Sunday, February 01, 2004

North Korea and gas chambers

Everyone's talking about the revelation: some of NK's concentration camps have been gassing prisoners to death as "experiments." Needless to say, this is sick-ass shit, and yet another reason why Kim Jong Il and his whole regime must go. A quick survey of articles and blogger comments on this subject:

Yahoo News, via Dan Darling/Regnum Crucis.

The Marmot.

Oranckay, quoting from Reuters.

The Infidel makes a point I agree with:

I'm not sure how this story benefits anyone's cause. On one level the information is value-neutral: knowing this really does not help any policy-maker decide what to do.

True. We're merely confirming stuff we've long suspected about the nature of this regime. The Marmot's post (linked above) warns us about the reliability of testimony from defectors:

I have no idea how reliable these reports are -- one generally has to weigh the tendency for North Korean defectors to "sex up" their stories in order to please their hosts against the truly nasty nature of the North Korean regime.

Something to keep in mind.

The Marmot and the Infidel part ways, though. The Infidel writes:

I'm sure there are many ideologues who know exactly what to do with this information, but they're the hotheads I'm most worried about. Given the historical record the Chinese and Japanese have in the region for experimentation and incarceration, though, I'm not surprised by this, or that bureaucrats confuse an Heredity "Rule" with a tyrannical whim. How many generations will it take for east Asians not to equate legality with vengeance, rather than compromise? With this urgency to give North Koreans a positive reason to trust each other and the outside world, it is imperative the first impression left by foreigners is not the overwhelming, righteous fury of a military strike, or the underwhelming rabbit punch of an assassination.


Washington, and regional powers, need to find discreet methods to punish the North Korean elite without inflicting any more suffering on the general population. It' s not the tactics themselves, but the lack of coordination, which frustrates progress.

Some of this is similar, at least thematically, to Andrew Natsios's position in The Great North Korean Famine (see links on sidebar for my multi-part review of his book).

The Marmot's conclusion is somewhat different:

Nevertheless, those are some pretty horrifying tales, and they make you wonder about those who think that it's a good idea to help North Korea's leaders remain in power.

This is probably closer to where I stand, but as I hope I made clear in my Natsios review, I'm deeply, deeply conflicted about this. As a result, I'm sympathetic to both Natsios's and the Infidel's points of view. The people who lose as we play these games (and the Infidel confirms Natsios's contention that these games are being played clumsily) are, always, the North Korean citizens themselves.

I'm not an advocate of war with North Korea, however. In fact, I'm in favor of the Infidel's pragmatic first step:

The first tactic involves a [return] to isolation, which is blunt, but others, notably Japan, have already started. So far, this looks petty and nationalistic, and is not supported by the response from any other of the regional powers. Each participant is as willing to watch another suffer Pyongyang's condemnation as arrive for a photo opportunity. As long as China and [Japan] are not cooperating, it doesn't really matter what Washington does. Seoul seems more likely to follow Beijing's lead, or act contrariwise to Washington's policy, and Russia is a spoiler. Therefore, Washington should isolate both Koreas, but devote itself diplomatically to nudging Tokyo and Beijing closer together.

Maybe the Infidel and I don't mean the same thing by "isolation"; maybe we do. For me, it means presenting a cold, unyielding front to North Korea: insisting on Verification Above All, the precondition to end all preconditions. Without unrestricted access to NK's deepest inner workings, we get nowhere. If NK complains that this is a violation of its sacred sovereingty, then after we stop rolling around on the floor with laughter, we should pick ourselves up and tell NK with a straight face to go fuck itself: verification, closely followed by irrevocable dismantling, is the price you gotta pay for food & aid, bitch.

I imagine the Infidel and I would disagree about the role of humanitarian aid in this. On balance (again, I don't like this stance, but I can't see it any other way), I think we need to ignore Natsios & Co. and restrict food and fuel and other forms of aid. First, because I think a lot of it does get diverted, and Natsios himself isn't reassuring on this subject. Second, because it's the ultimate truth test for South Korean claims of empathy for/loyalty to the North. If they're really willing to help, then this rich, fattening half-peninsula can damn well foot the bill for its "brothers" across the DMZ. Third, as I argued in the conclusion of my Natsios review, it turns out that years and years of sanctions do indeed result in a military advantage for whoever attacks a sanctions-ravaged country. Iraq stands as proof positive of this. I don't advocate war, but we're investing in the future, militarily speaking, when we squeeze. Sanctions don't unseat a regime, but when done viciously, they do knock the stuffing out of a military.

It bugs me, though; it bugs me a lot, this talk of squeezing and sanctions and being unyielding. I'm sitting here in this nice, climate-controlled PC-bahng, talking very glibly about people not even 50 miles away from where I'm writing-- people who are right this moment suffering from the cold, forced to spy on each other, being dragged off to prisons and concentration camps, being programmed with Kimist propaganda, scrounging for grass and frogs and dead things, living a cosmic lie while trying to hold on to the tattered remains of a Confucianistic past. How real is their suffering to me? How real?

In any case, I'll be first in line if we do one day capture Kim Jong Il. Damn him for forcing us into this kind of thinking. Damn him for what he's done to his people. Damn him to fucking hell.


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