“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
For the past four months, I have been involved with the North Korean human rights movement primarily through The Chosun Journal. Of all the things I have experienced, from meeting the truly noble to hearing about the grossly perverse, these words by Martin Luther King, Jr. best express my convictions thus far.
My qualifications are minimal at best. I have no html training. My knowledge of the Korean language is at a 1st grade level. I have no education in journalism. I have never been involved with human rights. I am averse to nationalism of any kind.
So why after decades of incomparable N. Korean oppression, I was the first Korean-American to create a web site devoted to N. Korean human rights underscores for me the truth of King’s words. That is, the level of silence on N. Korea is of such tragic proportions that the movement must scrape from the bottom in order to fill positions like mine.
Rev. King’s quote is better understood in light of his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, an essay that all concerned with N. Korea should read carefully. I had not appreciated his frustration or the difficulties he had to surmount until I became involved with this movement where the “appalling silence of the good people” has also brought deep disappointment.
Two months into the work, I had sent an email appeal to over 100 Korean-American church pastors regarding N. Korean human rights. That seemed to be the best place to start gaining support. Three responded. Rev. King remarked that the greatest obstacle to civil rights in America was not the KKK but the moderate white churchgoers who sympathized with their cause but did not offer support. What is it about the modern church that makes it so impotent?
But secular groups like KASA have not fared better. We received two responses from over 100 Korean-American student associations in regards to our inquiries.
Many of my editorials and essays have been directed toward people who will never read them. Indeed this site, which was created in part to be a witness against those who do nothing and to rob them of the alibi that they just didn’t know, will not be visited lest it incriminate them with more knowledge and thus more responsibility.
So I have come to the conclusion that it is left up to us few already concerned with N. Korean human rights to not only make Kim Jong Il and his cronies self-conscious of their activities, but to make our friends and pastors self-conscious of their inactivity. That means, forwarding them emails; raising the issue at church and club meetings; discussing it in class; talking about it over lunch with friends.
The reason why the level of silence has gotten to such tragic proportions is because we few, out of a false sense of propriety, have let the majority of do-nothings too easily off the hook. Sure the do-nothings will remain apathetic, but that doesn’t mean that they should be left comfortable in their self-imposed ignorance. Shame may be their only hope for repentance. It was for me.
Thus we must do away with the idle notion that people do not care because they do not know. That is a convenient lie. Indeed people do not want to know because they do not want to care. We must confront and shame people with this hard truth by asking questions like, “Will you write to your Congressman to make a real difference for NK human rights?” or “Will you donate funds to Ton-a-month Club which directly supports NK refugees?” If they will not act, we must ask why until they are left shamefully without excuse. For Burke’s adage still holds true, “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”
When reunification happens, and it will happen sooner than people think, and the atrocities become more openly apparent, and the museums to the millions of victims are built, and the war crime trials ensue, and the inevitable Korean-American tours and short-term mission trips to N. Korea become popular, I must confess a certain hope. I hope that the do-nothings of today will experience unspeakable shame, in the way that draft dodgers must feel each memorial day.