(On Screen via long range sensors): Before the war in Iraq, there were stories that slipped out about just how bad things were in there. There were occasional reports of atrocities, attributed to refugees or the occasional reporter who wasn't willing to toe the party line in Iraq by reporting what he was told to report (à la CNN). But they were fragmentary, and though disturbing they seemed to describe the inconceivable, and many ignored them as anecdotal evidence, or disinformation, or aberrations – or inconvenient truths.
Once we took the place, what we found was that if anything those early leaks had understated the true horror. What may have seemed to be isolated incidents actually turned out to be widespread and routine. No one expected mass graves full of the bones of children who had been buried alive, clutching their dolls as they died.
There are reports leaking out of North Korea which, if true, make Saddam's Iraq look like paradise. The reports describe an incomparable hell on earth, a place where cannibalism has become widespread. The details are sickening, so don't go read about it if you have a weak stomach.
How true are they? The problem with repressive police states is that it's nearly impossible to tell, but there's no question the situation in North Korea is dreadful. My guess would be that these stories, like the ones about Iraq, are probably mostly pretty accurate but understate the overall horror.
These come from a group called the North Korea Refugees Assistance Fund, which operates in China and smuggles food and medicine into parts of North Korea that the World Food Program can't reach. (Or so it is claimed; Google turns up no online references to them except in this story.) They claim to have interviewed 200 refugees as part of the process of compiling the report, which describes grave robbing and cases where children disappeared near restaurants and black markets.
It implies a nation which has completely collapsed, and makes clear that it's the last place on earth any sane person would want to live.
The original international publicity came through a Japanese paper called the Weekly Post. But it seems to have gotten more attention now that the Telegraph has picked up the story. Of course, characteristically they managed to spin it to make it seem as if it's really our fault:
The WFP says Japan provided 500,000 tons of food aid in 2001, making it the biggest donor, but sent nothing last year. Food aid from America has been cut from 340,000 tons in 2001 to 40,000 tons so far this year. Washington has pledged to send a further 60,000 tons if Pyongyang lifts restrictions on the operations of agencies such as the WFP.
You can see the accusation floating like a ghost behind the print: they're using food as a weapon.
But the food we had been sending wasn't getting to the people:
When food aid from other countries enters North Korea, WFP or non-government organization staff go to North Korea with the shipments. They try to insure that the food reaches ordinary North Korean citizens. They made videotapes and showed them to the world as proof of performance.
However, the North Koreans could not eat food donated by foreign countries.
Mr. Kim who lived in a Chinese city said, "When food aid arrives, people find out about by word of mouth. They can prove that it exists because they see that the food is brought to warehouses. They expect that the food will be rationed to them."
The rationing is actually done. One representative of each family stands in line to receive rice or corn.
"However, when night comes, leaders of people's groups and clerks of the Labor Party visit each home and take all of the rationed food back. They say to each family, 'Let's feed the sons and daughters who are starving and fighting on the front line."
The food donated by foreign countries is called 'rice for patriots' and transformed into food for military forces.
So it's not a question of whether we should be sending food to the starving people of North Korea. It's a question of whether we should be providing the food which the government diverts to keep the army and bureaucracy loyal, thus maintaining the power of the regime and causing the continuation of the suffering of the people there. Because of the policies of the North Korean government, the people will starve whether we send food or not. But if we stop sending food, then the army and the bureaucrats will also starve and their loyalty will fail, and then maybe the regime will fall. That's a terrible concept, one I think all of us wish we didn't face.
Deep inside of each of us there must be an abiding hope that in any situation there is a solution of some kind which doesn't require horrible things to happen, a solution which is not simply better than all the others, but which is good in an absolute sense. Unless we're monsters (and some are) we would all hope that somehow a solution could be found which would cause immediate improvement. Our wish for such a solution flows from our compassion.
Sadly, the real