Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

The Democidal Famine In North Korea

R.J. Rummel

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Genocide: among other things, the killing of people by a government because of their indelible group membership (race, ethnicity, religion, language).
Politicide: the murder of any person or people by a government because of their politics or for political purposes.
Mass Murder: the indiscriminate killing of any person or people by a government.
Democide: The murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder.

One of the most ignored cases of ongoing democide is the Kim Chong-il's regime created famine in North Korea. Perhaps as many as 3,000,000 North Koreas already have died of starvation or associated diseases, not to mention those that have been summarily executed. While it is true that this famine was not intentional in the sense that Kim said "Let there be famine--I want to starve to death as many people as I can," or, "I will use famine to enforce communism on the people," as was true for Stalin's intentional famine of the Ukraine in 1932, it is intentional in another sense. If parents cause the death of their children through a reckless and depraved indifference to their lives, such as punishing them through starvation, even were their deaths not intended, they could be tried in a court of law for murder. And the North Korean famine is intentional in that sense--the very communist totalitarian policies that created the famine continue despite their mortal consequences for the North Korean People, and with what must be Kim's clear knowledge of this.

And here there can be no doubt that it is the fanatical devotion to communism itself that is responsible. Consider the world's most devastating famines. They all occurred under communist regimes. That in China under Mao in the early 1960s may have starved to death as many as 40,000,000 people, although a more conservative estimate puts the toll at 27,000,000. Even this estimate would make the famine the worlds deadliest, ever. This was due to Mao's Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and especially his forcible collectivization of all peasants into factory like communes. Then there was the famine in the early twenties in the new Soviet Union under Lenin during which he tried to impose communist agricultural policies on the peasant, seize land from "rich" estates, and forcible requisition grain and produce. This caused huge peasant rebellions all over the country, and a Bread War between peasants and the communist regime in which hundreds of thousands were killed. The resulting famine alone may have killed about 5,000,000 people, and another 5,000,000 million may have been saved by foreign food aid, particularly from the United States. Then there was the aforementioned Stalin made famine in the early 1930s in Ukraine in which some 5,000,000 Ukrainians were killed, and another 2,000,000 died in the caucuses and elsewhere.

Now, there is North Korea in which even as I write this people are dying by the thousands everyday due to the regime. These are human beings; these are men, woman, and children, old and young, all with individual personalities, individual skills, and human potential; all by virtue of their humanity, having a right to not only life, but also freedom. Yet, they die because of the ideological fanaticism of the small gang of thugs who hold power over them with their guns.

Consider what these people face just in their human need for food and health, leaving aside their enslavement:

  1. North Korea's population requires about six million tons of food for each person to have a minimum diet. The regime controls all farming, all agriculture, and can only produce about four million tons. This causes a food shortfall of two million tons, or 33 percent below what is minimally required.
  2. Kim has imposed rationing, and his handouts are the only way to legally obtain food. There are no independent channels of distribution, except for the black market. This means that people get food as Kim and his thugs desire.
  3. Thus, Kim's food distribution system is highly unequal. Food is put aside first for "patriotic rice" and "military rice." This has resulted in Kim cutting the consumption of 700g of food a day per person by 22 percent, or to 400g a day, well below the minimum consumption of rice set by the World Food and Agricultural Organization.
  4. This is not all. In this "classless" communist society, the regime has divided North Koreans into a rigid hierarchy of three classes, and fifty-one subdivisions, depending on a person's status within the communist North Korean Workers Party and the military, their perceived faithfulness to communism, and family backgrounds. In other words, Kim uses the very food people need to live as a tool to reward and punish his subject slaves. Thus, vast numbers of people whose loyalties are questioned or may be deemed useless to the regime do not receive enough food to live long. The worst off are those people and families incarcerated in Kim's concentration or forced labor camps. They receive the lowest food allowance of all, in spite of their being forced to work from 5 am to 8 pm.
  5. There are no hospitals, doctors, or medical distribution and supply companies independent of the regime. All are nationalized. As with food, therefore, medical treatment and medicine is distributed as reward and punishment. Not surprisingly, medicine is in short supply and not available everywhere. Thus, the diseases associated with famine and malnutrition often gets no medical treatment at all. Even a cold under such conditions can be mortal. An indicator of this situation is that only half of the population is now inoculation for such diseases as infantile paralysis and measles.
  6. Attempts on the part of the South Korea, the United Nations, and the United States, the major giver, to provide food aid has not worked well. In 2002 food aid was 62 percent under its target, but even if the target was reached, it would not substantial improve on the food available to the average Korean, even were it equally distributed. But it is not. The regime will not guarantee that food reaches those who need it most, it does not allow aid givers to carefully monitor who gets the food, and in some cases, it has redirected the food to its favorite classes or to the military.
  7. Aside from the daily accumulation of dead, the effects on the living have been disastrous. Long-term malnutrition has effected about half the living, and caused excessive underdevelopment in children--they have stunted in growth and excessively thin. There is wide-scale dwarfishness and, most important from any humanitarian point of view, their brain development has been retarded. Moreover, malnutrition has fostered rickets, scurvy, nyctalopia, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, among other diseases. North Korea is one of the few countries in which population mortality rates have been increasing. The life expectancy has fallen to 66.8 years from 73.2; newborn mortality rate has increased from 14 to 22.5; and the rate for those under five years of age has increased from 27 to 48 per thousand.

And so on.

And all this without even recounting the regime's terror, repression, executions, and absolute violations of what those living in liberal democracies take for granted, such as the freedom of religion and speech, of opportunity and association, fair trials, rule of law, sanctity of the person, and freedom from fear.

What is to be done? There is a vast complicity in Kim's despicable treatment of his people and their continuing starvation. Oh, aid is being given, as mentioned, although hardly enough. But this has to be given each year forever as long as the regime survives. The complicity lies in the political failure to recognize the cost of appeasing this regime in human lives, health, security, and welfare. And appeasement it is.

The North Korean communist regime should be forced to reform itself as least as much as has Chinese Communist Party over China, and better, to begin to democratize as has South Korea. Ultimately, democratic unification between North and South Korea is the goal. And forced not by sanctions, which not only rarely work, and punish the people rather than a regime, but by the threat of force, and if ultimately need be, by force itself. Diplomacy does not work. It did not on Hitler, it did not on Stalin, and it did not on Mao, just to mention a long line of failures of diplomacy to alter the domestic terror of totalitarian regimes. For one, Kim and his henchmen should be recognized as a megamurdering gang. They should be made pariahs among nations. Absolute diplomatic chill. Second, there are many ways of using force overtly and covertly that can be employed, such as attempt at destabilization of the regime, assassinations (yes, I'm in favor of assassinating these thugs who are responsible for murdering millions); and at the extreme, the threat of military action. To those who may have gasped, taken a step back, and covered their mouths with their hands, consider the human toll: There is the day-by-day, year-by-year, decade-by-decade lose of human lives and extreme suffering of 22 million people, versus the one time cost of military action, if it comes to that. How many would die is such action against North Korea, and the war that might result? Take a very high number--a million. Since there can be no doubt that the North Korean regime would lose, this cost would be once and only once, and much less than the three million estimated to have already died at the hands of the regime just by famine, and the millions more to come. But, surely, it would not come to that. The United States, among others, now has the military power to make fast work of the North's defensive and offensive capabilities. That has been shown in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I know, I know, I am saying that war is good in this case, and willing to suffer the death of so many human lives. I started my career as a pacifist about war, but my studies of democide and other horrors that people suffer under such regimes as Kim's, have changed my views. My morality is the same, but I come to recognize the moral stupidity of not arming the police, refusal to attack terrorist because some hostages may die, or refusal to defend freedom when it is under attack because of the deaths inevitable in war. To those who say that war is wrong I can only ask, "What is right about the deaths, murders, miserable slavery, and total loss of human rights that 22 million people are suffering under Kim? What is wrong about risking the lives of, at the extreme, a million people, to save the lives and promote human rights and security for 22 million? Can there be a greater case for a just war, if it comes to that? Does not the sheer human cost of letting Kim to continue to enslave North Koreas as he does far exceed the cost of war?

I am not naive about the many difficulties of what I propose, including getting domestic and international support; getting secret agreement and support from the democratic South Korean government, which is deep into appeasing Kim; the uncertainties of military action; and the North's possible nuclear capability. But, a first step should be taken, and that is a willingness to pose and eventually argue for this alternative action as I am doing here.

What is to be done, then? A simple ultimatum from a newly formed Coalition of the Willing: "Free your people or else." This is the greatest, most selfless, humanitarian aid that we can bestow on the North Korean people.

I have taken many of the specifics of this commentary from the exceptional report of Seong Ho Jhe on the food crisis in Korea. I highly recommend this report, which has been published in "Korea and World Affairs" (Summer 2003) and is available as a report in PDF on the internet. I also have listed it as one of the links above and to the right.

Rudolph J. Rummel is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii.

See the website of the Citizen's Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.

Read this article on the Occasional Commentary on Current Events website.

Posted: 2/12/04

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Copyright 2001-2020 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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