The Corner

Out of North Korea

I remember the first time I met a North Korean. It was only a few years ago — in 2010. I met Kang Chol-hwan at the Oslo Freedom Forum. He’s the one who wrote The Aquariums of Pyongyang, a gulag memoir. George W. Bush made sure to meet him, more than once.

When I met him, I had the feeling of shaking the hand of someone from a different planet. I don’t mean to be unkind. What I mean is, I could hardly believe it: I was at last meeting someone from this “hermit kingdom,” probably the worst place on earth, this “psychotic state,” as Jeane Kirkpatrick labeled it.

Since 2010, I have met several North Koreans, but not more than ten. Closer to five. In any case, I have interviewed and written about another survivor of the gulag: Jung Gwang-il, who escaped North Korea in 2003 and now works to help the people he left behind. What he does is send information into that sealed-off state — by drone.

We have placed this piece in our homepage today, here.

Jung’s story is an eye-popping one, but there are many like it, out of North Korea. If the Communist dictatorship ever falls, we will hear a lot of them. That is, if we can bear them.

North Koreans are, of course, not from another planet, but human beings from this one, who are experiencing just about the worst that human life can mete out. Yet, goodness emerges, even in a psychotic and slave state. Jung told me about some of it.

Anyway, I am filled with admiration for Jung Gwang-il and others like him, who are doing all they can to break the chains of North Korea and bring those people into something like normality.

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