Don’t Cry for Me, North Korea
Earlier this week the streets of Pyongyang were filled with North Koreans crying profusely. Such public display was a real attention grabber for several reasons. Ask yourself when you last saw thousands of people overwhelmed by public anguish in the streets. As an American living in the New York metropolitan region, I think about 9/11. Many Pacific Islanders might recall the terrible anguish over the devastating Pacific tsunamis that came ashore during the past decade.
Another point about the striking scenes in Pyongyang this week is the commonly viewed demeanor that Westerners often ascribe to the people of Asia. At the risk of stereotyping, I think many Americans view Asian people as leaning more toward public introversion than open display of their emotions.
Nevertheless, there they were, throngs of Koreans weeping uncontrollably in the public square.
As it turned out, they had suffered the loss of their leader. One would expect by this outpouring that a great benevolent member of their “Juche” had unjustly been swept away, much to their horror. Juche, by the way, is a term that identifies the Korean masses as the masters of the country’s development. Application of the term in this context is a misnomer.
Instead, they had suffered the loss of Chairman Kim Jong-il, Eternal President of the Republic. Term limits are apparently not an option in North Korea, at least until this week. Kim Jong-il was an absolute monarch who is now succeeded by Kim Jong-un, the youngest of Kim Jong-il’s three sons.
Multiple international human rights organizations have accused North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation. North Koreans are often described as being among world’s most brutalized people by Human Rights Watch.
Yet, it appeared this week that these people mourned the loss of the dictator who orchestrated countless abuses against them. To explain this phenomenon, reports exist that ascribe this public mourning to a practice of totalitarian regimes force to their people into public acts before the world to “prove” the humanity of their society. This is a matter of simple survival for them so they feign patriotism and love for their leaders.
North Korea has not been shy about wielding its military might and nuclear power. Diplomatic talks have stalled in April 2009 and have not been resumed since North Korea walked away from the negotiating table and then conducted its second nuclear test a month later.
Certainly, the Kim monarchy has been somewhat recalcitrant in relation to efforts toward negotiations intended to persuade it to abide by global community minded best practices. However, despite a history of abuse and belligerence in North Korea, diplomacy is always an option. If anything, we need to engage North Korea as a member of the global community. The world is only getting smaller, not bigger.
We’ve all heard the predictable saber rattling from the West immediately following Kim’s death. Former Speaker of the House and GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich would not discount a preemptive strike against the country.
President Obama continues to monitor the situation and continues to work on a multilateral level along with Japan and South Korea to engage North Korea and work toward progress in our relations.
Nicholas Kristoff has rightly identified this scenario as a new opportunity to reach out to the Korean Peninsula in good faith. To repeat, diplomacy is always an option and remains that way until aggression becomes the policy of default. For too long this has been the case.
Every member of the world community has its unique contribution to share. When diplomatic relations are initiated with those members, those unique contributions are multiplied globally. The United States along with all other nations who will participate, should express its condolences to North Korea out of respect.
More importantly, this is an opportunity to work with the young heir Kim Jong-un and the people of North Korea in this holiday season to work toward nuclear disarmament, respect for the humanity of all people and to work toward a thawing of international relations in a part of the world that would certainly welcome it.
There is no need to cry for North Korea nor the senior Kim. Rather, this should be looked upon as brand new opportunity for international engagement as we approach the New Year. I think the decedent might even agree.
As Madonna, er, Evita once sang (replacing Argentina with North Korea):
Don’t cry for me (North Korea)
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance
And as for fortune, and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired
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