Sharon and I just got back tonight from “A Night of Hope,” a concert benefiting the North Korea Freedom Coalition. The concert took place at our church, Truro Anglican in Fairfax, which is focused on building connections with immigrant faith communities.
The stars of the show — besides the talented opera singers — were the North Korean defectors who have come here thanks to a visa program which grants asylum and places them with our large Korean population in Northern Virginia.
The stories from these defectors is unbelievable to our Western ears. Simply, North Korea is controlled by a twisted, evil government which treats its citizens like slaves and maintains concentration camps where tens of thousands of political prisoners are held, tortured and often publicly executed.
The stories related by the Freedom Coalition from the detention camps are hard to read: the 14 year old boy held over an open flame to punish his parents after they attempted to escape, the factory worker’s finger cut off after he dropped a sewing machine, the pregnant woman beaten in the abdomen until she miscarried.
These prisoners were rounded up and sent to the prison camps for all sorts of reasons: having a radio, attending a Christian church service, scrounging food on the black market. Meanwhile, as these atrocities occur, the ordinary population of North Korea simply starves due to a persistent lack of food production.
(Ironically, prior to the Communist takeover, the northern half of the Korean peninsula was more industrialized, better educated and relatively wealthier than the south. Now it’s on the verge of the Stone Age after seventy-five years of mismanagement).
For years, these crimes against humanity were swept under the rug, either by the North Koreans, their Chinese allies, or even the South Korean government who didn’t want to upset the status quo (or their own citizens’ rapidly escalating standard of living).
Since at least 1994, when North Korea first constructed a nuclear reactor, diplomatic experts told us all that it was more important to achieve “detente” with the North Koreans — and even reward them with economic development — so they would not develop nuclear capabilities. Therefore, it was impolitic to mention the ongoing genocide against its own population.
Twenty years later, that “sunshine” policy has been exposed as a total failure on every level. The North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un still operates a tyrannical regime, it has more conventional weapons than ever (thanks to hard currency from the West), and it has developed nuclear weapons.
Why should we care about this?
Believe it or not, the United States still matters a lot on human rights issues. It is a land of freedom. It is a democracy governed by the rule of law. While we cannot stop injustice everywhere, we can surely speak to it.
Secondly, on a strictly personal note, I’m married to the daughter of a North Korean refugee, one of the few to make it out alive in the 1950′s. The facts that my children still have aunts and uncles (they’ll never meet) living there is enough reason for me to care.
One Sunday night concert is a suburban church won’t change anything. Not right away. But it gives me a chance to write – and draw attention to a crime that has been continuing for years and is still continuing today.