The World

  • Washington Post/MSNBC: Brazil engages in new race debate — New quota policies force Brazil to reexamine views of equality
  • US News: Gulag Nation — Unseen by the outside world, North Korea runs vast prison camps of unspeakable cruelty — A haunting story that will hang in your mind and heart. This portion especially spoke to me…
      Another graduate of the prisons, Lee Soon Ok, had a rougher time of it. She had handled accounting and managerial work at a party distribution center. But when she rebuffed a security chief who demanded an extra jacket, Lee’s fate was sealed. She was accused of embezzlement and disobeying party policy. The result: seven years at the No. 1 prison camp at Gaechun. “My family was split apart in one day,” she says grimly.

      At the camp, Lee was tapped to supervise production of exported goods: artificial silk flowers bound for France, handmade wool sweaters for Japan, decorative needlework for Poland. Suits and dress shirts were sold through Hong Kong, getting their origin labels there, before shipment to Europe. If quotas were missed, Lee says, she faced torture. Guards stepped on her head, knocking out teeth and skewing the left side of her face. During one beating, her left eye started to pop out of its socket. She pushed it back in with her fingers. Her arms were injured after she was hung in chains from a ceiling. Even now, she has difficulty sitting or standing for long periods.

      Water torture. In interrogations aimed at forcing a confession, Lee, now 56, was also subjected to water torture. She says guards force-fed her water by pushing the spout of a canister into her mouth. They laid a wooden plank across her abdomen–and pressed down, forcing water out through her mouth, nose, and bladder. “It feels like your intestines are exploding. There’s no way even to describe the pain you feel,” she recalls, with no trace of emotion.

      Tears well up, however, when she ponders why a true believer in the system like herself was punished. “I believed that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were basically gods,” she says quietly. “I was so loyal to the party, and I don’t know why they put me through this.”

      Lee won release in 1993, apparently for her success in meeting production quotas, she says. The earnings had gone into a fund to celebrate Kim Il Sung’s 80th birthday the previous year. By then, though, Lee was in no mood to celebrate. “As soon as I got out of prison, I decided I didn’t want to live in that hell,” she says. Lee fled with her son in 1995. She converted to Christianity, having marveled at jailed Christians who refused to renounce their faith in the face of torture and execution. Lee moved to an apartment block on the outskirts of Seoul. Still, she is plagued by feelings of guilt about those left behind. Her new life’s mission is to expose the terrors of the camps. “I want the world to know how evil Kim Jong Il is,” she says. “The world needs to put more pressure on North Korea.”

    These stories and the others recounted in the US News story tell me that the oppression occuring in North Korea is on a level that approaches that of Cambodia in the 70’s, or even the genocides of Hitler and Stalin.

    But can we do? War is not the answer. The reality is that North Korea even without using nuclear weapons could kill millions in the first day of a conventional war just by shelling Seoul, and the human cost in both the North and South (or for that matter the tens of thousands of US troops currently stationed near the DMZ) are too awful to contemplate. Yet how can we let such horror continue?

    Reading this makes one wonder how human beings can be so evil, yet at the same time I am struck by the strength of those who stand up in spite of it (such as the Christians that Lee saw in prison who refused to renounce their faith even when faced with torture and execution).