Tuesday, January 22, 2008

good words from the Chosun Ilbo

Expats in particular might appreciate the following Chosun Ilbo article, reprinted here in its entirety because it just seems wrong to let it fade away:


The North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk has published a memoir. Shin was imprisoned in a concentration camp for political prisoners in South Pyongan Province, which has a reputation for being the worst in North Korea. He escaped the communist country last year.

Shin, who was born in the province, had no idea who Kim Jong-il was until he was 24. That's how cut off the camp was from the outside world. Shin's mother was hanged and his older brother was shot dead right in front of Shin's eyes after they were caught trying to escape. Even when he watched his father cry in pain after his leg was broken during torture, Shin said he was strangely unable to shed any tears. Shin, who was 14 at that time, was burned as punishment and was finally able to move again two months later. In the prison camps, people must do something worthy of a reward to get the chance to marry. Children are taught until they can just add or subtract numbers and then sent off to perform slave labor. Depending on the type of labor, families are split up to work in farms or factories inside the prison camp or to coal mines.

But the horrific stories coming out of North Korea have become "old news": few South Koreans like to hear about the pains and fears faced by North Koreans, since they're stories they have been told many times before. When he visited North Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun coolly signed a visitor's notes at the the Mansudae Assembly Hall saying it was the place whence "the happiness of the people flows." Roh said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il firmly believed in his system and thought he was a true leader. He added the North Koreans were full of national passion.

Elie Wiesel's memoir "Night," which depicts the horrors of Auschwitz, describes how he saw his own father beaten to death and his mother and younger sister die in the gas chambers. Later on in life, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel said, "Many Europeans knew about the holocaust when it was taking place. But nobody did anything about it. The Nazis are not the only ones responsible for the holocaust. To be silent is to side with the killers." He added that when human lives and dignity are threatened, people should transcend borders and throw away their passive attitudes. In October last year, Wiesel, along with former Czech President Vaclav Havel and ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, published human rights report on North Korea and called on the UN to adopt a resolution to pressure the communist country to improve its track record in that area.

By all means talk with Kim Jong-il; negotiate with him. But don't insult the people who live like animals in his country, enduring torture and getting slaughtered, by flattering its regime with words like "happiness" and "passion."

There are only two pieces of literature that are guaranteed to make me weep upon reading them. One is Margaret Edson's play W;t (pronounced "wit"); the other is Wiesel's Night, mentioned above. I'm glad to see the above essay; such things need to be written every now and again to remind us of who we are, of who we're supposed to be.


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