Muller: Focus on North Korean atrocities, not Kim Jong Un’s antics


Yoni Muller, Columnist

For years, the world has sat in deafening silence in regards to North Korea, whose level of suspected heinousness is topped only by its mystery. On Monday, the United Nations released a 400-page report attempting to eliminate the latter trait while highlighting the former. Indeed, the pages of the report depict a tyrannical regime perpetrating some of the greatest atrocities in recent history.

The world is a complicated and sometimes dark place. Here at Northwestern, it’s all too easy to forget about those struggles — struggles most of us can’t even fathom, let alone relate to. And when we do remember them, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of suffering in the rest of the world. At this moment alone, there are power struggles, high-profile oppressive laws and horrible violent behavior affecting all of the following: Russia, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Cuba, Mexico, South Sudan and more.

The difference is we have, as a whole, been quick to criticize unjust actions in any of the above examples. They dominate our foreign policy agenda, they shape our protests and they even influence our Google doodles. Somehow, we seem to have treated North Korea as the elephant in the room.

In large part, this is because we know very little about what happens there. To the rest of the world, North Korea may as well be a black hole. I say this not to diminish the voices and actions of those who have been calling for action, but simply to note that our understanding of life there is drastically less than in other nations and that the aggregate voice of those advocating action regarding North Korea is much softer.

Additionally, when discussing these nations, it’s all too easy to fall into the activist fallacy of comparing suffering. All suffering is suffering, and we shouldn’t try to rank them or declare which nations are experiencing better or worse struggles. But we have a moral obligation to address them all instead of sweeping the crimes of a nation under the rug.

The report is gigantic, and it will take plenty of time before reporters and politicians read and digest all of its content. Still, there should be no effort required to understand that a “guard beat(ing) a nearly starving woman who had recently given birth, then forc(ing) the woman to drown her baby” requires immediate action.

It’s hard for many, myself included, to read some of the witness reports and hear stories from refugees without being reminded of the crimes the Nazi regime committed seventy years ago. Like the Nazis, Kim Jong Un is continuing a long-standing regime where a select few in power are systematically and cruelly torturing their own population — a population who, through decades of victimization, exposure to propaganda and an ignorance of the outside world, are powerless to fight back. Its people are sent into labor camps for any multitude of reasons (or lack thereof), starved, beaten and killed. One only needs to recall Kenneth Bae to see the abuse of power being committed in North Korea.

And yet, instead of discussing North Korea as we would one of the greatest humanitarian abuses in the modern era, we routinely resort to mockery instead.

Now, this isn’t a call to arms. The same secrecy that obscured our knowledge of daily life in North Korea before continues to do so now. In spite of the thousands of defectors with stories similar to those in the report, some people argue the country is much more open than we are led to believe.

Frankly, I find this unlikely. I would be hard pressed to think of another nation where some people are imprisoned for watching soap operas, and the government would be judged open and humanitarian. All the same, history tends to disfavor those who hastily jump to action with incomplete information. What we need is to complete it. The time must pass when the most public story regarding North Korea doesn’t involve Dennis Rodman. North Korea has a population of 25 million, which means we have 25 million reasons to stop with the jokes and treat the North Korean regime as the brutal tyranny we are increasingly learning it is.

 Yoni Muller is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].