“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” Winston Churchill
Many people in academia and the media have still not learned to overcome their naievete in favor of appeasing totalitarian regimes like North Korea even after their analysis of the Soviet Union, especially during the Reagan era, was proven shamefully wrong.
A great majority of the editorials and reports written, particularly those by foreign analysts, generally with little variation can be summed up as follows:
“The Bush administration needs to stop its hard-line stance toward Pyongyang and reach out to them in order for there to be reconciliation and peace on the Korean peninsula. South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung was making great progress in relations with his counterpart Kim Jong Il up until the new U.S. administration took a ludicrous hawk position toward the North. Consequently, there has only been stalemate.”
What is maddening about these people’s analysis of the N-S Korea situation is their purposeful or foolish failure to state reality as it is.
Everyone in the know recognizes that policy makers and diplomats, whether Asian, European, or American, have only one goal with regards to North Korea: maintaining the status quo.
It is only when Pyongyang embarks on changing the status quo by developing nuclear weapons, or when N. Korean refugees publicly escape into a U.N. embassy office disrupting the ignorance that has so far kept the world comfortably silent on the plight of 100,000 starving and exploited people, only when these kinds of events threaten the status quo do policy makers and diplomats act and that in order to reestablish the status quo.
What is the status quo that the world’s powers are so bent on maintaining to the detriment of an entire population that is in constant fear and deprivation? For China, it is saving face as the government strives to maintain some semblance of being Communist by supporting its ideological brethren with whom they fought “the War to Resist America and Help Korea.” For the U.S. which provides the most foreign aid to Pyongyang, it is an excuse to maintain a military presence to counter the dominance of a rising China and to take advantage of a strategic area in E. Asia. For South Korea, it is the desire to maintain its rising living standard without having to sacrifice employment or endure economic hardship that would result from reunification, or in the case of possible war, the desire to avoid bloodshed at all costs.
For the liberal intelligensia which continues to babble the same meaningless platitudes summed up above, it is the hope that human beings can find a diplomatic solution besides resorting to the threat of force to solve political problems even if this means more innocent people must die (see e.g., the plethora of negative opinions on Bush’s planned military strike on Afghanistan before the successful outcome became apparent in one month’s time and one million people were saved from the brink of starvation after years of Taliban-made famine.)
So what does this all have to do with us concerned about the human rights of North Koreans? First, we must recognize that those we optimistically look to for help in making a positive difference in North Korea, the governments and the academic elite, are either too selfish or too naieve to help. Perhaps we are left only with the dark hope that a North Korean Osama bin Laden-like rogue strikes the United States or Japan (attacks have already been made repeatedly against South Korea with little effect). Then the status quo, as was the case with Afghanistan, may no longer be viewed as tolerable. (I know that human rights advocates for Cuba are wishing the same).
That scenario is unlikely however as Kim Jong Il most of all understands that the status quo is what is keeping his regime in power. (Even his nuclear bomb building shennanigans have been an effective way to remind the world of the costliness of diverging from the status quo of extortion payments and global silence to his government’s abuses). So perhaps the lesson to be learned from this editorial is that optimism at the expense of innocent lives is damnable naivete. When such optimism is displayed, we should not let these people get away with the comforting delusion that they are helping anything because in fact they are merely and instrumentally perpetuating the status quo.
What do I then propose? To begin with, if we supported a policy where the United States and South Korea would not continue payments to Pyongyang unless the U.N. were allowed to monitor and ensure that those funds were going to humanitarian targets and not to more military supplies, this would change the status quo for the better. Many will object that this is a terrible idea as it invites certain military conflict. Yes it does.
I admit the situation in North Korea necessitates probable military confrontation or at least the risk thereof for there to be an improvement of human rights in North Korea. But for those who see war as the greatest evil to be avoided at all costs, please consider this analogy. Suppose Western Europe was subsidizing the regime of Adolf Hitler during the time of the Holocaust in exchange for the guarantee that Hitler would not invade neighboring countries. Would the objectors of my proposal oppose a demand for Western Europe to stop such payments even at the risk of a world war? The answer would likely be yes or else they would be categorized with that cold-hearted group called “hard-liners.”