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Usually when you compare a government or an event to the Nazis or the Holocaust, it's in the context of "losing" an internet argument, an overreaction.

This is not the case in the situation of North Korea and their deplorable concentration camps, that even South Korea can not be bothered to care about. As covered in this heartbreaking Washington Post story, People are being born, and dying, without ever seeing freedom. They are being forced to do back-breaking labor, and even to watch their fellow prisoners' executions. But no one cares.

Kossacks, please. Please read this, and care. This is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person ever to escape from these camps, and like the tale of Anne Frank, his story NEEDS to be heard.

As an American living in Japan, North Korea has always made me wary and suspicious. I could care less about communism, but any country that kidnaps other countries' citizens and lobs nuclear weapons over our heads is another story altogether. I, like I'm sure anyone reading this, do not need convincing that Kim Jong-Il is a horrid dictator.

But it turns out that this is just the tip of a blood-soaked iceberg.

Shin Dong-hyuk is a 26-year-old North Korean who was born in a concentration camp near Pyongyang. Even the story behind his birth is a tragic one:

[Shin's book, "Escape to the Outside World"] begins with the story of his birth in Camp No. 14 to parents whose union was arranged by prison guards. As a reward for excellent work as a mechanic, his father was given the woman who became Shin's mother. Shin lived with her until he was 12, when he was taken away to work with other children.

It is unknown why his mother was in Camp No. 14, but as for his father:

Two of his father's brothers had collaborated with South Korea during the Korean War and then fled to the South, the guards told him. His father was guilty because he was the brother of traitors. Shin was guilty because he was his father's son.

Nephew of a traitor. Apparently in North Korea, that's enough reason to imprison and torture a child. Tortured, as Shin was when his mother attempted escape. He was then forced to watch her and his brother die in the public square of the camp. At age 14, all he felt was anger at his mother as she was hanged, for causing him to be tortured by fire, a metal hook stuck in his gut to keep him from wriggling away from the flame. It is a chilling thought, but when you grow up having never heard the word "love," it is not surprising.

Here in South Korea, Shin sometimes goes to church on Sundays. "I go to the church, but I don't really understand the words or the concepts," he said.

Shin escaped - the only known person to ever succeed such an endeavor - in 2005 at age 24, by using the dead body of his friend as an insulator to cross the electric fence separating the camp from the outside world. He escaped into China by bribing guards with cigarettes, and made his way to South Korea.

Now, you might think, like I did, that the South Koreans would be outraged at these horrors and demand justice.

....not so much.

When South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was elected last year, only 3 percent of voters named North Korea as a primary concern. They were overwhelmingly interested in economic growth and higher salaries.

Sound familiar?

I know that everyone has their own problems. Many of us are worried about making the rent, feeding our families, helping fix problems here at home. I know people are watching the genocide in Darfur closely and working to stop it. But it is disturbingly quiet when it comes to North Korea. Shin's camp had 40,000 inmates. That's the size of the university I attended. Imagining all 40,000 of us starving, broken, beaten blows my mind.  And that's just ONE of the camps. There are an estimated 150,000-200,000 North Koreans locked up in these hellholes. Please, spread this story around so it gets the attention it deserves.

Here are some extra documents about this:
A 1-hour video featuring the head of Liberty In North Korea (LINK) and Shin
2004 Guardian article on Camp 22
Report from the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

Originally posted to bonsai superstar on Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 07:55 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I read that story yesterday (6+ / 0-)

    with interest, since I live in South Korea. I found it very sad that Shin's book had only sold about 300 copies in South Korea. As you highlighted in the diary, most S. Koreans are more concerned with the economy right now. We can't fault them for that because the economy is precisely what most Americans are concerned with right now too.

    •  It's sad. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kula2316, CKendall

      Here in Japan the only reason anyone cares about North Korea is the kidnapping scandal, and the occasional nuke flying over our heads (and of course the standard adorable inter-Asia racism that would make my bigot neighbors back in western PA scratch their heads). Extra sad about South Korea, though.

      It's just funny to me how much coverage Darfur gets (and I'm not saying it doesn't deserve to be covered, that's some horrific shit over there as well), and barely anything on this. I did a search of Kos for the last year, and saw nothing about this, so I figured I had to write a diary about it (I should actually be cleaning my apartment for a dinner party tonight, but the guests can forgive dusty tatami for this).

  •  Horrific, of course. (0+ / 0-)

    With today's technology, even civilian satellites could easily show concentration camps with electrified barbed wire, holding tens of thousands of inmates each.  Military satellites should show irrefutable evidence of these atrocities.

    So.... why haven't I seen it?  Does it exist?  Is it just not being reported, is it being suppressed, or is it being made up?

    No, I'm not a Holocaust-denier.  Unfortunately, I've seen too much propaganda to take anything at face value anymore.

    This is not a challenge to the diarist, it's an attempt to start a discussion, and hopefully find more information on the subject.

    Mark Twain -Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.

    by Kingsmeg on Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 08:39:53 PM PST

    •  And yes, (0+ / 0-)

      I'm watching the 1h06 video now, and there appear to be satellite pictures in a presentation by this Shin fellow.  Nothing good so far, though.

      Mark Twain -Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.

      by Kingsmeg on Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 08:41:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh, they're there... (4+ / 0-)

      Problem is, what to do about them?

      North Korea is a unique case on the world stage.  They are such an insular, closed society that nothing of the outside world makes it in.  They have no basis of comparison for what everything else is like.  One can't even question one's lot in life if no one knows how everyone else does it.

      Even then, they are pretty much immune to outside pressures.  They're doctrine of "Juche" means they don't import or export nearly anything.  You can't threaten embargo because there's nothing to necessarily keep from them.  They are self-reliant so that the party bosses stay in power... even if that means starving the country.

      •  Nothing can be done (0+ / 0-)

        Other than attempt to educate the North Korean people on what the outside world consists of in hopes that they one day take change into their hands.

        •  There's no way to do that. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bonsai superstar

          Think we're descending into 1984-style big brother?  We're a bastion of Libertarianism compared to North Korea.

          Everything we regard as freedom is alien to the North Korean mindset.  They are indoctrinated cradle-to-grave that, believe it or not, everyone else in the world is WORSE than they are.  The Great Leader invented the automobile and walked on the moon, and the Dear Leader was born on a sacred mountain in a partisan camp.

          NOTHING gets in to that country without the government's approval.  No books, no movies, no internet, nothing.  There's nothing like the "Great Firewall of China" because the average citizen simply does not have access to anything resembling an internet connection.

          Radios and TVs are pre-tuned to government frequencies... and if we try to broadcast psyops-style over them the government simply jams everything until we stop.

          Simply put... we can't teach them because the government will have none of that... and that's if we can break them of their indoctrination that everything they see of the outside world is simply propaganda itself.

      •  I have to disagree on the self-reliance part. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wu ming, Shane Hensinger

        North Korea gets substantial aid from both China and South Korea. Their economic system may have been designed to be self-reliant, but it doesn't reflect reality:

        The economic system is designed to be self-reliant and closed. The irony of the situation is that the longer the economy tries to remain self-sufficient, the poorer its performance and the more dependent the country becomes on the outside world just to survive.

        During the 1990s, major portions of the North Korean population survived primarily through transfers of food and other economic assistance from abroad. The worst of the food crisis has passed, but shortages are still there, and the country depends on staples from China, South Korea, and, when allowed, from the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) to stave off mass starvation. (5)

        China also provides a significant portion of North Korea's energy supplies - anywhere from 70-90%.

        •  it worked somewhat better at one point in the 60s (0+ / 0-)

          and 70s, when the standard of living was actually higher than south korea,  although they were always very dependent on russian oil and soviet bloc markets for their manufactured goods. the end of russian oil with the collapse of the soviet union in the 90s, combined with some flooding that took out a lot of electric infrastructure, fucked them pretty hard, and they've never recovered.

          from what i've heard at a panel at an academic conference a few years back, the shift in the late 90s to family garden plots helped to ease the famine a bit as well, in a way similar to what china did after the similarly horrific great leap forward famine in the late 50s.

          so yeah, it worked relatively better a generation ago, but in an absolute sense juche was always sort of a hollow slogan.

          surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

          by wu ming on Fri Dec 12, 2008 at 01:35:17 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you so much (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bonsai superstar, CKendall

    for bringing this to our attention.

  •  It takes a hard heart..... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bonsai superstar

    .....not to wrench a bit after reading the story's last six sentences.

    When it comes to Texas Politics, "Stupid" Plays Very Well

    by KingCranky on Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 11:06:55 PM PST

  •  when your capital city is within artillary range (0+ / 0-)

    it's not surprising that most south koreans don't want to start a war with the north. most just want to normalize relations and get the border tensions cranked down several notches.

    it's much easier to fantasize about delivering "justice" in vague ways when you don't live in the crosshairs of any retaliatory strikes. most japanese and koreans that i have talked to on the matter of north korea just don't want things escalated. the chinese think they're fucking crazy, and wish they'd just go away and stop making trouble.

    and then there's the issue of whether military strikes would help more than they hurt. and the huge question of what north koreans think about their own state and society, which is maddeningly hard to get at because it is so closed to the outside world. it doesn't make sense to assume we know, one war or another, how they'd react to a punitive strike.

    and since north korea is not participating meaningfully in the diplomatic or economic systems we have leverage in (china won't cut aid, because they don't want a massive wave of refugees and a failed state in the already-depressed rust belt northeast), what you are talking about is military action, let's be clear.

    surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

    by wu ming on Fri Dec 12, 2008 at 01:28:35 AM PST

    •  I just want to point out... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pixxer, watershed

      it's much easier to fantasize about delivering "justice" in vague ways when you don't live in the crosshairs of any retaliatory strikes.

      That my "fantasizing" about justice is being done while well within retaliatory range. I live in Japan, and plan to for the foreseeable future. North Korea fucking terrifies me, back when I lived in America I never woke up to the news that Canada or Mexico had fired a nuclear missle over our heads.

      But people are suffering, and I can't stand knowing that and keeping quiet. Places like Darfur, you hear about all the time, people all over the world calling out for the violence to stop. But in North Korea, people just shrug it off, even here apparently. Oh, we can't do anything, fuck it. Shades of Kitty Genovese.

      I realize that this is not an easy situation to correct, but the apparent apathy towards this is horrifying to me.

    •  it's China's fault (0+ / 0-)

      if China opened the border, the North Korean regime would be gone.

      •  if china opened the border (0+ / 0-)

        they would be in a world of hurt, economically, socially and otherwise. the chinese need a flood of millions of refugees into a depressed post-industrial rust belt province - and the ethnic conflict that would inevitably trigger, as dongbei han chinese got pissed at impoverished korean chaoxian ren flooding their already wretched labor market - like a hole in the head.

        add to that a failed nuclear state potentially messing with a significant chinese trading partner (south korea)?

        hell, americans don't even want to let in mexican workers their economy directly recruits; no way any chinese regime would open the border or encourage a north korean collapse.

        and quite frankly, the chinese have been telling the koreans they were insane for going on three decades now, and were far, far less close with that regime than the soviet union before the chinese 1980 reforms that junked communism in all but name. north korea is not their fault, not by a long shot. they've been moderately constructive on the issue, actually.

        were i to assign responsibility for that basket case of a country, i'd put it as the north korean communist party, the japanese, the americans, and the russians, in that order. the north korean communist party, because in the end they're the people who built that system; the japanese, for creating the brutal colonial conditions that nurtured and shaped the extremely paranoid and extreme north korean communist party; the americans, for bombing the living bejeezus out of NK in the korean war, and generally picking up where the japanese left off in feeding the NKCP fear of annihilation and invasion that makes them act so crazy; and the russians for using them as a proxy in the cold war, and then cutting off oil imports cold turkey when north korea was were no longer useful, triggering part of those 1990s famines.

        surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

        by wu ming on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:04:37 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Another stupid question (0+ / 0-)

    And I'll probably be awarded a donut for this, but what the hell...

    How can someone in North Korea tell that they are in a concentration camp?

    I ask this because life in general in that country is pretty bleak. Not enough food, lots of work, little opportunity for entertainment or socializing, isolated from the rest of the world, with the government monitoring & regulating every movement of its inhabitants, police & soldiers lurking around every corner. Sounds like a prison to me to begin with.

    Yes, even the military has its guard house, brig or penal unit, but in these repressive countries the intent behind imprisoning its political enemies is to send them off somewhere they'll never return from. And the most cost-effective way of doing that (to be callous) is to work them to death under unendurible conditions.

    I'm just trying to get my head around this story. :-/


    •  Did you read the article? (0+ / 0-)

      I'm not trying to be snotty, I'm just seriously curious. You mean how would a NK citizen who was arrested and put in a concentration camp know they were in a concentration camp? I would assume that the people knew because

      1. They were arrested and forcibly taken there (as for people like Shin, they knew people in the camp that talked of the 'outside world')
      1. Shin's account talks of the guards telling him why he was "guilty" and in the camp, indicating that it was specifically a punishment and not a normal situation
      1. The electric fence holding them in.

      I am with you on the sad notion that things aren't all sunshine with the folks on the other side of the fence, though.

      •  Shin was born in the camp (0+ / 0-)

        With no experience of what life outside the camp was like... he heard other people's stories and obviously knew there was a difference... and that outside was better... but he did not KNOW, really know, till he got out of North Korea just how much of a difference there was...

        And apart from him the average citizen there is mostly in the dark as how much worse off they are there. Have you seen any documentaries about North Korea? Even the unedited propaganda movies made by hem are unintentionally scary and tell you a lot in between the lines about the isolation and unreality of their world view.

        Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie

        by IreGyre on Fri Dec 12, 2008 at 01:19:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The logic is the same as ever (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Progressive Chick

    and it always sucks.

    North Korea isn't going to be changed unless the government there is smashed up, and rebuilt from scratch.

    Doing this intentionally will take a fairly serious war with an extremely serious body count.  There isn't any way in hell South Korea can take this on themselves.

    The US?  Even W's little band of idjits was too cautious to start with the warmongering about North Korea.  And the collateral damage from the Iraq shitmire is going to keep the US Army crippled for 10 to 20 years, minimum.

    Think about it.   The North Korean standing army numbers about one million, and the countryside is a defender's dream come true.

    The other option is to wait until the place implodes, and try to intervene to limit the damage.  Which will be massive.

    It's easy to call the South Koreans "selfish".  It's a much harder job to spell out some option that'll give them any realistic chance of achieving traction on the problems up north without risking national suicide.

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