ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

For Those Looking for a Gulag

In light of the criticisms of Gitmo and the fact that the rice pilaf and honey glazed chicken being served there is just a tad overcooked, I thought I'd link to this story from the American Enterprise from a German humanitarian/journalist.

Might provide some... you know.... perspective.

Bird's Eye
By Norbert Vollertsen
A Depraved Society We Can’t Ignore

The authors in this issue of The American Enterprise paint a sometimes terrifying picture of North Korea. Kim Jong Il’s mad regime has never formally renounced its pledge to swallow up the southern half of the Korean peninsula, even if it takes a devastating conventional war to do it. And its recent nuclear announcements have given citizens of Tokyo—possibly even Los Angeles—cause for serious concern.

It’s clear the United States and the world have to do something to end, or at least control, this potential nuclear nightmare. But the real problem of North Korea goes beyond the crazy bluster of its leaders, the appeasement of the South Koreans, the lack of cooperation from China, and the other subjects discussed on pages 36-45. There’s a human element that sometimes gets lost in the Washington debates. Very few Westerners understand what life is really like for the average North Korean, because the country’s dictatorship keeps all conduits of information and trade sealed as tight as a drum.

I know, because I’ve witnessed the stunning reality of daily existence in the North.

In July 1999, I traveled to North Korea as a member of a German medical aid organization offering humanitarian medical assistance. I remained in North Korea for 18 months, and worked in ten different hospitals around the country.

Early on during my stay, I was summoned to treat a factory worker who had been badly burned by molten iron. A colleague and I volunteered to donate our own skin tissue for a skin graft—in order to help the patient, and also as a gesture of friendship with ordinary North Koreans. For this action, we were nationally acclaimed by the state-run media and awarded the Friendship Medal, making us the only two Westerners ever to receive this high honor. Along with this recognition came two fringe benefits that would later prove very valuable: a “VIP” passport, and a driver’s license. These allowed me to travel to many areas of North Korea inaccessible to foreigners, and even to its ordinary citizens.

In my role as an emergency doctor, I also visited a number of other medical institutions besides the ten hospitals and three orphanages to which I was assigned. In every locale, I witnessed horrific conditions. There were no bandages, no scalpels, no antibiotics, no operating rooms—only ramshackle wooden beds supporting starving children waiting to die. Doctors used empty beer bottles as vessels for intravenous dripping. Safety razors were used as scalpels. I even witnessed an appendectomy performed without anesthesia. Meanwhile I found out, through my own investigations, about government storehouses and diplomatic shops carrying large stocks of bandages and other medical supplies for privileged classes.

There are two worlds in North Korea: One is the world of senior military officers, Communist Party members, and the country’s ruling elite. They enjoy a lavish lifestyle, fancy restaurants, diplomatic shops with European foods, nightclubs, even a casino.

The world for ordinary people in North Korea is completely different. In their world, one can see young children, undersized, undernourished, mute, with sunken eyes and skin stretched tight across their faces, wearing uniform blue-and-white-striped pajamas. Anyone who’s seen pictures of Dachau or Auschwitz would find the scene distressingly familiar.

Most of the patients in the hospitals suffer from psychosomatic illnesses. They’re worn out by compulsory drills, innumerable parades, mandatory assemblies beginning at the crack of dawn, and constant, droning propaganda. They are tired and at the end of their tether. Clinical depression is rampant. Alcoholism is common. Young adults have no hope, no future. Everywhere you look, people are beset by anxiety.

Everyday workers and farmers are starving and dying. Unwarranted arrest and detention are common, and one can only imagine what the conditions are like in the so-called “reform institutions,” where entire families are imprisoned when any member does or says something to offend the regime. These camps are closed to all foreigners, even to stringently non-confrontational organizations like the International Red Cross. If the main “medical” diagnosis of North Korea’s sick society is fear and depression brought about by a horrendous government, what is the cure?

The only way to rescue the people of North Korea from obscene poverty and hardship is to let the world know the real state of this country. In the fall of 2000, using the unprecedented freedom granted me when I was awarded the Friendship Medal, I guided a group of journalists around Pyongyang who had arrived to accompany Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State. While traveling on a highway north of the capital, we came across a soldier lying dead in the middle of the road. Over the objections of my government minder, we stopped to investigate. The signs that the soldier had been tortured were obvious.

In response, I handed over a statement of humanitarian principles to the North Korean government. My government minder at that time—who had been given the responsibility of controlling my activities closely—was abruptly exchanged. I never saw him or his family again.

My behavior offended the party leaders, who of course prevented me from attending at any more hospitals. My car was sabotaged, and finally I was forced to leave the country. Against the wishes of the North Korean authorities, I went directly to Seoul instead of going home to Germany, where I spoke to international journalists.

I interviewed hundreds of North Korean defectors at the Chinese-North Korean border and elsewhere, in order to learn more about the cruel realities of life in their home country. Former prisoners of North Korean concentration camps told me about mass executions, torture, rape, murder, and other crimes against humanity—all performed as punishment for “anti-state criminal acts.”

The international community, working closely with the media, must put serious pressure on the North Korean regime to open up to the outside world and save the lives of their ordinary citizens. As a German born after World War II, I know all too well the guilt of my grandparents’ generation for remaining silent while the Nazis committed indescribable crimes. I believe it is my duty as a human being to expose the crimes and tyranny of the North Korean regime.

I have visited the United States, Japan, and Europe with my findings, and I will continue to travel the world for the express purpose of exposing the criminality of the secret state of North Korea. My hope is that someday soon I will have much company, and that a resulting wave of international pressure will lead to the reform of this depraved and mad corner of humanity.

Of course, the conditions in North Korea are the direct result of us imperialist yankees... I suppose "solidarity" on the left means you have to support your whackjob communists AND your ultra-evil, "concentration-camps-are-fun" communists like Kim. I mean, look at that smile! what a huggable little rogue!

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler