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Useful Idiots in Our Time

7:40 AM, Feb 28, 2013 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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What makes today's useful idiots even less forgivable is that the truth about the nature of the current North Korean regime is not as hard to find as honest reporting on the Soviet Union was in the early part of the 20th century. Barbara Demick’s 2010 book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea, for instance, is heartbreaking. One passage recalls the journey of a physician, Kim Ji-eun, who made a dangerous night crossing of the river separating the DPRK and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the middle of winter. Illegally escaping to the Chinese side is stage one of the a long and dangerous journey that North Koreans undertake in the hopes of escaping and eventually gaining asylum in South Korea.

The North Korean doctor could no longer bear the deaths of dozens of children at the hospital where she had no food or meds to give to them as they wasted away from malnutrition. “They would look at me with accusing eyes. Even four-year olds knew they were dying and I wasn’t doing anything to help them,” she recounted for Demick. “All I was capable of doing was to cry with their mothers over their bodies afterwards.”

Dr. Kim crossed the frozen river and at dawn went to the closest Chinese village in search of food. She found a farmhouse with an unlocked gate and when she opened it there was a metal bowl of rice mixed with meat scraps sitting on the ground – a veritable luxury in North Korea. She wondered why someone would leave unattended a bowl of rice, which is a meal for the well-to-do in the DPRK. That is, until she heard a dog barking and had a shocking revelation. At that moment, as Demick writes, she “could not deny what was staring her in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.”

The day is coming when the world will be asking why we looked away from North Korea’s genocidal nightmare, how anyone could call for engagement with a ruling order that has systematically starved millions to death over decades. Somehow, I think the answer “we were waiting for a reboot” is not going to be a morally defensible answer.

Reuben F. Johnson is a defense correspondent for Jane’s Information Group in London covering Asia, the former USSR and Latin America. He lives in Kiev, Ukraine.

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