History has a sad way of repeating itself when it comes to state-abetted tragedy. During famines in the 1920s in the Soviet Union and in 1950s China a sickening phenomenon was hidden from the world’s eyes. Horses and other large animals disappeared first, and then smaller animals like cats and dogs. Not long after, people traveling through remote villages on foot simply vanished. The recently dead were then found missing from their graves. Finally, young children disappeared from streets. As people later admitted, they all became food for the desperate.
That pattern is repeating itself in the last Stalinist nation left on our planet. Refugees fleeing North Korea have reported that some farmers’ markets are trading in “special meat” and bodies are being dug up just hours after burial. Most horrifically, children are disappearing with the grisly conclusion that they are being killed for food. International organizations are being barred from investigating the reports for “security reasons.”
All of this goes on while North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il spends enormous sums of money to build, as Christopher Hitchens termed it earlier this year, his “plutonium god” to prove to the world that his nation is a real power. Dangerous technologies are exported to other trouble spots like Pakistan, potentially spreading death and destruction. Giant parades and rallies are held for his children-eating subjects to have an opportunity to laud his greatness while North Korea’s economy continues to implode. It’s virtually a carbon copy of the insanity practiced by the Soviet Union and China decades earlier, except that Kim’s mental stability is questionable at best.
That rabidly totalitarian North Korea is a danger to its own citizens and to others hopefully isn’t in question. Its hostile actions against its neighbors are regular and likely portents of things to come. Its declaration that it needs nuclear weapons, of which it likely already has several, to deter a potential conflict with the United States makes a mockery of its claims that its nuclear program is designed to produce electricity for civilian needs. Half the 22 million people of North Korea are malnourished even while Pyongyang pumps ever more resources into its million-man army. North Korea’s work on intercontinental ballistic missiles not only threatens our allies South Korea and Japan, but also all of North America.
Admittedly none of these things individually necessarily make a case for a more confrontational approach to North Korea. Taken as a whole, however, they create a powerful moral argument for abandoning U.S. President George W. Bush’s policy of containment or pursuing it in tandem with policies designed to destabilize Kim’s regime. While opponents of a more aggressive policy could argue that whoever replaces Kim may not be better, it’s also quite safe to argue that it’s doubtful they would be any worse.
If we do proceed with regime change we can be certain of a few things. It will continue to send the message to rogue nations around the world that threats to global security will be dealt with either peacefully or with force. If removing Kim rescues North Koreans from starvation and anarchy then a moral point is made. The third member of Bush’s axis of evil, Iran, may also learn that ignoring its nascent democracy movement may prove to be a mistake. Repressive regimes everywhere, especially those in Asia, will note that a moral dimension now influences the West’s foreign policy.
There were many in the run up to the war against Saddam Hussein, myself included, who argued that the justification for regime chance in Iraq did not necessarily lead to the same conclusion for North Korea. Those arguments ignored the morality of why regime change is necessary. Hussein’s Baathist regime and Kim’s communist tyranny share the same characteristic. They are built upon an inverted pyramid with the wealth of a nation cascading down to a few. It would a firm nudge to push that pyramid over and give North Koreans some semblance of a life back. We have only two choices when that fall finally occurs — we can be there and help or we can sit back and pretend that the issue doesn’t concern us.
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