I had some hope that this story of the U.S. canceling food aid to North Korea, would be true aid to the desperate people of that country, but it may not be. Whether the canceled aid is only newly promised and amped-up food aid that has now been withdrawn, or if all food aid to North Korea will cease, I’m not sure. Yes, I understand that people are starving in North Korea, but if you believe food aid is actually getting to the people in any degree rather to keep them barely alive – rather than buying Cognac and other riches for the regime, you are delusional and your empathy is misplaced. If we stopped all food aid around the world, people would undoubtedly die in greater numbers, but eventually, the masses would help the rest of the world do something about their brutal leaders. Some will likely have to die for future generations to have any sense of liberty. If the story of Shin Dong-hyuk cannot offer a deeply emotional glimpse into horror and the uselessness of foreign aid to totalitarian governments, nothing can.
…Shin didn’t despair, because despair requires hope and he possessed no hope.
The new book Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden details the life of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only North Korean to have been born in a gulag to have escaped. Today he lives in South Korea. His story of growing up emotionally unattached from anything but his next bite of food demonstrates an incomprehensible desolation.
We cannot fight this kind of oppression – a stealing of the soul, by sending aid money used as another weapon against the people.
Once Shin escaped, he faced another battle – one of having no one else who had faced the same abomination, no group of people who were in solidarity with him, as he made his way through China and eventually to South Korea. Here is a small snippet of the story of Shin Dong-hyuk – read it all here: (all emphasis is mine)
So when Shin’s uncle committed the capital crime of escaping from the state, his remaining family were imprisoned for life. Although cohabiting is not allowed in the prison camp, Shin was the result of his parents being granted one of the rare conjugal permits.
He spent his childhood in unforgiving and unpaid labour, developing the survival skills – snitching and stealing – that were vital for a daily existence, constantly threatened by beating and starvation. At 13, when he learned that his mother and brother were planning to escape, he did what had become instinctive and betrayed them to the authorities. The pair were tortured before his mother was hanged and his brother shot. But Shin, too, was tortured, for weeks in an underground prison within the prison camp, within the prison state. He had upset one guard by giving his information on his mother’s plot to another guard, rather than to him.
The narrative, I should warn sensitive readers, is unyielding in its pain and despair. Except that Shin didn’t despair, because despair requires hope and he possessed no hope. He could see no further than his next meal, which was often difficult enough to find. It was only meeting an older prisoner, a disgraced party official who had travelled abroad, that led him to start thinking of a world beyond the electric fence and beyond North Korea. The two planned an escape that only Shin, with no small luck, survived…
Survivors of the Nazi concentration camps also suffered long after their release, but at least they had group solidarity and a distinct place in history. No such consolations are afforded North Korean survivors.
First, they were practically bred to be pitted against one another, and second, as Harden notes: “While Auschwitz existed for only three years, Camp 14 is a 50-year-old Skinner box” – referring to BF Skinner’s notorious behavioural experiments…
One other reason [for writing and reading this book] is to arm yourself against those misguided individuals who continue to see in North Korea an anti-imperialist challenge to the US. They may be rare, but they’re not always without influence. One example is Andrew Murray, who, as an executive member of the Communist party of Britain, expressed his party’s “solidarity” with Kim Jong-il’s “People’s Korea”.