Uncovering North Korea

by Beacon Staff • January 25, 2006

No regime in the world is more oppressive than that of North Korea. The only true Stalinist state to survive into the 21st century, North Korea is poor, unstable and ruled by fear. Since President George W. Bush first listed Kim Jong Il's country as part of the so-called "Axis of Evil" in his 2002 State of the Union Address, it has been scrutinized in the press for its ties to terror and its burgeoning nuclear arms program.

The story that you usually don't hear about this impoverished nation is how the government maintains a brutal grip on its populace and how some people within its borders are fighting back using high-tech techniques.

Life in North Korea is not even close to the paradise its ruler makes it out to be. At every turn, Kim Jon Il and his Communist cronies tell their people that the outside world is a horrendous place unfit for humans to live. This description, if switched, could very easily describe life inside North Korea.

Between 1995 and 1998, a famine in North Korea killed as many as 2 million of its 22 million citizens. This gross violation of human rights is only the tip of the iceberg. In North Korea's closed and isolationist society, secret police are used to making sure that Kim Jong Il's personality cult doesn't fall out of favor. These men can search anyone's residence at anytime, put supposed dissenters in jail without formal charges for decades and even execute those threatening the secret world above the 38th Parallel.

Citizens of North Korea have little to no personal freedom. Just the simple act of traveling to another city requires a special permit that, if caught without, could lead to anything from mandatory re-education classes to time in a jail cell. There are some in this society however, that are trying to spread the ideas of freedom and assault the ivory tower Kim Jong Il has built around himself.

Freedom fighters in North Korea do not have the support of foreign governments and are under constant threat of detention and death. These brave men and women risk their lives to spread dissent to Kim Jong Il's government and also to bring images from their impoverished, secluded lives to the rest of the world. The invention of smaller and smaller recording devices and cellphones has given activists in North Korea the capability to smuggle dissident propaganda across the border to both journalists and supporters in China.

In America, the image of North Korea is synonymous with the image of its leader. Little attention is paid to the idea that the men in charge of North Korea and the people who live there are decidedly different.

This is in stark contrast to the image of Iraq and its leader in the months before invasion by U.S. forces. In that instance, the press and the Bush administration pushed the idea of Saddam Hussein as a brutal tyrant and his people as freedom-loving victims. This is a distinction rarely made when discussing North Korea.

The men and women of North Korea deserve fair treatment from the press and the public. These maltreated citizens, whom aid group Amnesty International recognize as living in a country with one of the worst human rights records, do not wish to have a lavish nuclear arms program and an isolationist stance.

All that most North Koreans wish for is the ability to travel without a permit and to have enough food to feed their families.