Kim Jong Il's Death Should Open Our Eyes to Atrocities in North Korea

kim jong ilWhen I think of the now deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, I'm always reminded of a quote one of my high school history teachers was fond of repeating: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The saying came in handy on a regular basis, as it perfectly described so many of the monarchs and dictators we studied: King Henry VIII; Stalin; Hitler.

Essentially, the same class of tyrant as Kim Jong Il. Except that Kim's atrocities weren't confined to history books. And still, we allowed them to happen.

Yes, North Korea is so closely guarded that it's been easy for us ignore the horrifying conditions, the years of suffering. (See no evil, Hear no evil.) But is that really the reason why we -- and by "we" I mean those powers-that-be with means and influence -- haven't done more to help?


Though North Korea consistently denies the existence of "death camps," an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people are held in "political prisons." And if neither one of those terms is clear enough for you, remember Nazi Germany?

Following a prolonged famine in the mid-'90s (number of casualties is thought to be as high as 2 million), North Korea is still plagued by hunger. One out of every three children suffer from stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. Literally millions of people are starving. Meanwhile, Kim was notorious for his taste in gourmet food and fine wine.

Tragically, political and military tensions often stand in the way of poverty-stricken North Koreans receiving aid. Hmm, so ignorance isn't the issue: The fact that countries (including the U.S.) are attempting to send help means that we're obviously aware of the problems at hand. The fact that we're not making sure the help gets to those who need it means, frankly, that we're scared. (North Korea is, after all, a nuclear power.) And selfish: North Korea has nothing we want or need (i.e., oil). Neither did Rwanda. Or Bosnia. Genocide, what? Sorry, I can't hear you, must be a bad connection.

I hope that the death of Kim Jong Il will act as a catalyst for change, but it doesn't look like his appointed successor, son Kim Jong Un, plans to deviate too far from his father's agenda.

And so history repeats itself ... again. But it doesn't have to.

What do you think the death of Kim Jong Il will mean for North Korea?


Image via maxdavinci/Flickr

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