The efforts of the North Korean regime to force the suppression of The Interview, a comedy which subjects its leader to a small dose of long-overdue mockery, have aroused the anger of many Americans, with particular umbrage being expressed by a number of leading Hollywood personalities. They are right to be mad, for certainly, as even President Obama pointed out, we cannot accept criminal attempts by foreign dictatorships to interfere with freedom of speech in our country. Yet it must also be said that there is a narcissistic quality to the current outrage over this particular crime of the North Korean government, as it has long been guilty of far worse.
North Korea is sometimes described as the world’s last remaining Stalinist regime. But this is a slander — of Stalinism. In fact, North Korea is actually a vast — and monstrously cruel — slave labor plantation and human trafficking operation run for the profit and hedonistic pleasure of its morally degenerate rulers.
Here is an extract from the U.S. State Department 2009 report on human trafficking by North Korea:
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The most common form of trafficking involves North Korean women and girls subjected to involuntary servitude after willingly crossing the border into the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Many of them are from North Hamgyong province, one of the poorest provinces in the country, located near the Chinese border. Once in China, they are picked up by traffickers and sold as brides to PRC nationals, often of Korean ethnicity. In other cases, North Korean women and girls are lured out of North Korea to escape poor economic, social, and political conditions by the promise of food, jobs, and freedom, only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements once in China. North Koreans trafficked into or within the PRC are often passed from one trafficker to the next until they reach their ultimate destinations. In some cases, women and girls may be sold to traffickers by their families or acquaintances. Women sold as brides are sometimes re-abducted by the traffickers or are sold by husbands who no longer want them. In some cases, North Korean women are sold multiple times to different men by the same trafficker. Trafficking networks of Korean-Chinese and North Korean men operate in Northeast China and along the China-DPRK border, where they seek out North Korean women and girls. There are some reports that businessmen who operate along the China-DPRK border use their trade routes along the Yalu River to traffic North Korean women into China. While many women trafficked into China are sold as brides, some North Korean women in China are forced to work in the highly exploitative sex industry, including as prostitutes in brothels and in internet sex operations. Many victims of trafficking, unable to speak Chinese, are held as virtual prisoners. The illegal status of North Koreans in the PRC and other Southeast Asian countries increases their vulnerability to trafficking for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. NGOs estimate that tens of thousands of North Koreans presently live in China, more than half of whom are women; according to some estimates, over 80 percent of North Korean refugees are victims of human trafficking.
To this, the 2010 State Department report adds:
The North Korean government is directly involved in subjecting North Koreans to forced labor in prison camps. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons are held in detention camps in remote areas of the country; many of these prisoners were not duly convicted of a criminal offense. In prison camps, all prisoners, including children, are subject to forced labor, including logging, mining, and farming for long hours under harsh conditions. Reports indicate that political prisoners endure severe conditions, including little food or medical care, and brutal punishments; many are not expected to survive. Many prisoners fell ill or died, due to harsh labor conditions, inadequate food, beatings, lack of medical care, and unhygienic conditions.
The North Korean government recruits workers for bilateral contracts with foreign governments, including in Russia, countries in Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, East and Southeast Asia, including Mongolia, and the Middle East. There are credible reports that many North Korean workers sent abroad by the regime under these contracts are subjected to forced labor, with their movement and communications constantly under surveillance and restricted by North Korean government “minders.” Credible reports state that they face threats of government reprisals against them or their relatives in North Korea if they attempt to escape or complain to outside parties. Worker salaries are deposited into accounts controlled by the North Korean government, which keeps most of the money, claiming fees for various “voluntary” contributions to government endeavors. Workers only receive a fraction of the money paid to the North Korean government for their work. Tens of thousands of North Korean workers are estimated to be employed in Russian logging camps, where they reportedly have only two days of rest per year and face punishments when they fail to meet production targets. Wages of some North Korean workers employed in Russia reportedly were withheld until the laborers returned home, in a coercive tactic by North Korean authorities to compel their labor. North Korean workers at joint ventures with foreign investors within the DPRK are employed under arrangements similar to those that apply to overseas contract workers.
It gets worse. The North Korean rulers willfully starve the nation’s entire population, using the foreign exchange they get by selling their subjects as forced labor and sex slaves abroad to buy weaponry, palaces, and a fantastic assortment of luxuries for themselves. Rations are so low that the growth of children is stunted, resulting in an average height of North Korean ten year olds being some 8 inches less than their opposite numbers in South Korea. Over the past twenty years, more than 5 percent of the general population has starved to death. Conditions are so bad that men pay government officials heavy bribes in order to be chosen to be sent to slave labor camps in Siberia. In Stalinist Russia, people feared such a fate. In North Korea today, they beg for it.
While their people starve, the Korean rulers gorge themselves. As recounted by his former chef, Fujimoto Kenji , during the height of a mid-1990s famine, dictator Kim Jong Il (the son of Kim Il Sung and the father of current dictator Kim Jong Un) ordered him to go to Japan to buy nearly three thousand pounds of the best sushi and squid, as well as red-bean rice cakes and Japanese cigarettes, then on to Thailand for the best papayas and mangoes, then Czechoslovakia for Pilsner beer, to Denmark for bacon, to France for Perrier water, and to Iran and Uzbekistan for pistachios and caviar, all for consumption by himself and his “joy brigade” of Norwegian models during revels in his ten palaces.
In order to induce their subjects to accept such treatment, the North Korean regime has created a cult in which its leaders are held to be gods. Accordingly, nearly all Christian churches and Buddhist temples (except for a few in the capital for use by foreigners) have been destroyed, while 40,000 idols (including one $800 million seventy-foot high gilded edition) of the nation’s “eternal president” Kim Il Sung have been erected across the country. The calendar has also been changed, replacing the birth of Christ with that of Kim IL Sung (in 1912) as the starting point for human history. The cult also includes an ideology of racial purity. Thus, when its female sex slaves are returned from China, any girls who have been made pregnant by Chinese men are subject to forced abortions, or, if they give birth, they have to watch while their “racially impure” babies are killed on the spot.
No competing religions are tolerated, with Christianity particularly frowned upon. Possession of a Bible by one family member can result in execution of the entire family, sometimes by extraordinarily cruel means. In one incident reported by Melanie Kirkpatrick in her book Escape from North Korea, “five secret Christians were bound, laid on a highway, and run over by a steamroller.”
Any Korean can be picked up by police at any time right off the street and sent to a slave camp without trial or any kind of due process whatsoever. There, as former National Security Council staffer Victor Cha describes in his book The Impossible State, “conditions… are subhuman….Generally, inmates are woken up between four and six AM to begin slave labor. The types of work the prisoners are tasked with vary greatly, but are often hard, physical labor for men and young female prisoners, such as mining, logging, brick making, and general construction. The work conditions on these sites are incredibly dangerous, with large numbers of work-related deaths, and defectors reporting shockingly high counts of amputees, cripples, hunchbacks, and other generally deformed prisoners as a result of their toil. The older or weaker men or women are forced to carry out light manufacturing jobs, such as sewing clothes and making belts and shoes, and they are driven no less hard than their younger, stronger counterparts. The work is ceaseless and subject to highly strict quotas, which are enforced brutally. Punishments for working too slow or not making a quota range from reductions in already-measly food rations to prolonged solitary confinement to physical abuse to torture. …Usually, the only justifiable reason to provide prisoners with a break is to gather them to witness a public execution, most often for prisoners who have tried to escape. Execution methods run the gamut, but are similar to those practiced outside prison walls in North Korean society, including hanging, sheeting, stoning (which requires prisoner participation), and, in one particularly grotesque case, being dragged behind a moving car. … Some prison guards force inmates to climb the fences, just so they can shoot them down for recreation or target practice….female inmates, in particular, are subject to the pain and humiliation of sexual abuse.”
North Korea does not confine this treatment to its own subjects. It actively engages in kidnapping others, most frequently from South Korea or Japan, to exploit as slaves as well. In addition, it engages in terrorism, including repeated attempts to assassinate South Korean political leaders, in one case blowing up an airliner with 150 people on board to do so.
One could go on, at great length, detailing ever more hideous aspects of this monstrous regime. Suffice to say, however, that its offense of trying to suppress Hollywood mockery compares to its true criminality in about the same degree as similar (largely successful) efforts by Nazi Germany to chill film criticism in the 1930s did to the full measure of the depravity of the Third Reich. Unfortunately, however, Seth Rogen’s Interview comedy, even if ultimately broadly released, will no more suffice to defeat Kim Jong Un than Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator satire was able to stop Hitler. As then, so now, rather more potent means will be required. Perhaps, though, if they wish to strike back, those in Hollywood now outraged by the gentlest touch of Kim’s totalitarianism can help muster the forces to destroy it by making a blockbuster that truly exposes it to the light of day.
There’s plenty of material available for the screenplay. Many of the chilling accounts in Kirkpatrick’s Escape from North Korea could serve. My favorite, though, would be The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, the gripping autobiography of Kang Chol-Hwan, a boy whom the priesthood of the divine Kim Il Sung sentenced to a slave labor camp at the age of nine for the crime of having the wrong grandparents.
That might be a lot to expect from Hollywood, some of whose leading stars, such as Martin Sheen, have acted out their fashionable anti-Americanism by serving as spokesmen for the North Korean front group ANSWER. So maybe we’ll have to settle for a documentary, made with the more limited resources of the film community’s pro-freedom underground.
They could call it Why We Fight.