Great Leadership: What I saw in North Korea

Wall Street Opinion Journal Suki Kim October 16, 2006

Despite the much-touted label of being the most secretive nation in the world, the one thing everyone knows about North Korea is that its people have been dying in massive numbers from starvation and persecution for decades, the reality of which seems to have bypassed the nations involved in the on-again-off-again six-party talks–whose diplomacy has apparently failed. By landing a punch at the nonproliferation policy of the U.N. Security Council, an organization soon to be led by South Korean Ban Ki Moon, North Korea yet again thwarted its former promises of stopping all nuclear activities. The Bush administration is advocating harsher ways of punishing a country they maintain is a member of the “axis of evil” through tougher sanctions and cutting off its financial sources, neither of which has worked so far in stopping North Korea from doing whatever it wants to do. Now that it claims to have become the world’s ninth nuclear power, I wonder what will change, if anything, for its people.

On June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea, my mother’s brother, then age 18 and living in Seoul, was kidnapped by the North’s soldiers. Fleeing the bombs, my grandmother, with her five children, fought through the panicked crowd onto the jam-packed, southbound train when someone screamed out that young men should give up their seats for women and children. My grandmother spent her remaining life haunted by that last moment, of her eldest son rising and reassuring her that he would be on the next train. Hers turned out to be the last train out of Seoul. Later, a neighbor reported seeing him tied up and being dragged away by the North Korean soldiers. Korean Confucian ethics holds that there is no bigger sin than abandoning one’s family, and yet neither Korean government has granted reunions for the millions of separated families, except for a handful who have been used as a showcase for the failed peace summits.

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