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Our Obligation to North Korea
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I watched a very difficult segment about North Korea on 60 Minutes last night. Probably most people aren't aware of just what a sickening horror show that country is. There are eyewitness accounts coming out of mothers poisoning their children so they won't have to suffer from starvation. There was footage of children looking for insects to eat in the weeds by the side of the road. You can't hear the sound of birds in most places, because people have hunted all species to extinction. There are reeducation and slave labor camps, with a life expectancy of usually less than a year, where people are routinely tortured.

And one of the strangest aspects of the story was Pyongyang itself, a virtual ghost city. There are tall buildings meant to convey technical prowess, but they're mostly empty because they are not structurally sound. One image that stuck in my mind, almost as vivid as those of the sunken-eyed, starving children, was of a beautiful female traffic policewoman, snapping flags in robotic fashion as if directing traffic...but there was none. It was like a haunted amusement park, where a tiny, impudent man-child rules with utter barbarity. Kim Jong-Il, we learn, wears platform shoes and teases his hairdo to give him the extra height he's lacking. He loves all things imported, from scotch to the internet, but all contact with anything outside the country is forbidden. Instead, government run newspapers spew propaganda, and loudspeakers throughout the countryside sing the praises of Kim Jong-Il.

It's insanity, pure and simple.

One man profiled in the story was Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor who spent 18 months in North Korea until he was finally forced out by the government. He decried the international apathy toward North Korea, likening it to the Holocaust. "We Germans were accused of looking the other way. How could we let the Holocaust happen? everybody said." He feels a special obligation, as a German, to thrust the ugly picture of modern-day North Korea into the ignorant minds of those who are letting it happen.

I honestly don't understand the duplicity of those that speak as if we're "in a global village" where every human being is our neighbor, and who argue against taking action against despots. How can you be worried about how global emission standards will affect people in other countries, but not bat an eyelash when those people are tortured and deliberately starved for political reasons?

This is a second layer of insanity, letting such horrifying suffering continue.

In most of the history of the world, it was easy to turn a blind eye to suffering in other parts of the world. We didn't have the awareness, or the means to travel so easily and quickly, or to decisively act. We could live in our own little locality, in blissful ignorance. No one, no one in the world today has that luxury anymore. We are now all too aware of the suffering of fellow human beings. I have become more of an interventionist, but I see that as an inevitable outcome of increased global communication and interdependence.

We can no longer plead ignorance, and we cannot use the excuse that we are not responsible or that we are powerless to help. Global neighbors, true neighbors, would not allow what's happening in places like North Korea, or the African sub-Continent, or in Iraq, continue.

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