Wednesday, April 23, 2014

HEINTZ: Don’t forget those suffering in North Korea

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 4/17/2013

North Korea’s relatively new dictator, Kim Jong Un, continues to direct increasingly hostile rhetoric at the United States and South Korea. It seems certain that the conflict between these three countries will continue to dominate the cable news networks and major newspapers across the country.

And that’s how it should be. When a foreign leader — especially one who leads a regime as detestable as the one that exists in North Korea — threatens nuclear war, no matter how empty those threats may be, the press has an obligation to cover the story from every angle. After all, the U.S. media’s first mission is to cover issues that affect Americans in some fashion, so it makes sense that most of the coverage of the North Korea-U.S. conflict will focus on how large a threat this abominable regime actually poses to America. But, as this situation continues to evolve, the media — and Americans in general — shouldn’t forget the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people who fill North Korea’s brutal concentration camps.

North Korea’s relatively new dictator, Kim Jong Un, continues to direct increasingly hostile rhetoric at the United States and South Korea. It seems certain that the conflict between these three countries will continue to dominate the cable news networks and major newspapers across the country.

And that’s how it should be. When a foreign leader — especially one who leads a regime as detestable as the one that exists in North Korea — threatens nuclear war, no matter how empty those threats may be, the press has an obligation to cover the story from every angle. After all, the U.S. media’s first mission is to cover issues that affect Americans in some fashion, so it makes sense that most of the coverage of the North Korea-U.S. conflict will focus on how large a threat this abominable regime actually poses to America. But, as this situation continues to evolve, the media — and Americans in general — shouldn’t forget the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people who fill North Korea’s brutal concentration camps.

There are no words strong enough to accurately describe how unconscionable the North Korean regime really is — now and since its inception. While there arguably have been some regimes that have been worse — the Soviet Union during the Joseph Stalin years, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia — the list is pretty short.

To understand just how depraved this regime is, one has to look no further than the tragic events that took place between 1995 and 1997 in North Korea. During that period, an estimated 3.5 million North Koreans starved to death, even though there was enough humanitarian aid to feed the nation’s population, according to outside observers and nongovernmental organizations. Unfortunately, the North Korean regime diverted the aid to enhance its military might while the people whom the aid was intended for starved to death, according to Robert Park, a human rights activist and missionary who was detained in North Korea from December 2009 to February 2010.

But numbers, while important, don’t do an adequate job of illuminating the horrors of the undergird life in North Korea. They don’t force us to imagine what it must have been like for the mothers who had to watch helplessly as their young daughters slowly starved to death. Numbers don’t demand that we close our eyes and envision what it must have been like to be that small child when he realized that he only had a couple more minutes left on this earth — how scared and alone he must have felt. For these emotions to be evoked, we must make an earnest effort to put ourselves in these people’s shoes.

One of the most vile aspects of the North Korean dictatorship is what appears to be a policy of infanticide that is being carried out inside the nation’s concentration camps. Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights without Frontiers, a private group based in Brussels, detailed his discussions with North Korean camp escapees in a New York Times article. Of the 35 escapees he talked with, Fautre reported, 31 said they had witnessed babies being killed by abandonment or being smothered by plastic sheets. That is beyond repugnant.

As Americans, it’s essential we don’t forget that the people who inhabit these camps are no different from ourselves — they just fell victim to the hazards of circumstance. And as people become more interested in the dealings inside North Korea, the least we can do is keep their stories in the national spotlight.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow

@heintz23 on Twitter.

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