisions: one is for blood experiments, another is for poison gas, and the third is for suffocation gas. 3 or 4 people, normally a family, are experimented on. The scientists sit around the edge and watch from above...".

Chol's description of camp life, the psychology of being a prison guard and his victims: "If I was in a bad mood, I would find an excuse (to torture.) It's just like pigs or dogs. You could beat them everyday without caring if they lived or died. Everyday. For around 3 years I enjoyed torturing people."

Shin Dong Hyuk, a young man who was actually born into a prison camp, is the only known survivor to escape Camp 14. Now in South Korea, he tells the stunning story of what is was like to be born in a prison camp, and the stark contrast of life outside of it. "Mothers get beaten during their work so they come home and beat their kids to relieve stress. We only called our parents mom and dad. There is no caring relationship between the parents and their children like in South Korea. I had never felt it even once."
posted by thisperon (91 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's just like pigs or dogs. You could beat them everyday without caring if they lived or died.

Whoa, back up there.
posted by crapmatic at 3:21 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah crapmatic, I mean if you go around beating your pigs and dogs every day when it's time to slaughter them they aren't going to be very tasty.
posted by public at 3:26 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a brutalised upbringing. He's got as far as extending empathy to other humans, which is a big step. Even his progress so far and the changes he has made are extremely positive, so I think it's a little unfair to expect him to be a PETA member just at the moment.
posted by jaduncan at 3:33 AM on June 23, 2009 [12 favorites]


Yeah crapmatic, I mean if you go around beating your pigs and dogs every day when it's time to slaughter them they aren't going to be very tasty.

Two former co-workers of mine, who were a married couple, taught English in Korea for a year. They lived between a brothel and a dog farm. The dogs were beaten daily in order to tenderize the meat for when they were butchered.
posted by orange swan at 3:42 AM on June 23, 2009


That doesn't make it right.
posted by item at 3:44 AM on June 23, 2009


"The dogs were beaten daily in order to tenderize the meat for when they were butchered."

All of my college colleagues (and I) eat eggs at the college cafeteria. The chickens are given so many hormones their legs often break. The workers who do so know this. They know nothing but a prison cell from birth to death. Although not so extreme, similar is true of the bacon. The workers then go home and are regarded as normal people in exactly the way that Koreans wouldn't criticise the dog beaters. It's always seemed a little hypocritical to me that LOLEATSDOGS gets so much play. But this is a side point to NK, so I shall shut up now.
posted by jaduncan at 3:50 AM on June 23, 2009 [19 favorites]


At some point in the future, NK will have to integrate with the rest of the world. Given that the German unification is still incomplete, I shudder to think what's going to happen to NK at that time. These stories don't improve my confidence in the outcome...
posted by DreamerFi at 3:55 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why does google maps carry no detail for North Korea at all? Not even major cities are marked.
posted by mattoxic at 3:56 AM on June 23, 2009


I've no idea why Google Maps have no details, but this amateur mapping project is interesting. Also Google Maps show satellite images of NK.
posted by Harald74 at 4:01 AM on June 23, 2009


Some of these camps have been identified by amateurs using Google Earth. They're keeping a POI database of North Korea. It made the news recently.
posted by johnjreiser at 4:02 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Considering I was beat by mere seconds, I'll throw in 1980s topo maps of North Korea. The Map Room has a sample from the topos. They're Russian, so they may not have had the camps removed. They may also predate several of the camps.
posted by johnjreiser at 4:06 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Why does google maps carry no detail for North Korea at all? Not even major cities are marked."

"We never launched coverage in some countries because we simply weren't satisfied with the map data we had available. We're constantly searching for the best map data we can find, and sometimes will delay launching coverage in a country if we think we can get more comprehensive data."

But you may find this interesting, it's a quite detailed map that's done as a Google Earth layer. The story of the creation of that map is here.

Crowd sourced intel, really. Anonymous effectively has spy satellites now.
posted by jaduncan at 4:06 AM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


"We never launched coverage in some countries because we simply weren't satisfied with the map data we had available. We're constantly searching for the best map data we can find, and sometimes will delay launching coverage in a country if we think we can get more comprehensive data."

That and we don't want to supply the regime with a valuable tool, let them launch their own satellites.
posted by mattoxic at 4:16 AM on June 23, 2009


I found these videos very interesting - thank you thisperson. Could we please talk about them? I am not particularly interested in PETA and animal cruelty debates in this context, it is not what these videos are about.

If this world were a just one, we would be compelled to end this regime forcibly. We can't leave it to the people of North Korea, the police state is too pervasive and its control is too absolute.

Interesting that the escapee still now only cares about food.

"When you go back to Denmark, don't forget us. We have been to Seoul Tower together, and that also calls for celebration."
posted by Meatbomb at 4:18 AM on June 23, 2009


the police state is too pervasive and its control is too absolute

yea, i saw this vice travel guide to n.korea recently -- 1 2 3 -- that was completely insane... which reminded me of this part from karina longworth's antichrist review: "There’s a great documentary playing in the market, which I’ll get to in my next Diary post, called Disco and Atomic War, which details the conflict between hard power, meaning the use of guns and bribes and such as a method of coersion, and soft power, which has more to do with the dissemination of images and ideas that have no real power on their own, but become extremely powerful by virtue of the fact that they make the people of a closed state want something outside of it, making heads of state fear the disruption of their ideological control. The doc uses the notion of soft power in talking about how the infiltration of Western pop and, particularly, the broadcasting of things like Emmanuelle and Dallas on Finnish TV, helped to erode the USSR."
posted by kliuless at 4:41 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


"If this world were a just one, we would be compelled to end this regime forcibly. We can't leave it to the people of North Korea, the police state is too pervasive and its control is too absolute."

No. The lives of these people are fewer than the lives that would be extinguished in a mass artillery barrage (including biological and chemical weapons) that killed most of Seoul. Those very camp tests should tell you they are serious about it. Even leaving aside nukes. As harsh as it is, containing the regime is the right thing to do. It causes the least suffering, and the least death.

Also, you don't know what bioagents they have. Given the fact that the point of a biological weapons program is to develop diseases without a known cure, it is quite possible to imagine the deaths of billions.

I am shocked at myself for coming to that conclusion, but intervention is not the correct thing here, and is almost impossible to justify.
posted by jaduncan at 4:41 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Behaviors of this nature are often called inhuman. Incorrect. Very human. In fact, only human -- no animal tortures another. Animals will eat one another, they'll establish dominion if they're pack animals, a pecking order, and you'll get put back in place instantly if you try to upset that order. So there is that.

But people. Ah, people. We are the ones who torture one another. We sanction it, desensitize ourselves to it, we train for it, we're told it's the right thing to do and we believe it, and we do it, and we do it with a will, we do it with vigor, we do it for our country and our god, we do it with joy in our hearts.

You have seen some of the training manuals from The School of The Americas, right? Those were written by US citizens, maybe your uncle, or mine, maybe the nice old guy who lives down the street, pets your dog when you walk by.

That prison guard is you. Me. Any human, at any point in recorded history, any of us is capable of these things. Inside every human is the potential for warmth and caring and kindness, there is the potential of MLK or Mother Theresa. But. Also. Inside every human being there is the potential of Hitler, there is the potential of Cheney, there is the potential of Joseph Stalin.

It gets really confusing when all of those traits show up in one person, how Hitler loved children, the look of total peace and love in Cheney's eyes when thinking about stealing money or waterboarding other human beings, calling it 'a dunk in water' -- I'm so proud to be a US citizen, sometimes I just want to burst into song!

Let's don't kid ourselves, let's not judge this guard, let's not say that he's done anything we would never, ever do. We could easily be duped into doing the same things that Germans did in the 1930s and 1940s, in fact many of us were duped, recently, our adventures in Iraq every bit unjustified as anything Hitler did, the murders our military men and their leaders committed there every bit as heinous, though on a smaller scale. Thus far.

I don't know exactly why I'm writing this, I saw this guard getting put into the 'Them' category, and there isn't a 'Them' category; we all of us live in the 'human' category, and we act accordingly.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:41 AM on June 23, 2009 [43 favorites]


Interesting that the escapee still now only cares about food.

I've read before that when people have undergone starvation, they react by eating voraciously when food becomes available, and not for just the time it takes them to get to their ideal weight. It can take a few years for that constant hunger to go away.
posted by orange swan at 5:01 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Amen, dancestoblue.
posted by Hobgoblin at 5:17 AM on June 23, 2009


In Marguerite Duras' memoir The War, when her husband is rescued from a prison camp, he is skeletally malnourished, In the early stages of recovery, he cries at the table because the more he eats, the hungrier he gets.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:21 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


dancestoblue I don't know exactly why I'm writing this, I saw this guard getting put into the 'Them' category, and there isn't a 'Them' category; we all of us live in the 'human' category, and we act accordingly.

For a child brainwashed from birth to feel no empathy or compassion for other living things, OK. But most humans are exposed to some degree of conflicting information and opinions and values, and I'm not willing to dispense with free will so completely as to agree that anyone will do anything and it's all about circumstances

No - in Nazi Germany, in the slaveholding United States, in My Lai, in the Milgram experiment - in every group of people encouraged to commit immoral actions, there are those who say "no". Maybe they passively refuse to participate or actively work to convince or coerce others to stop. That's a choice every person has. You may pay for that choice with a loss of status or material rewards or even your freedom or your life, but it's still your choice

To pretend that choice doesn't exist denigrates the moral courage of those who do the right thing as much as it minimizes the moral cowardice of those who don't
posted by crayz at 5:24 AM on June 23, 2009 [19 favorites]


crayz, the milgram experiment, my lai and nazi germany are different from things like the slaveholding united states, ancient rome, imperialist europe, etc. They are aberrations in the culture. Whereas if your culture holds slaves as normal, imperialism as normal, etc. that's much harder to break out of. It's hella easy to charge someone with "cowardice" when you have grown up with different values.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:43 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Stealing this from the last thread on North Korea. If anyone has a subscription to Harpers, you should definitely read Made in North Korea. It's fucking depressing.
Hun-sik Kim was the principal of Pyongyang Light Engineering College. She was sentenced to a five-year imprisonment for suggesting to the City Education Board that her students' labor responsibility be reduced so that they could spend more time studying. In prison, she was assigned the work of measuring fabric to produce jackets, which were to be given as gifts to workers outside by the president on his birthday. One time, she miscalculated the imported nylon fabric but immediately corrected the error and no fabric was wasted. However, she was detained in the punishment cell for ten days for "attempting sabotage." She was crippled and partly paralyzed when she was released from the punishment cell. On a very hot summer day in August, the camp doctors burned her bottom with heated stones to see if she could feel pain. She never felt any pain when her flesh was burning. Just before she died a few weeks later, she whispered to me, with a twittering tongue and tears in her eyes, "I want to see the blue sky. You know my children are waiting for me."
posted by chunking express at 6:21 AM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


keep in mind, these are the places where those Current TV reporters are heading (or already are)
posted by delmoi at 6:33 AM on June 23, 2009



keep in mind, these are the places where those Current TV reporters are heading (or already are)


That's terrifying.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:49 AM on June 23, 2009


Even leaving aside nukes. As harsh as it is, containing the regime is the right thing to do. It causes the least suffering, and the least death.
...

I am shocked at myself for coming to that conclusion, but intervention is not the correct thing here, and is almost impossible to justify.


I mostly agree with this comment, jaduncan, with one minor adjustment. Now I can't begin to suggest how to accomplish this specificially, but it seems to me that mere containment isn't enough. The West needs to find ways to break North Korea out of its self-absorption and cultural isolation, and to exert a liberalizing influence on North Korea without at the same time actively promoting violent dissent or feeding the paranoia of its regime. Making paranoid regimes more anxious about their security leads them to become more autocratic and authoritarian. It's sometimes tacitly assumed in foreign policy planning circles, I suspect, that it can actually be good policy to goad regimes like this into becoming more brutal, until they overstep and lose the political loyalty of their own people. But I think that approach has a tendency to backfire, and undercut our own position.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2009


Well, in hindsight we could possibly justify intervention. AFTER they launch all their chemical weapons and nukes at Japan and South Korea, then we can berate ourselves for not intervening. Of course, we don't know that they'll ever do that. But we certainly don't know that they won't do that either. Their new leader, or leader-to-be, Kim Jong Un, is allegedly a drunk. Wouldn't that be a weird reason to see the world go down in flames -- because some drunk guy with a pile of deadly WMDs pushes the button in a fit of rage over not having a cold brew in his hand immediately after ordering one brought to him. These are the strange and crazy times in which we live, that such a thing is even possible.
posted by jamstigator at 7:02 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're not going to do anything until China gives the okay.
posted by furtive at 7:19 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why does google maps carry no detail for North Korea at all? Not even major cities are marked.

Multiple maps of North Korea here.
posted by blucevalo at 7:19 AM on June 23, 2009


"I mostly agree with this comment, jaduncan, with one minor adjustment. Now I can't begin to suggest how to accomplish this specificially, but it seems to me that mere containment isn't enough. The West needs to find ways to break North Korea out of its self-absorption and cultural isolation, and to exert a liberalizing influence on North Korea without at the same time actively promoting violent dissent or feeding the paranoia of its regime. Making paranoid regimes more anxious about their security leads them to become more autocratic and authoritarian. It's sometimes tacitly assumed in foreign policy planning circles, I suspect, that it can actually be good policy to goad regimes like this into becoming more brutal, until they overstep and lose the political loyalty of their own people. But I think that approach has a tendency to backfire, and undercut our own position."

I suspect that influence on a subtle intelligence level to influence decision makers is the Chinese plan. I think China can do it, and is a notable example of success in reforming in the way that NK could. So I'm dubious about how much the West should be involved in that. I'd also say the more active the intervention, the easier it is to paint it as counter-revolutionary. It has to be subtle, and so it's best it comes from another authoritarian Communist state who are a traditional ally. I don't think one can start talking culturally to the population as it's likely they'll be killed for consuming Western media. There's no line of communication there.

It's a hard problem to solve, especially as DPRK elites care much less about human rights than Iranians, for example.
posted by jaduncan at 7:19 AM on June 23, 2009


Thinking of North Korea as a cult instead of a country is probably useful. The kind of mind control the first guy in the video described was typical of extreme cultic thought. There is no way to talk rationally to people under that kind of mental conditioning.

In Jonestown, there were a few people who tried to run into the jungle (and were shot), but most willingly drank the cyanide and gave it to their own children. Remember, this was because they felt threatened by an outside power.

Given the possibility of the government unleashing nuclear or biological weaponry upon the world in the last paroxysms of suicide, it would be foolish to try to actively threaten the cult/country at this point, as cruel as it may sound to ignore the sufferings of North Korea's people.
posted by kozad at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh don't start mentioning WMDs and "we should intervene", we've had that trip, and it didn't go well.
posted by mattoxic at 7:45 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]



Oh don't start mentioning WMDs and "we should intervene", we've had that trip, and it didn't go well.


Yeah too bad they couldn't have saved it for the real thing.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:46 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, isolate from normal lifestyles, channel hate into hierarchy, normalize violence, and you have self perpetuating system. Since it's so tightly bound into the perception of being an isolated martyr, attacked on all sides, it becomes really hard to figure out how to break that open, especially when you don't have an exchange or exposure to other ways to live...
posted by yeloson at 8:12 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


My cup of misanthropy, it runneth over.
posted by kldickson at 8:43 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


before i join the resident outragereros, which pounce on every remotely political thread here now: is this single-source story believable? or is it too revolting to be true? anyone know more about that?
posted by krautland at 8:48 AM on June 23, 2009


While I am fully aware of the human capacity for incredible and unnecessary cruelty - the Holocaust, the Khmer Rouge, for example - I think it would be better to view this with some skepticism.

In the days leading up to the American liberation of Kuwait, there were stories of Iraqi soldiers entering the hospitals and yanking babies from incubators, killing them. There was a widely disseminated and compelling video of a woman crying about her family being killed. Turns out the stories about the babies were complete lies, and the crying woman was recognized as the daughter of a Kuwaiti diplomat, whose family lived in London and was in no danger whatsoever.

This video could be the real deal, and the truth may be worse than this. However, any time political tensions increase, beware the appearance of media that demonizes the imminent enemy, or media that dredges up sympathy from the past. Besides, if the North Koreans are capable of these horrible atrocities, the South Koreans are capable of lying about it. They aren't in this to lose.
posted by Xoebe at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


I've heard people say they think the situation in North Korea is exaggerated. I'm always on the lookout for propaganda in ramping up disgust for a foreign power but these reports keep coming from so many different sources and political spectrums that I'm tending to think that's it's WORSE than we even know.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:06 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


My grandfather tells me about when he was fighting North Korea in the Korean War. He said they had them pushed back pretty far, way past the border they have established right now - they could have ended it right then and there, and South Korea could have taken over, this wouldn't be happening. Instead, they got a ceasefire (which S. Korea did not agree to) and reclaimed the entire land they had taken over. Everything they fought for, the freedom of these people that they fought for, gone. It was for nothing at all. All of the death and violence for absolutely nothing.

And now it starts all over again.
posted by Malice at 9:13 AM on June 23, 2009


The thing that kills me is, we had a plan worked out with them under Clinton. Then Bush came into office and jerked the rug out. How many thousands of people have died as a result?
posted by atchafalaya at 9:21 AM on June 23, 2009


My grandfather tells me about when he was fighting North Korea in the Korean War. He said they had them pushed back pretty far, way past the border they have established right now - they could have ended it right then and there, and South Korea could have taken over, this wouldn't be happening.

Thank you, Douglas MacArthur.
posted by squalor at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2009


Xoebe: You've touched on what to me is one of the most compelling problems of the modern era. Propaganda and disinformation have long been one of the most powerful mechanisms of social and political coercion available to both state and non-state actors, only now its effectiveness has increased exponentially, with to the development of new channels that allow information to be disseminated widely and rapidly.

So bullshit (if you'll allow me to employ the technical term) has become so ubiquitous and widespread, that it's all but impossible to know what isn't bullshit anymore. Reality, for most people, whether they realize it or not, is effectively a world made of bullshit. And even the most careful critical thinkers, too--those who realize the scale of the problem--really can't find their way out from under all the great, steaming heaps of it to see the sun light.

So in the absence of any remaining critical basis for distinguishing truth from bullshit, we rely on our intuitions, we trust our guts. Unfortunately, that means more often than not, we fall back on our prejudices and easy knee-jerk cultural assumptions. We judge truth based on our sense of "what seems right," or based on how much correlating information we can find, trusting that if we can only pile bullshit up high enough, it will become a mountain of evidence, and then we'll have something to build a real argument on.

In the case of Americans, among other things, that tends to mean we just know deep in our hearts that, even if our nation carries out exactly the same series of potentially illiberal steps, 1, 2, 3, as another far-off nation peopled by strange-looking foreigners whose native tongues sound alien and incomprehensible to us, we will assume that the other country is plotting against us and that our own is simply doing everything in its power to protect us.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:35 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


with to the development

/being anal

also, thank god, not to suggest we have concentration camps.

posted by saulgoodman at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2009


we will assume that the other country is plotting against us and that our own is simply doing everything in its power to protect us.

Or it could be that it's really that fucked up in North Korea. Like I said, this isn't just a American or western world propaganda campaign.. from what it seems.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:01 AM on June 23, 2009


Or it could be that it's really that fucked up in North Korea. Like I said, this isn't just a American or western world propaganda campaign.. from what it seems.

Don't get me wrong. I actually believe NK probably is that fucked up. Or at least, fucked up enough that its regime does legitimately represent a security threat and a major human rights problem. But unfortunately, the skepticism some have expressed here is well-founded. Our government lies. It lies its freaking head off. And it doesn't always do it in obvious ways, like dropping leaflets from helicopters, or placing articles on Voice of America (although a startling number of people don't even seem to realize Voice of America is an official state-sponsored news outlet).

Sure, every government lies. Companies lie. But Americans have been lied to so much in the last few decades they have a hard time trusting information from any source--and why should they? We don't even get sincere apologies from own elected government when it's caught lying to us anymore. How are people supposed to tell the difference between what is and isn't BS? Or care? At some level, we feel we have to hold every piece of information we take in now in a sort of permanent stasis between fact and fiction, just to avoid the shock of humiliation that inevitably comes with the revelation we've been duped yet again by interests with an unsavory agenda disguised behind appeals to our better natures and moral instincts.

That's not our fault. That's the only possible psychological response--the only sane response--to several decades of deceptive domestic and foreign policy, from Vietnam to Iran Contra to the Iraq invasion.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:35 AM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


In fact, only human -- no animal tortures another.

You clearly don't have cats.
posted by electroboy at 10:56 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, cats playing with their prey is not within species. But the "pecking order" so lightly referred to involves chickens pecking the inferior hen frequently, often to death. My grandmother had chickens. The henpecked bird was a scary and miserable sight.
posted by Peach at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


As to people doubting the veracity of these accounts:

Shin Dong Hyuk is only one of several escapees and defectors who've described the concentration camps. Perhaps there part of an immensely detailed concerted propaganda effort...but on the part of whom? Nobody actually wants to deal with this regime and be the one that steps in, and that includes the U.S., China, South Korea, and Japan. That's part of the reason this regime continues to exist.

I'm sure this counts very for nil on the web, but I do know people who have visited there, and while they haven't seen the concentration camps, they've seen the grimness and 1984-like atmosphere of civilian life. People "disappear" and nobody knows what happens to them. The regular citizens (other than in the higher echelons) are living in starvation mode.

And to someone who said we had a plan that worked under Clinton, I'm not sure exactly what he/she is referring to. Under Clinton, I believe we began to send NK resources, which actually enabled them to build their nukes. This was unchanged under Bush, and is being reassessed by Obama.
posted by thisperon at 11:11 AM on June 23, 2009


Let's don't kid ourselves, let's not judge this guard, let's not say that he's done anything we would never, ever do. We could easily be duped into doing the same things that Germans did in the 1930s and 1940s, in fact many of us were duped, recently, our adventures in Iraq every bit unjustified as anything Hitler did, the murders our military men and their leaders committed there every bit as heinous, though on a smaller scale. Thus far.

I agree with this. It seems that many humans have a natural streak of cruelty or aggression that will use any excuse to reveal itself. This guard was told to believe the prisoners are evil and the worst pieces of shit alive, a scapegoat for everyone's problems.

The "evil" label suddenly justifies, in many of us, any kind of depraved activity against that person.
posted by thisperon at 11:20 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And to someone who said we had a plan that worked under Clinton, I'm not sure exactly what he/she is referring to. Under Clinton, I believe we began to send NK resources, which actually enabled them to build their nukes.

No, we entered into a comprehensive agreement ("Agreed Framework between the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea") under which North Korea agreed to an inspection regime within the country to confirm they weren't developing nuclear weapons in exchange for US assistance in developing a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program, gradual normalization of diplomatic relations and financial assistance.

The agreement began falling apart almost immediately after Bush took the White House, and eventually, the plan was completely scrapped in 2003, without the US providing (according to NK) any specific evidence of violations or bad-faith on their part.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:29 AM on June 23, 2009


only now its effectiveness has increased exponentially

i thought you were going to say decreased (maybe not exponentially ;)

hold every piece of information we take in now in a sort of permanent stasis between fact and fiction

...or in superposition even!
posted by kliuless at 11:33 AM on June 23, 2009


That article is extremely troubling, saulgoodman. So we agreed to giving them resources so they wouldn't build a nuclear bomb? I guess my understanding of diplomatic relations is extremely simplistic.
posted by thisperon at 11:36 AM on June 23, 2009


That's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that we agreed to help give them a sense of political and economic security, so they wouldn't feel like such an existentially threatened, isolated little nation that could all too easily be snuffed out by more economically powerful and better armed international actors.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:39 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


So in every North Korea thread we bring up the condition that an actual armed conflict is out of the question because the artillery aimed at Seoul would level the city before it could be neutralized.

So my question, from just a strategic point of view: why not evacuate Seoul, accept the material loss of the city, to force a stabilizing outcome? Preemptively, I mean? I'm sure evacuation is already in the war book as a response to escalating conflict, but it seems like taking away that threat from the DPRK changes the balance of power to a point where you can finally have some real options.

The logistics are not trivial, but of all the countries in the world I think South Korea (and maybe Japan) are the ones who could actually organize an evacuation of 10M people and not be in the realm of pure fantasy.

Maybe before the DPRK got nukes?
posted by danny the boy at 11:42 AM on June 23, 2009


Why wouldn't they just level other random cities near by? What if people are wrong and they have the ability to launch missiles further than people think?

Wait, why am I even replying to this crazy ass idea?
posted by chunking express at 11:57 AM on June 23, 2009


"Never argue with idiots the crazy; they'll just drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."

Sorry, danny the boy. Not to dismiss you personally as crazy, but that idea really is. Why wouldn't DPRK, as soon as it became clear that a massive attempt to evacuate their neighbor was underway, just assume the worst and start blowing up everything in sight before the evacuations even got off the ground?

It takes a long time to evacuate large numbers of people, unless you don't care about killing a lot of them along the way; I mean, you could stuff 'em all in shipping containers and set them afloat on the ocean, I suppose. But even then, it would take weeks. Just evacuating New Orleans, a city whose population was around 454,865, took more than 48 hours. South Korea has a population of 50 million!

Shooting and blowing up large numbers of people, on the other hand, doesn't take nearly as long.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:13 PM on June 23, 2009


So my question, from just a strategic point of view: why not evacuate Seoul, accept the material loss of the city, to force a stabilizing outcome? Preemptively, I mean? I'm sure evacuation is already in the war book as a response to escalating conflict, but it seems like taking away that threat from the DPRK changes the balance of power to a point where you can finally have some real options.

What would happen when the North Koreans found out that this was happening (as they undoubtedly would before it could be completed)? Such an evacuation would (a) neutralise (or at least weaken) one of their major threats, and (b) strongly suggest that the South was planning something to justify such a huge preemptive effort. If the North got wind of such an evacuation, it would probably be cause for a preemptive strike.

The other option is the South slowly building up one of their cities in the south of the country and, over many years, subtly encouraging people and businesses to move to it, whilst keeping Seoul (which is uncomfortably close to the border) as the official capital. Conglomerates such as Samsung and Daewoo would be tacitly instructed to keep their "headquarters" officially in Seoul, though in reality, these would gradually become little more than PO boxes and automated shells, a bit like some of the corporate headquarters in Caribbean tax havens. (The process could be helped along with subtle behind-the-scenes economic manipulation; cut corporate tax on Seoul-headquartered companies, whilst levying less payroll tax and consumption taxes further south). Meanwhile, southern cities' infrastructure could be subtly upgraded, whilst Seoul's would be allowed to run down, with the exception of secretly constructed bomb shelters. Then, when push comes to shove, there are fewer people and less economic activity in Seoul, and consequently fewer losses from the inevitable onslaught. When the smoke clears, and the north has spent its forces, just before the south rolls into it, it sends a message to Pyongyang, consisting of but two words: "EPIC FAIL".
posted by acb at 12:13 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, cats playing with their prey is not within species.

True, true. That was sort of offhand and lulzy, but the larger point was that there are plenty of animals that kill, harass and generally torture other animals for reasons other than food. Chimps especially.
posted by electroboy at 12:19 PM on June 23, 2009


why not evacuate Seoul, accept the material loss of the city, to force a stabilizing outcome?

Because they have weapons that can hit targets anywhere on the Korean peninsula, not just Seoul. Tokyo is also within range of some medium range missiles-- do we evacuate everybody there too, knowing the devastating effect of a few chemical tipped warheads? Not to mention the absolutely terrifying thought of horribly contagious and incurable bio-agents mentioned upthread. Nukes, at least until they can miniaturize them enough to sit on a warhead, are one of the less scary things they have.

We simply don't have the forces to contest them conventionally, not without the unacceptably high risk of overlooking some dug-in missile silo and seeing green gases flooding the streets of Seoul and Tokyo.

It seems that the DPRK being as well armed as it is, and the US military being as overstretched as it is, there is only one way an armed confrontation would end; massive nuclear annihilation for the North. And it would HAVE to be massive and total, because the risk of missing just one deadly site is so great.

IMHO both the DPRK leadership and the Obama administration know this, and that's why we're seeing the tensions in this high-stakes poker game ratchet up. The US is trying to call their bluff, banking on the idea that the DPRK elites actually don't want to die in a fiery holocaust, but want to continue their lives of unspeakable opulence and leisure in their pleasure domes while their people starve.

I think this is the correct thing to do, especially with China showing less and less patience with DPRK. You have to assume SOME rationality, otherwise you can't plan at all, and indeed I think the DPRK has shown itself to be quite rational, if entirely perverse. They are essentially holding the world hostage, and thus far we've been paying their ransom.

Let's all just pray Obama and the UN read the situation right, and they don't back NK into enough of a corner to initiate the endgame.

(much of my armchair generalship comes from this article . It's old, but it seems little has changed in the past 6 years.)
posted by ScotchRox at 12:36 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And it would HAVE to be massive and total, because the risk of missing just one deadly site is so great.

Which would also cause so much radiation contamination and environmental devastation that most of South Korea, too, would be reduced to an unlivable wasteland. Not to mention the potential impacts to coastal Japan.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:42 PM on June 23, 2009


Yeah, what NK needs/needed was that kind of assurance of security from the west and it’s what Clinton was willing to trade. Bush… I don’t know WTF he was doing. Oh, I know what was said, but that had nothing to do with the practical effect of the policy. So I mean ‘incomprehensible’ quite literally. I can see no reasonable, or even irrational, course of action served by completely not talking and blowing NK off, other than perhaps a tie in with Iraq and the support of a broader policy on the “no talking” thing. But that’d be mind staggeringly stupid. I mean too dumb to be dumb or even be evil or here is what I’m saying. So I can’t really even speculate.

“As harsh as it is, containing the regime is the right thing to do. It causes the least suffering, and the least death.”

Tough one. I’d prefer diplomatic measures. Not sure what other pressure we can offer. But I do have a tough time sitting on the sidelines when folks are being tortured.

“I don't know exactly why I'm writing this, I saw this guard getting put into the 'Them' category, and there isn't a 'Them' category; we all of us live in the 'human' category, and we act accordingly.”

Which is one of the reasons I think getting involved is justified. It is a matter of human rights. And there but for the grace of the circumstances of our birth go us. I think, as crayz says, someone has to stand up in opposition.

Intellectually I tend to go with saulgoodman.

But viscerally, given chunking express’s story on people like Hun-sik Kim, my response tends to be a little stronger.

“In the days leading up to the American liberation of Kuwait, there were stories of Iraqi soldiers entering the hospitals and yanking babies from incubators, killing them.”

Yeah. While I fully cede all arguments on deceptive domestic and foreign policy practices by the U.S. – and hell, I’ll augment that by saying interests inside and outside of governments for many many years have engaged in heaps of propaganda for wars to serve their interests – the irony is there’s a grain of truth there.

Oh, certainly the U.S. supplied Hussein with chemical (et.al.) weapons (which is one reason I wasn’t so sure he did –not- have WMDs at the beginning of round II) but he did use them on people. I mean here’s a guy who openly admired Stalin. And he did commit actual atrocities (and to be fair and clear – was aided in some cases by the Reagan administration). He slaughtered random folks (including children) in Dujail in ’82, abducted thousands of Barzani Kurds; al-Anfa ’86 to ’89 was straight genocide – he killed at least 180,000 people. At Khafji he deliberately targeted the wellheads pulled the Christmas trees, all that, and dumped crude into the gulf which was an ecological nightmare.

So, ok, he was our jagoff. Any indictment of him is, by extension, an indictment of U.S. policy (which might explain (not excuse) why they came up with the murdering babies in incubators cock and bull rather than go into what he was actually responsible for). But that merely places another front on the battle. Another place where we have to put pressure, demand the truth and stand up for human rights. Again because I do believe it is our responsibility to address this and get involved (beyond just containment), because we are humans.

‘How’ is a whole other thing. Practically - we can't just deliver ordinance at anything we don't like. Force is far more subtle a thing than it was in WWII or Korea (this blunder into Iraq notwithstanding - hell, it's the exception that proves the rule). I don't see what we have to lose by allowing NK to "bring the west to its knees" by giving up a few things at the table. They're all about face on a lot of things. We're not. So let's look like punks if it gets us some practical gains and appreciably gets relief to some people.
As to working to destabilize them in the meantime and make them overplay their hand by making things worse - tough one.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:47 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The point about not accepting this at face value is well taken. It's quite possible that "innocent people in concentration camps" is for liberals what "WMDs! 45min!" was for the right wing*. I doubt it, but it's not a ridiculous idea. The fact is, war is a great moneymaker for some, and those people have influence. For the moment, assume that the linked stuff is substantially true.

Kim Shin is my age. For years, I've been saying to people my age, "how lucky we are, to have been born when we were!". It's been true for women, everywhere. It's been true for people from the former communist states. It's not true for everyone, but there are a great number of people enjoying lives their grandparents couldn't have imagined.

It's a fucking disgrace that anyone my age should have been born in a prison camp. I think we should do whatever it takes to stop that. The question is: what should we do? The US has lost all moral authority after Iraq. Which is a shame, because, while Iraq was no DPRK, Saddam Hussein is one of a small subset of people of whom I can honestly say "hanging's too good for 'em". I think what I'm really saying is, we need a way to topple states and introduce some form of democracy (or whatever form of government is acceptable to the local populace) while minimising the horrific casualties. If "sovereignty" makes people suffer, so much the worse for sovereignty.

I support interventionist foreign policy. We can do it via diplomacy, trade, aid, sanctions, limited war, or all out war. We can be overt or covert. We can and should argue about the methods. But, if we are aware of people suffering, and we do nothing to stop it, we are all guilty. We (most people reading this) live in a democracy.

*which is to say, catnip for war
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:08 PM on June 23, 2009


Dammit, this is affecting me more than it ought to.

I wanted to post this rather good Google Tech Talk by the same Mr Shin.

And also say, independently of the whole political game: exactly what is the best thing an individual of limited means can do to make things better in NK? What other people can do is always easy to discuss, but what can I do now?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:14 PM on June 23, 2009


Wait, why am I even replying to this crazy ass idea?

Because I asked 'why not'? I wasn't promoting it as a good idea, just wondering what the counter to that move would be. This isn't just a (pointless) intellectual exercise for me; it's the only response I have for being confronted with more and more detail about the terrible humanitarian situation there, and knowing nothing good is going to happen for the average North Korean anytime soon. Well other than just feeling depressed and moving on.
posted by danny the boy at 1:21 PM on June 23, 2009


I think what I'm really saying is, we need a way to topple states and introduce some form of democracy (or whatever form of government is acceptable to the local populace) while minimising the horrific casualties.

For me, a good place to start might be to stop always thinking in terms of toppling states. This really should be the last page in the playbook, underneath an enormous boldfaced caption that reads: 'Epilogue.' A more conservative approach is what we need.

Even the most despotic states typically at least make a pretense of having political processes that are democratically oriented and intended to reflect the will of the people. (North Korea doesn't call itself the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for nothing).

The goal should be to make it impossible for them not to live up to their own populist rhetoric. Give them enough rope they can't help either pull themselves up or hang themselves with it. Offer financial assistance; negotiate security agreements. Kill them with kindness. Draw them out of their isolation, make them indebted to the international community. Non-deceptive, non-threatening propaganda is harder to discredit and potentially vastly more effective, so use it freely and plentifully. Take a cue from the behavioral sciences, which show that positive and negative reinforcement are far more effective approaches to behavior modification than punishment, which has consistently proven to be the least effective approach of all (satisfying as it may be to our sense of self-righteousness).

On the other hand, if (like DPRK) a rogue nation's political establishment is so crude and rudimentary it doesn't even include a coherent process for the peaceful transition of power (not even flipping a coin!), it might be necessary to apply more vigorous pressure through overt, well-crafted diplomacy, with the backing of a strong international legal establishment. Only when all diplomatic and other non-violent options are exhausted (or in the event of a clear immediate threat or unprovoked attack that our intelligence agencies didn't fake or deliberately provoke) should military action be on the table, and then, only with a clear consensus and full support from the international community.

This isn't just a (pointless) intellectual exercise for me; it's the only response I have for being confronted with more and more detail about the terrible humanitarian situation there, and knowing nothing good is going to happen for the average North Korean anytime soon.

Well, you might take small comfort in knowing not everyone in North Korea is stuck in a concentration camp. But still, I realize that doesn't help matters. In the meantime, you might consider focusing on matters a little closer to home (not to suggest any moral equivalence here): Try to convince your local congressperson that the Guantanamo detainees deserve fair trials, and that those rounded up in the arbitrary sweeps in the early days after 9/11, deserve resettlement somewhere safe and temperate where they can live out the rest of their lives in peace, drawing sizable reparation payments from the US.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:06 PM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Wrinkled Stumpskin, and for anyone who wants to get involved, there are a couple of refugee relief organizations and "spread awareness" groups that exist now. One of the big problems refugees face is that when they run to China, they get sent right back to NK to face torture, imprisonment and death. Some of these groups serve to help those who escape, and get "started" with their lives in South Korea.

Committee for North Korean Human Rights

LINK, an awareness group

Citizen's Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
posted by thisperon at 2:36 PM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


saulgoodman: Yeah, toppling states is pretty crude. It's only justified in extreme cases. China, the US, Russia, Iran, and the UK have killed their own citizens and abused human rights, and toppling the state isn't justified in any of them. I will argue against the forthcoming war with Iran. But any process of diplomacy which leads the DPRK to a situation where people aren't living and dying horribly will take an unconscionably long time. A diplomatic process from "this is worse than what Orwell wrote about" to "things are OK but not perfect" will take at least one generation of imprisonment, torture, and pain. Even a terrible war which lasts for ten years is probably better than 50 more years of normal life in North Korea.

The other thing that bothers me is the idea that Sanctions against Iraq caused a great deal of harm, and that more "diplomatic" measures, while feeling much better than accidentally bombing the occasional nursery, may in fact cause greater suffering. I honestly don't know how to balance it out. I'm pretty sure nobody does. And not knowing the best course of action still doesn't excuse us from doing something.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:41 PM on June 23, 2009



Take a cue from the behavioral sciences, which show that positive and negative reinforcement are far more effective approaches to behavior modification than punishment, which has consistently proven to be the least effective approach of all (satisfying as it may be to our sense of self-righteousness).


Saulgoodman, the problem with this is that refugees have said this has only made the regime stronger.

"Kang Chol Wang, himself a former prisoner, is a prominent writer on the subject. He believes that oppression in North Korea will keep increasing: The brutality of the system has grown to the point where Kim Jong Il now fears that he will suffer the same fate as Caucescu of Romania. That's why he does everything in his power to kill all his opponents. He simply wants to kill all his enemies.

Wang is critical towards sunshine policy towards the north, a sort of let's all talk nicely to each other policy. He think that this may be the actual reason Kim Jong Il is in power. That and the food relief efforts from abroad. Food and money is sent for humanitarian reasons. But there is no humanity in North Korea."

Kim Jong Il wants to retain power at all costs. I don't know how you get his death grip off the people when it means the years of lies he's fed his people may be exposed. Please keep in mind, NK has been isolated from world events. In the mind of most citizens, NK is a powerful country, and doing better than most other countries on the planet. The NK government tells its people that the U.S. and Japan are really the reason that they're starving right now, due to their hostility and jealous of North Korea.

Do you think Kim Jong Il is gonna let his people find out that's not quite the truth? They'd have his head on a plate.
posted by thisperon at 2:45 PM on June 23, 2009


One idea that has been tried is flying balloons tied with messages over the border of the country. Messages that say "you're being lied to" and describing the economic and material progress that has happened in South Korea (North Koreans know little to nothing about this.) Unfortunately I believe due to wind conditions the balloons flew the other way.

I think some kind of subversive information campaign might help loosen the stranglehold Kim's regime has on the country. I guess the problem is, citizens don't have guns or ammo--the 1 million plus troops do.

Hollywood obviously has influenced me enough to think some small group of mercenaries can go in there and take out the people in charge. *sigh*
posted by thisperon at 2:53 PM on June 23, 2009


Others have argued persuasively (at least, I'm convinced) that what's made the regime stronger, more brutal and more determined than ever to achieve its nuclear ambitions is the fact that it's become more isolated and feels more threatened than ever--as a direct result of the US dropping its commitment to the Agreed Framework and casting North Korea, along with all the other countries the new administration planned to overthrow, as part of the "Axis of Evil."
posted by saulgoodman at 2:54 PM on June 23, 2009


I support interventionist foreign policy. We can do it via diplomacy, trade, aid, sanctions, limited war, or all out war. We can be overt or covert. We can and should argue about the methods.

A "father knows best" approach to foreign policy. Trouble is, when the recipients of such a policy utterly reject your intervention. They live their lives, with their suffering and their joy, and here you come along and not only tell them to change their lives, but that you will absolutely not accept "no" for an answer, and will wage war and death until you bludgeon them into accepting your terms. You can see how that might stiffen spines, and in fact lead directly to the development of WMD, so that "father" doesn't have the option of unleashing a bloodbath.

Is it surprising that this attitude might cause, say NK, or Iran to develop nuclear weapons? We don't pull that shit with China for a reason, and that reason is not their beautiful smiles, but a big honking thermonuclear weapon aimed at your forehead.

NK is a dictatorship that tightly controls their media. It runs on a cult of personality and on relentless propaganda. I would not be shocked if the majority of NK citizens support their regime. So what are you going to do, go against the wishes of the majority of their citizens, because even though they don't impose their lifestyle on you, you wish to deprive them of their choices? Then again, what if the majority is opposed to the regime? I would not be surprised, if they say to you: indeed our leaders are bastards, but YOU don't get to determine our leaders. Iranians might have the same response - keep out, even if we hate our leaders, they are still our leaders. Would we accept Russia invading us in 2000, because the majority opposed GWB, and he stole the election and that result was forced upon an arguably unwilling public?

It is impossible not to be moved by the fate of the citizens of NK. We have a moral obligation to oppose such obvious evil, whether in Nazi Germany, or NK. We should have bombed those rail-road tracks, and we not only didn't do that, but we shamefully failed to help those we so easily could have (turning boat refugees back to Germany etc.). Only, the truth is, it would have been even more productive to have intervened earlier, much earlier, and much more forcefully, as soon as the monstrous nature of Nazis was clear, which was the early 30's - it would have been so much less costly to all, including the victims. Never again - except genocide has happened over and over again since. There are no easy answers, and I don't want to sound like a grand old international communist straight from the fears of right wing nutjobs, but we need a new international order, where the whole concept of sovereignty is examined anew and international institutions strengthened. The fact that the U.S. ducks out of world courts and undermines such institutions doesn't help at all, at all.
posted by VikingSword at 2:59 PM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think some kind of subversive information campaign might help loosen the stranglehold Kim's regime has on the country. I guess the problem is, citizens don't have guns or ammo--the 1 million plus troops do.

Considering that in the circumstances, just the plain truth would be pretty damn subversive in the context of DPRK, I agree. That's why somehow opening up trade might be helpful: every new open channel for trade or diplomatic communication brings with it the possibility of letting more sunlight in. But you're right, it's a very difficult problem, and what person of conscience wouldn't want to see conditions improved for those suffering under Kim Jong Il? But how to do it without taking irresponsible risks that cause more suffering still, that's what isn't clear to me.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:00 PM on June 23, 2009


Saul, I'd like to see evidence of where the "sunshine policy" has been the case. I'm genuinely interested to see where this has actually helped regimes grow more humane.
posted by thisperon at 3:03 PM on June 23, 2009


A few links to supplement the top post.

Shin Dong-hyuk:

Escapee Tells of Horrors in North Korean Prison Camp, from the Washington Post

I Was a Political Prisoner at Birth in North Korea, from NorthKoreanRefugees.com. With illustrations.

And Shin Dong-hyuk is on Facebook.


Ahn Myong Chol:

Former guard: Ahn Myong Chol: North Korean prison guard remembers atrocities, from MSNBC. Part of a series that also includes the testimonies of former prisoners Soon Ok Lee and Kang Chol Hwan.


There's no doubt that this sort of thing is being used as grist for the proganda mill by right-wingers. (A quick look through Google search results will show that.) But that doesn't necessarily mean that these people are lying or exaggerating. I tend to believe them, if only because they aren't getting rich or accomplishing much by saying these things. And the cruelty they describe doesn't sound out of place for a country that will let millions of people starve rather than open its borders.

What to do about it is a much harder question. I believe that engagement is always better than isolation, so I'd probably favour policy that strengthens North Korea's ties to the outside world, rather than continued sanctions. But the Pyongyang regime knows that their continued grip on power is only possible because of the nation's isolation, so such policies are always going to be difficult to enact. They're still worth pursuing, though.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:03 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I don't want to sound like a grand old international communist straight from the fears of right wing nutjobs"

Actually given that NK is considered a communist state gone south, I don't think you sound that way at all.
posted by thisperon at 3:05 PM on June 23, 2009


Saul, I'd like to see evidence of where the "sunshine policy" has been the case. I'm genuinely interested to see where this has actually helped regimes grow more humane.

Not speaking for Saul, but it is frequently argued that the detente policy of late 70's really softened up the Soviet Union. A case can be made for its success, somewhat controversially, but nonetheless.
posted by VikingSword at 3:07 PM on June 23, 2009


Thanks for those links, Kevin Street. I read Soon Ok Lee's testimony a while ago and I remember not being able to sleep. (And I'm pretty freakin' numb to this kind of stuff, generally.)
posted by thisperon at 3:12 PM on June 23, 2009


Or even closer to home: there are people who, because of the stupidity of post-release sex offender laws, are forced to sleep under bridges. Literally.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2009


VikingSword: I am totally uncomfortable with "father knows best" foreign policy. I made a point of listing all the options from the softest to the hardest in that comment. I deleted the bit about requiring a coalition of nations because the number of nations required to be a coalition seemed kind of arbitrary (3 nations so it isn't just the US and UK? 5 so it isn't the US UK Canada and Germany?). Ideally the UN would be great for this kind of thing, except the US has spent a long time weakening it (think of the number of votes where the US is the only dissenting voice, or one of 3).

I am totally comfortable with "any random western government knows better than the current government of NK". As you said, there is a compulsion to act. We know what a reasonable state looks like. We know what dictatorships look like and we know what failed states look like. There are states on the dividing line (how's democracy in Russia and China? How about Bangladesh?). There are also states where there is no question that things are wrong. The only question is what to do about it.

Just to be completely clear: we can and should intervene by any means necessary, in Burma, in NK, in Somalia. Who "we" are, and what "intervene" means is a debate we should have promptly and honestly, because people are suffering while we think about it.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:44 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hollywood obviously has influenced me enough to think some small group of mercenaries can go in there and take out the people in charge. *sigh*

You aren't the only one thinking this way: Unit 684.
posted by chunking express at 3:45 PM on June 23, 2009


In the meantime, you might consider focusing on matters a little closer to home (not to suggest any moral equivalence here): Try to convince your local congressperson that the Guantanamo detainees deserve fair trials, and that those rounded up in the arbitrary sweeps in the early days after 9/11, deserve resettlement somewhere safe and temperate where they can live out the rest of their lives in peace, drawing sizable reparation payments from the US.

Yes, I am one of the few nuts I know of who still writes their elected representatives about issues.

But at the heart of it, I feel like if things in that country are as bad as many fear, history is going to judge us poorly for having decided the status quo is the best of all possible alternatives. In other, more succinct words, what if:

"Even a terrible war which lasts for ten years is probably better than 50 more years of normal life in North Korea."
posted by danny the boy at 3:54 PM on June 23, 2009


“Hollywood obviously has influenced me enough to think some small group of mercenaries can go in there and take out the people in charge. *sigh*”

Thought about that. Unfortunately, yeah, it’s pretty hard to disassemble a political structure with just a few deaths. The whole “go back in time and kill Hitler” fallacy. And last time I was there a little ROK marine kicked the hell out of me every day.

“But how to do it without taking irresponsible risks that cause more suffering still, that's what isn't clear to me.”

Gene Sharp comes to mind (supported resistance movements in Serbia for example) (google Gene Sharp for more)
Roland Bleiker is another good source. Most of my expertise lay closer to warfighting tho’.

The problem is to support without being coercive. And one would have to support mobilization if that's what those people want for themselves. Which means people are going to be hurt. (But hell, we chose to shed blood for liberty. France was there for us.)
I mean, looking at Iraq – man, we screwed the Kurds. That was coercion without support.

On the other hand, the Polish resistance went pretty well, not a lot of coercion, but plenty of support. But their civil society lent itself to underground forms of resistance what with the church and labor unions and what not. Like the Dutch doctors who had their professional organizations to network against the Nazis.

I dunno, I think we keep engaging the North Koreans, keep communicating, we’ll knock the regime back on their heels. Eventually anyway.
Look at Iran now. What aggravates the hard liners aren’t the people (foreigners) who want to go to dukes, or denouncing them, it’s the people saying “let’s talk.” Those are the people they’re putting in jail.
Hell, look how badly they want the U.S. to be the bad guy here. Obama’s *shrug * “Freedom’s good” schtick is playing havoc with their whole program. Remains to be seen in terms of success, sure.
But still, so much of a totalitarian regime depends on an external threat (real or merely perceived), I think we kick out one of their (the NK government's) big support blocks if we keep a dialogue open. We’ll probably have to eat a ton of shit though. But worth it to keep people from going through this kind of hell. Never understood folks who are willing to go to war*, but no, can’t be humbled. Lose sight of the whole object.
(*Although usually it's not they themselves actually going off to war).

But I think that lack of internal civil organization is one of the big stumbling blocks in turning NK over. Culture is under very serious government surveillance all the time. Yeah, there's a cult of personality such that it looks like we could go in with a covert op, do some wetwork and split (as per the Hollywood screenplay). But we forget the mass media apparatus that makes the cult. And forget that it not only dominates, but drives out all other, potentially competing forms of organization.
Someone asked me a while ago what the major bulwark against totalitarianism in the U.S. was. I said "School boards." It got a lot of laughs. But the truth is - that kind of micro social organization is critical. Hell, look at the masons and the founding of the U.S.

So as far as I'm concerned it was the New York Philharmonic Orchestra that established the beachhead. So, more South Korean radio. Hell, ship 'em comic books. Anything that can form the nucleus of civil organization outside the state.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:55 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Laura Ling, Euna Lee and North Korea
posted by homunculus at 4:00 PM on June 23, 2009


He said they had them pushed back pretty far, way past the border they have established right now - they could have ended it right then and there, and South Korea could have taken over, this wouldn't be happening.

I disagree. North Korea invaded across the 38th parallel in June 1950 and by August had occupied 90% of the Korean peninsula except for the Pusan Perimeter in the southeast. McArthur outflanked the North Koreans by landing at Inchon in September 1950 and UN forces broke out of Pusan in early October 1950 and invaded the north and took over most of North Korea, reaching the Yalu River, which is part of the border between North Korea and China, by the end of October.

That was too close for comfort for China, which had started forming the People's Volunteer Army the day after American troops crossed the 38th parallel. China entered the war at the beginning of November 1950 and quickly took back all of North Korea and about a third of South Korea by January 1951. Attacks and counterattacks basically seesawed across the 38th parallel until July 1951, when peace talks began and lasted until the DMZ was established in July 1953. There was sporadic fighting during the two year stalemate, but it was essentially jockeying for position.

It might have been possible to end the war once the UN had initially retaken South Korea, but considering that China had started ramping up to join North Korea when the UN troops crossed the 38th parallel, I don't think it was ever possible for South Korea to take over.

I will argue against the forthcoming war with Iran.

I don't think starting a war with either Iran or North Korea is a realistic possibility. Iraq has been a clinic for how to stymie a superpower. Iran is much larger than Iraq, has more rugged terrain, and has a larger population and what General Abizaid described as the most powerful army in the Middle East (not including Israel) with 945,000 active personnel (compared to roughly 180,000 US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan) that hasn't been weakened by years of sanctions. Attacking Iran could set off an insurgency in southern Iraq, which has religious ties to Iran. Similarly, North Korea is another step up from Iran. We don't have a military option.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:06 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Real men go to Tehran."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:10 PM on June 23, 2009


We don't have a military option.

Sure we do. Nukes or high altitude carpet bombing from B-52s (are those things still flying?) would work.

What we don't have is an acceptable military option.
posted by Justinian at 6:04 PM on June 23, 2009


I'm genuinely interested to see where this has actually helped regimes grow more humane.

Well, while they're still pretty awful by my reckoning, many assert that China is a lot more open and democratic now than it has been historically, due to the US's opening up of trade and normalization of diplomatic relations. At the very least, they've made several gestures toward reform. Unfortunately, we've more recently let that one slip away from us, IMO, since we don't have nearly the kind of credibility we used to when it comes to pressuring China to clean up its act on human rights. And while we weren't looking, the balance of economic power in our relationship shifted too far to China's side, making it even more difficult to bring too much political pressure to bear.

The opening up of relations between the US and USSR probably contributed to Glasnost
and Perestroika, which brought about the nominal end of the Cold War (although we've lost a lot of progress on that one, too, thanks to the Bush regime's eight years of unilateralism and weirdly self-destructive support for the more anti-democratic political forces within Russia).

I'm not sure about other examples, but then, we've been doing nefarious things around the world under the banner of protecting national interests for so long now, I'm not sure if there's a period in time you could really point to when we actually tried to play foreign policy straight or respect our own treaties and tactical allegiances. Even when we first established the nation, we wrote nearly all our agreements with the natives in disappearing ink.

(On review, what VikingSword said.)
posted by saulgoodman at 6:27 PM on June 23, 2009


Never understood folks who are willing to go to war*, but no, can’t be humbled. Lose sight of the whole object.

Doesn't quite fit, but reminds me of what Mark Twain once wrote:

"An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war."
posted by saulgoodman at 6:33 PM on June 23, 2009


It doesn't sound like Obama really wants to play nice with NK all that much. (Which seems reasonable to me, anyways).

After the recent with the North Korean freighter:

"What we're not going to do is to reward belligerence and provocation in the way that's been done in the past," said the president.

Following the president's statement, North Koreans responded with strong rhetoric of their own. "As long as our country has become a proud nuclear power, the US should take a correct look at whom it is dealing with," said a commentary in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's communist party. "It is a grave mistake for the US to think it will not be hurt if it ignores this and ignites the fuse of war on the Korean Peninsula," said the article.

The current round of tense actions and reactions between Pyongyang and the West began when North Korea launched its Taepodong-2 long-range missile on April 5, a move President Obama called "provocative" and a "clear violation" of Security Council Resolution 1718.

posted by thisperon at 8:57 PM on June 23, 2009


...there were stories of Iraqi soldiers entering the hospitals and yanking babies from incubators, killing them ... turns out the stories about the babies were complete lies, and the crying woman was recognized as the daughter of a Kuwaiti diplomat...
posted by Xoebe at 8:50 AM on June 23


Yeah, I've always hoped that some respected reporter would do a "Where Are They Now" on old Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ. I find it particularly galling that she was able to "cry wolf" a country to war—baldly lying, in person, to members of Congress—and then just skip away tra-la-la scot-free. Ah, that carefree Drama-Club-devoid-of-responsibility that is being the daughter of an ambassador, I suppose.
posted by blueberry at 10:38 PM on June 23, 2009


Kim Gives Son Control of North Korea Secret Police
posted by kliuless at 7:31 AM on June 24, 2009


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