The Moral Obscenity of Kim's North Korea

North Korea's menace has been all over the news, including its missile tests, visible preparations for a sixth nuclear test, and its threats to attack a U.S. aircraft carrier and to reduce the U.S. to ashes with a "super-mighty preemptive strike." Assorted experts, debating how to handle the rogue regime of Kim Jong Un, have been weighing the pros and cons of trying yet more sanctions, new negotiations, tough talk, pressure on China, displays of military might, actual use of military force to take out North Korean missiles or even nuclear facilities, or assorted permutations of all these options and then some.

Amid all the strategizing -- much of which envisions somehow continuing to "manage" the North Korea problem -- it's easy to sideline a basic and profoundly important element of the Pyongyang regime, a quality we should take into account quite thoroughly, front and center, before considering any course that might leave the Kim regime in power. The feature I'm talking about is the raw moral obscenity of Kim's North Korea.

That obscenity might seem so entirely self-evident that it needs no repeated mention. We know that Kim is a tyrant, ruling a country that doubles as a prison for its 25 million people. We know that Kim keeps power by doing horrible things to those who fail to please him, including members of his own family. It was all over the news in 2012 when he swept aside his uncle and purported mentor, Jang Song Thaek, who was abruptly denounced and executed. Kim's regime appears to have been behind the horrific assassination with VX nerve agent of Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, just two months ago, in a Malaysian airport.

We know that Kim runs a state which last year year sentenced a visiting American student, Otto Warmbier, to 15 years at hard labor for the prank of taking down a political propaganda poster from a hotel wall in Pyongyang -- thus turning Warmbier into a likely bargaining chip in North Korea's long-running hostage games (this weekend comes news that North Korea has added another visiting American to its current haul). We also know, as reports over the past dozen years have richly documented, that a native North Korean showing disregard for the totalitarian propaganda of Kim's regime would risk being executed outright, or possibly exiled incommunicado, along with three generations of his or her family, to the brutal labor camps in which the regime currently holds an estimated 80,000-120,000 political prisoners.

But that scarcely begins to sum up the systematic depravities with which the totalitarian Kim regime has held onto power for three generations, from founder Kim Il Sung, to his son Kong Jong Il, to the current Kim Jong Un (who inherited power upon the death of his father, more than five years ago). For decades, reports of the Kim-family regime's atrocities have been seeping out of North Korea, including a landmark report in 2003 from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea on North Korea's prison camps ("The Hidden Gulag"), and another groundbreaking report in 2012 on what amounts to North Korea's system of political apartheid ("Marked for Life: Songbun, North Korea's Political Classification System").