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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, May 24, 2024

Drought, floods harsh on North Korea

Leaves color and fall, cool nights come sooner and the wind blows ever more bitter with each passing day. And so I start to think about North Korea. This autumn, as the world fixates on Afghanistan, another nation on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism has been on my mind: North Korea. 




With every grim news report about life in the Taliban's sandbox, I keep recalling Newsweek International's ranking of the 'worst countries in the world.' Afghanistan finished second. Behind North Korea. 




In 1945, the Korean Peninsula was split in two and now has a democratic South and a communist North. While the South enjoys relative prosperity, its northern neighbor, the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea,' features all the horrific repression of a Stalinist state'without the happy side-benefit of stability. Natural disasters and planned-economy nonsense have led to years of famine, claiming the lives of up to 2 million North Koreans (accurate data is hard to find in a nation so secretive it's known as the 'Hermit Kingdom'). Now, the United Nations World Food Program, which has provided $900 million in food aid since 1995, feeds a whopping one-third of the country's people. 




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Meanwhile, the state, led by a poofy-haired, goofball of a despot in Kim Jong Il, barely seems to care. A story in the Aug. 6 issue of London's The Guardian read: 'North Korean government categorizes its population according to perceived loyalty and usefulness to the regime, and those deemed hostile or useless were expendable. In fact, in 1996, Kim Jong Il publicly declared that only 30 percent of the population needed to survive to reconstruct a victorious society.' 




Currently, however, almost 100 percent of North Korean society is losing out. The proof lies in the 120 drawings of the book 'A Rainbow Painted in Tears.' There are images of civilians and soldiers stealing food. A lucky man feasting on a rat and a snake. Police beating a helpless boy for trying to flee the capital Pyongyang. They are the crayon drawings of a 16-year-old refugee. 




The young artist's family was lucky; the Kil Su clan had slipped into China and this May refused to leave the Beijing office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees until all were granted safe passage to South Korea. They made it, but countless others, foraging for food along the Sino-Korea border, live in constant fear of repatriation. 




After the Kil Su case, Communist China cracked down on the illegal refugee community that numbers between 30,000 and 300,000, returning scores of North Koreans to their homeland. Park Choong Il, who this year escaped from prison a second time, knows what happens when 'traitors' like him are turned over to North Korea. During his first imprisonment, he told Newsweek that he was 'beaten with clubs, burned with cigarettes on his arms and penis ... flailed with a thick wire...' and 'forced to clean the toilet hole with his tongue for several hours.' 




Brutality is banal in a country where literally everything is controlled by the totalitarian state. When a Christian group floated balloons carrying Bible passages into North Korea, soldiers were authorized to shoot, on sight, anyone who picked up a balloon, missionaries told the United Press International this summer. Education is pure propaganda; even questions in math texts, like this first-grade example, are political: 'Uncles of our People's Army smashed six tanks of the American imperialist wolves. Then they smashed two more. How many American tanks did our Army destroy altogether'?  




From a young age, North Koreans are taught the glory of Kim Jong Il and his late father Kim Il Sung. This summer, Kim retraced the path of his 'exalted' father on a month-long odyssey across Russia on a luxury train with more than 100 attendants while dining on fresh lobster and 'celestial cow''a euphemism for, according to the Seoul-based Korea Herald, 'ass meat.' As Kim dined on donkey steak, his people faced one of the worst grain harvests in its history. A Kyodo news correspondent reported that, after years of famine, this spring brought droughts and water shortages unseen in 1,000 years. Then came torrential rains. And flooding. And more starvation. 




So, North Korea told Britain and other aid donor nations that its 'number one priority' world-class architects, The Daily Telegraph reported in August. Kim, after visiting Shanghai, apparently developed skyline-envy and now wants even grander structures to go in monument-littered Pyongyang, alongside its Arch of Triumph (three yards taller than the one in Paris) and its 105-story, wobbly, half-built pyramid that was supposed to be the world's largest hotel. The project has been abandoned for years. 




Soon snow will blow through the hotel's windowless frame and another year of state failure and natural disaster will end. Winter, up to five months long, is already whispering its promise of more suffering. But, for now, leaves color and fall, cool nights come sooner, and the wind blows ever more bitter with each passing day. 




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