I’m adding North Korea to my list of White People Problems.

“Sometimes we laughed. We didn’t know when to laugh or not.”
-Shin Dong-huyk

It’s been my view for quite some time now that utilizing free market economics is the best way for nation states to achieve political gains as it relates to liberty and equality.  So I don’t really get down with the U.S. when it places economic sanctions on another country because they’re not doing what we want, even if it’s with good intentions.  When you stop trading goods with a country for any reason, the top officials you’re trying to send a message to still get their shit. Those assholes at the top, making decisions and being dick-squeezes? They still get food and whatever the fuck they want. They just don’t get it from you.  It’s the average Joe who gets hurt.  They’re the ones who no longer have access to whatever we were trading with them.  It just adds to the hardship they were already experiencing from whatever tyrannical political leadership that rules their lives.

I recently read an article about the executives at Google going into North Korea to “discuss the free and open internet.”  And, while I agree with their leadership that North Korea’s economic growth will continually be stunted by their lack of internet access, I couldn’t help but thing, “What a bunch of naive assholes.”

With that being said, let me tell you who can suck my dick as it relates to North Korea. Anyone who turns a blind or ignorant eye to the reality of suffering, that’s who. And you know what?  Same goes for turning a blind eye to the reality of pain in the lives of anyone around you, or in any other neighborhood, city, state, country, or people group. Shit just isn’t as simple as you’d like it to be. You can’t just reason it away in order to make yourself feel better. It’s a fucking mess. The problems are complicated, and the solutions even more complex.

In the documentary Camp 14: Total Control Zone, Shin Dong-huyk was born in a forced labor camp in North Korea. He was one of 160,000 forced laborers in North Korea.  His first memory was that of a public execution.  All the prisoners were forced to watch the public executions. He was about 4 or 5, when he saw this. What are people executed for in North Korea? Not “working hard”. Being “disobedient”.  His first feeling he remembers was that of panic, at this particular public execution.  He is the only person ever to be born in a North Korean forced labor camp to escape to the West.

He had a little friend when he was 6 years old. She had hidden a few grains of wheat in her pocket. They were always starving.  Everyone in the labor camp.  The school teacher decided this warranted beating the young girl from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.  I’m sorry, but can I just stop and say right now and ask you, “Does that seem real… when you read that???”  I want you to fight the desensitization to the fact that this shit is happening AS YOU READ this stupid blog.  That young girl finally fell unconscious to the floor. Her little friends carried her home. She was dead the next day from an infection in her head wounds.  I think of my 4-year-old, who is constantly collecting little things off the ground outside to bring to me. Rocks. Leaves. Flowers.  The contrast of the two girls’ lives is stark in my mind.

In the camps, families are not allowed to be together. Every human is treated as less than an animal. Less than a worm. You have no rights. You don’t have a right to eat, sleep, move, date, make friends.  All of these decisions are made for you. Your diet consists of maize and cabbage soup. If you are ever lucky enough to taste meat, it is that of a rat that you catch yourself (in your house).

Women will submit to sex with the guards, with the hope that life will be easier if a guard likes them. Hoping a child with a guard will keep them alive, they will try to get pregnant.  Instead, these women are killed.  Shin’s father received Shin’s mother as a wife, as a reward for good labor.  People are used as currency.  Trafficked.

The only societal value you are taught is that of suspicion toward everyone around you.  Everyone watches each other, spies on each other, in the event that you are disobedient. Then you are publicly criticized. Beatings are the norm. There is no sense of loyalty to another person. There is no compulsion of love. You are not compelled to protect one another. You are so hungry, all your mind tells you to do is to act in such a way that maybe you will survive better. Eat something. Shin was 14 years old, laying on a prison floor, deformed and burned from fire torture, before he felt what human affection and emotional support feels like from another. An old man who tended his wounds, and told him “You must survive.”  He returned to the labor camp to watch his mother’s and brother’s public execution, which was Shin’s fault. He had reported them for hatching an escape plan from the labor camp.  He felt nothing as he watched them die. The concept of family was completely foreign to him. He felt anger toward his mother, blaming her for the torture he had experienced in the prison after he had reported them.  He didn’t cry as he watched her die.  He hadn’t learned that you’re supposed to cry when your mother is executed.

Eventually, Shin escaped the camp with the sheer purpose of getting his hands on some meat. He had been told about this meat called “chicken” from China.  He wanted to try this meat. He didn’t care about freedom– the concept was foreign to him. But he had been told about food by a man in the labor camp who hadn’t been born there. He wanted to taste the food.   He attempted escape with this fellow prisoner who had told him about the chicken.  That man died on the electric fence surrounding the camp.  The weight of his body made a hole in the fence large enough to allow Shin to crawl over his back, and out through the fence.

Which leads me to wonder… whose backs are being offered to us, so that we can fulfill our purpose in life, become who we are meant to be, tell the story we are meant to tell??  We are not alone, friends. We cannot live alone. We are social beings, which Shin himself confesses he had never known or understood until he landed on the floor of the camp prison after being tortured with fire, as the old man cleaned his burn wounds. Whose wounds are you cleaning? In your prison? Who are you tending to in their pain, to show them what they are truly worth?

Shin Dong-huyk maintains that, in all his meetings with political figures and NGOs, he has yet to find a clear answer on how to address the terrible reality that resides within North Korea, his home.

When asked what he misses about North Korea, Donghuyk says “I miss my innocent heart.”

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4 thoughts on “I’m adding North Korea to my list of White People Problems.

  1. Yes, love. Way to burn it in our brains. YOu got my ears open, my heart pricked, and my brain bleeding from the ugliness of it all. Guess i better hug my babies extra hard tonight.

  2. Literally the only time I saw 60 minutes in the past 20 yrs was a couple weeks ago when they had this guy’s story. I don’t recall the shit with the little girl, but the thing that jumped out at me was the complete dehumanization. I can’t get my head around the concept that they could knock a kids love for his mom out of his system.

    Yeah, those Google guys are naive. I do like the concept though of exposure to shit outside of N Korea causing some kind grassroots thing. Might work in Iran, but these guys are totally locked down. Damn.

  3. “I miss my innocent heart” he said this in response to the high suicide rate in South Korea. Even with the brutality of the North people didn’t commit suicide. He missed the simplicity of life in the labor camps. That blows my mind.

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