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[Robert Park] Nation or collateral damage of preventive war?

“They could do damage to South Korea; we may not get all of their missiles but I’ll tell you what, I know how that war ends. That’s the destruction of North Korea, we will obliterate the place.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (2017.4.28)

“The fateful division of Korea at the 38th parallel, at root a product of the Yalta Agreements of early 1945 ... set in motion a train of events leading to the present.” 
Robert Scalapino (1976)

I cannot agree more with The Korea Herald’s Sept. 5 editorial, which urges for a whole new set of measures and all available means to be considered -- “aside from a military strike” -- to stop Kim Jong-un.

Ex-prison camp personnel and ex-North Korea officials testify guards are trained to massacre all captives in the event of a military attack, to “eliminate” evidence of atrocities.

The 2014 UN-mandated investigative report confirms that camp authorities have been commanded to “kill all prisoners in case of an armed conflict” to “destroy the primary evidence of the camps’ existence.”

“The initial order seems to have been given by Kim Il-sung himself, and the order was later reaffirmed by Kim Jong-il,” the probe found.

Not only ex-guard Ahn Myong-chol, but one-time “guards from other camps and officials confidentially interviewed by the Commission were aware of the same order.”

“Ahn and other witnesses also explained that specific plans exist on how to implement the order and that drills were held on how to kill large numbers of prisoners in a short period of time,” they found.

Who are these prisoners? Relative to South Korea, they include “would-be defectors” to the South, all would undoubtedly tearfully wish to live under infinitely more humane South Korea-rule; many are imprisoned for having a distant relative that fled to the South during the Korean War. From every angle, the situation is incalculably unjust. Adjudging the matter of extermination as too “politically inexpedient” to prioritize compromises us all; moreover, as illustrated by immediate developments, this is a strategically unsound premise.

All North Koreans privately dread and instinctively loathe the camps. Slave-drivers have contrived for over 70 years to reign via terror; for this precise reason, the disassembling of the camp system together with the effectual deliverance of all prisoners would be, whether secretly or openly, celebrated en masse throughout North Korea. Such an undertaking would earn the people’s respect and gratitude. Accordingly, the reality of pervasive human rights violations is oft-specified as the Kim dynasty’s Achilles’ heel.

Ex-prison camp guard Ahn’s father was an official who oversaw a public distribution center. Once, he accidentally remarked that the “food shortage in North Korea existed because the people on the top were not doing their job correctly.” Apprehending that just the vaguest indicator of “wavering” spelled cruel annihilation, he committed suicide. The report records, “Ahn’s mother and three siblings, including a sister who was still an elementary school student, were all arrested and sent to a political prison camp.”

Ahn realized while still a guard that political prisoners were not “bad people” as he was indoctrinated to assume; he ascertained the absolute inverse was true.

The overriding factor dictating which families are forcibly removed to lifetime-incarceration death camps is the suspicion targets would prefer or be more loyal to the South; correspondingly, pursuant to the Constitution, which stipulates they are citizens of the Republic of Korea already, there is an inescapable legal and ethical responsibility to undertake measures for freeing and assisting victims.

When asked a decade ago if there were up to 1 million deaths via the prison camp system, Ahn indicated the estimation -- put forward in a 2005 book by journalist Jasper Becker -- was “too low.” Add to this deduction the once broadly-held estimate of approximately 3 million deaths over 1995-98’s “Great Famine” (The late senior-most North Korea defector Hwang Jang-yop was enraged by suggestions the number of persons lost was far lower; his testimony regarding this matter is based on the regime’s internal reporting -- in lieu of transoceanic extrapolations, or the Korean Central News Agency’s press releases -- and is corroborated, for example, by a 1998 “Ministry of People’s Security” survey), and you arrive at the aggregate of some 4 million dead.

If reckoning those killed in the 1950-53 proxy war, the ebbs and flows of which were regulated by either the superabundance or dearth, at any given time -- of weapons provisioned or denied by rivalrous foreign empires -- Korea’s death count since 1945 may well exceed 7 million. The conflagration itself was a direct outgrowth of division and various egregious encroachments, such as the imposition and heavy arming of an obscure sociopath as sovereign lord over the North.

Frighteningly relevant as well, considering obscene discourse entertaining “nuclear preventive war” here, are the trafficked Korean slaves agonizingly exterminated via Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s atomic explosions. The New York Times reports some “40,000 to 50,000 Koreans were killed in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of them forced laborers.” Their descendants suffer excruciatingly owing to radiation damage, yet have never been able to obtain a solicited apology, let alone redress.

There are yet more bloody incidents which would have been prevented had Korea -- once among the most pacifist countries in the world -- endured as a single nation, and had its sovereignty, territorial integrity and its people’s dignity been thought-of; hence, today’s harsh realities were perfectly presaged in the 1919 March 1 Declaration of Independence.

There’s a straightforward case for reparations in Korea. We shouldn’t dread unification or its presupposed economic fall-out; rather, by underlining burning issues such as the blatant obstruction of transitional justice after Japan’s colonial occupation -- while under a virtual “trusteeship” that isn’t quite over -- or the catastrophic price Koreans have had to pay for a foreign-imposed division, Korea could win the concurrence of much of the international community for ample compensation. Unification is imperative for global peace; it’s in fact the panacea vis-a-vis both the purportedly irreparable human rights and security exigencies.

Regrettably, many do not comprehend, painstakingly cover up or misconstrue the history; some predictably venture to reframe the onus for all these cataclysmic horrors as somehow resting on Koreans themselves. Perhaps that is why, instead of feeling a keen sense of contrition -- which is in order -- we see a shocking acquiescence or even allowance for the prospective hazard of nuclear “preventive war” within this region, poisoning the debate respecting what could and must be implemented.

Who among our people would opt for 10 million Korean families to be permanently wrested apart, in a society and culture that once treasured familial ties above everything? Who could have chosen to cower, bereft of the freedom of thought, incessantly harassed, monitored and berated under maximally inhumane oppressors? Who has incarcerated entire families for enunciating words deemed too neutral and not sufficiently worshipful? Who does not recognize the right to life?

Yet another reason a military strike on North Korea is a malevolent proposition: Innocents have been forced to do slave labor at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site from the inaugural detonation; they are routinely subjected to lethal radiation and denied protective equipment of whatsoever sort. Prison Camp 16 is roughly 2.5 kilometers from Punggye-ri.

Kim’s weapons of mass destruction facilities, concealed in mountainous terrain, are intimately interwoven with his likewise-enshrouded prison camps.

Bear in mind the late Kim Jong-nam, Jong-un’s eldest half brother, whom the tyrant assassinated with VX nerve agent. The North’s prisoners have been experimented on in even crueler fashion, and systematically. We must not forget these citizens. We must peacefully remove Kim Jong-un and reunify the country, advancing amnesty for those who cease human rights violations and aid the metamorphosis. As Thae Yong-ho has stressed, it can and must be a non-violent revolution. 

By Robert Park

Robert Park is a founding member of the nonpartisan Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, minister, musician and former prisoner of conscience. -- Ed.