Whenever I tell someone I’m from Korea, their first question is invariably, “North or South?”
Ah man, it never fails! And then I say “South” (while in my mind I'm slapping my forehead), not really bothering to explain that over 90% of North Koreans can’t afford or are permitted to travel abroad. I see the relieved smile on their faces and just have to let the issue pass.
We're not from North Korea.
I've learned that many people are more ignorant of the pain in North Koreans’ lives than I expected. But for those of you who clicked on this article, you are probably curious, at least. I appreciate that.
TV pundits and newscasters are beating the drums of war these days. Kim Jong-un's regime conducted another major nuclear test on September 3rd. Trump just told the UN General Assembly that the US could totally destroy North Korea. This all adds up to a textbook definition of madness. It's scaring quite a lot of people, and I totally sympathize.
At this point, what if I said I’m from North Korea? Would I be treated like a potential terrorist?
Let’s take a step back for a moment.
People dislike the North Korean regime, not the North Korean people themselves. So even if I say I’m from North Korea, I shouldn’t be treated like those dictators with nuke mania. Because I’m not one of them.
But the world is leaving the innocent people out in the cold. North Koreans won’t be able to work abroad in Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, or Qatar like usual, due to the current diplomatic oppression directed against their leaders. Most of them don’t even work for the government. Some of them are earning money to leave North Korea for good.
The North Koreans you see on TV are mostly only from Pyongyang, an area reserved for elites and well-to-do families who are loyal to their government. What about the other 90% of the population?
I’m lucky, as I was born in South Korea. My country has been constantly antagonized by others in our “difficult neighborhood” for the last 70 years or more. Still, we don’t all feel the need to “kill” our neighbors... At least not more than 10% of them.
That 90% has never experienced life as free human beings, and they never will in that system no matter how hard they work.
Watch this short three-minute video by Liberty in North Korea to better understand the reality of life for typical North Koreans:
But the world for North Koreans is growing harsher by the day. The United Nations is discussing cutting the nation's supply of natural gas, with the idea to stop the Kim regime from continuing its course toward developing stronger nuclear weapons. That’s understandable.
But some people in South Korea and Japan (and even other countries involved) want to remove all sources of financial support for North Koreans. That means they prefer that we show no mercy even for the ordinary people who are struggling to manage through their daily lives without any income due to their international isolation.
We live in peace (at least you have the internet and are free to read this article and go on holidays), but for them every day is war. Eventually, they will feel like maybe actual war is better because they have been conditioned to fight all their lives. They have nothing to lose. It’s not only the story of North Korea; that’s how all refugees come to feel eventually.
Deep down, the North Koreans are not on their nation’s side. But apparently, the strong hierarchy and propaganda won’t let any protests happen. Even if it did, the authorities would lock it down and restrict it to just their own community before eliminating the movement permanently. The people in North Korea are living a hopeless hope.
For perspective, here are some facts:
1) Over 20 million people live in North Korea as of 2017, and there are 1,200-1,500 defectors every year who risk their lives just to find a new life in South Korea. They risk death and imprisonment just for a shot at freedom, and still their numbers increase each year.
2) Beginning in kindergarten, the education North Koreans receive, assuming they have access to education at all, is basically non-stop brainwashing for the purpose of instilling unquestioning obedience to their “heroic leaders” and cursing all nations that oppose the Kim regime, with the US as public enemy number one. Also, every man must spend 10-13 years in the army, from their late teens through their 20s.
3) For foreigners, every trip to North Korea is a strictly produced and controlled route through Pyongyang, with their passports seized for the entirety of the trip. South Koreans, of course, cannot visit North Korea for leisure, and anyway most of them say they never would want to go anyway.
4) They have to watch South Korean dramas and listen to South Korean pop music in secret to avoid being beaten, imprisoned, or killed on the street. North Korean TV, meanwhile, only has three channels, all tightly controlled by the government.
5) Half of the population — 12 million people — live in extreme poverty with zero support from the government. Their government hides the fact that there is humanitarian aid from South Korea, the United States, and the United Nations. The GDP per capita in North Korea is around $1,800, which is almost 16 times less than South Korea. North Korean are not aware of this. Of course.
Still can’t quite feel how cruel it is? Maybe this video will worth your while:
By now, some of you might have realized that the idea of destroying North Korea or even the idea that North Korea is “a country of terrorists” should be scaled back at least a little bit.
Because it’s the North Korean regime that is completely abusing the human rights of their citizens and destabilizing the political balance of the world for their own stubborn, desperate desire for power and honor for the Kim regime.
We simply don’t look forward to any needless violence, and so do many countries involved, particularly not merely for the sake of blind, unrelenting power. As a South Korean, I hope the world can find a better way to pursue their own countries' needs and goals with a reunified Korea that no longer poses a military threat to the world.
<모란봉 클럽>, the South Korean TV program where North Korean refugees speak up
<글동무>, the North-South Korean translator app launched by Cheil Worldwide Inc.
So if you care, instead of hating and blaming North Korea as a whole, what you can do is to support the lives of ordinary North Koreans who can be the voice of sanity and change in their society. If you’re a content creator, use your talents to spread messages of truth and mercy to let them realize the reality of their situation. They have a right to know what’s happening on this planet.
Hard-working North Koreans deserve a good life, while some of them surely do not. Choose the former.
#1 If you’re curious about how actual North Korean refugees see the world, immediately binge-watch the all of the North Korea-related videos by Asian Boss. You will also learn the true reason why North Korea keeps testing their missiles. If you have no time for anything else, just watch this. (Dear movie directors and hopefuls, Kim Pil-ju’s story will land you your best movie deal ever!)
#2 If you want to help North Koreans’ reach freedom, go to:
Cebin Jeong | Content Curator