It’s easy to treat Kim Jong-un as a figure of ridicule. I’ve done it myself. His foreign ministry issues statements like this: “If any language and expressions stoking the atmosphere of confrontation are used once again on purpose at a crucial moment as now, that must really be diagnosed as the relapse of the dotage of a dotard.”
His youth, his odd haircut, and his rotund physique don’t signal menace so much as clownishness. But that’s a mistake. He is, in fact, guilty of crimes against humanity on a massive scale, and the United States government has just chosen to block a United Nations Security Council session that would take up those atrocities.
Remember the North Korean army defector who dashed to freedom across the DMZ in 2017? He was shot several times in the shoulder and back. The regime takes it very personally when people attempt to flee the “socialist utopia.” Officer Oh Chong-Song survived. When South Korean doctors operated on him, they found parasites — some ten inches long — swarming his intestines. This is common among North Korean defectors. Oh said later that “most of the North Korean soldiers are hungry all the time.” Though they are entitled to 750 grams of rice daily, the allotment is often less, because higher ranking military officers steal and sell it.
Chronic hunger is mild compared with what prisoners and other enemies of the state endure. Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, and the U.S. Department of State, among many others, have documented the reign of terror presided over by Kim, his father, and his grandfather. It would be instructive for President Trump to page through those accounts. Here are some highlights of the 2016 report commissioned by the International Bar Association:
- A prisoner’s newborn baby was fed to dogs before her eyes.
- A prisoner’s pregnancy was aborted by three guards standing on a plank on her stomach.
- Prisoners caught digging for edible roots were shot.
- Prisoners were tortured and killed for professing religion. Guards were told to “wipe out the seed of Christianity.”
- Thousands of prisoners, including children, have been intentionally worked and starved to death.
At the start of his administration, President Trump issued wild threats to destroy North Korea utterly, to rain down “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” which sounded eerily like the threats Kim himself issues. Trump may have frightened the dictator — he certainly alarmed many Americans — but the next act was even more bizarre: a fawning courtship. “At least,” said the eternally hopeful, “they’re talking!”
Trump believes that bromide more than anyone, repeatedly boasting of his great relationships with foreign leaders (usually autocrats). He speaks of “falling in love” with Kim Jong-un. He appears to believe that his personal relationship with Kim can overcome the fundamental facts about the regime, that it rules by terror at home and maneuvers by terror abroad. Trump’s minions mouthed terms like “denuclearization,” as if Kim and kin had not agreed to and broken countless previous pledges. The U.S. canceled military exercises with South Korea, repealed some sanctions previously ordered, and showered the dictator with encomia.
President Trump blandly waived away Pyongyang’s missile tests, explaining:
These missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement, nor was there discussion of short range missiles when we shook hands. There may be a United Nations violation, but Chairman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true. He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!
A “great and beautiful vision for his country.”
Two full-dress summits and one kiss-and-drive at the DMZ, and where are we? North Korea continues to test missiles, manufacture nuclear fuel, threaten its neighbors, and abuse its suffering population. In the last few days, it has also reprised threats to the U.S., warning that if progress is not made by December 31, Kim will resume testing long-range ballistic missiles and might have an unpleasant “Christmas gift” in mind for America.
Demonstrating his enduring affection for strongmen, Trump’s response has been feeble. By blocking the U.N. from shining a light on North Korea’s crimes, Trump conveys his desperation for something he can tout as a breakthrough and squanders America’s moral authority.
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