Monday, 21 December 2009

Hypocrisy, Auschwitz and North Korea: Wake Up, World

At ROK Drop's weekly linklets, GI Korea makes a really salient point about the missing sign at the gate to Auschwitz: dear readers, it is a travesty, it is a crime against humanity in itself, that a stolen sign from a concentration camp that operated over sixty years ago, got world headlines when its sign was stolen, but it's pretty much only a few bloggers that seem to care that THERE ARE CONCENTRATION CAMPS OPERATING TODAY in North Korea.

Holy shit! Let's get upset about this!

I remember once, a Korean friend of mine told me that Koreans have "han" because Koreans "suffered more than the Jews" through history, what with Korea being invaded, and the miseries of the last century, and all that business. Now, for one thing, yeah, Korea WAS a colony of Japan, and that sucked, and Japan tried to squeeze the Korean language out of existence, by conducting all official affairs, including public education, in Japanese, and that sucked, too. So did the whole comfort women sex-slavery thing. That really, really, really sucked. But two more things about that.

1. Korea had its own land during its entire history. They never spent 2000 years as diaspora. Jews 1, Korea 0.

2.because people commented on this part of the paragraph, I won't take it out; however, I wrote it too quickly, and it's distracting people from the point of this post. Kindly ignore it. Further discussion of this paragraph in the comments will be considered beside the point that North Korea is still running concentration camps and ignored.
Every culture, or groups in every culture, suffered. Whether at the hands of another country, or at the hands of richer, more powerful men and women from their own country, for the poor in most places of the world, in most times of history, it didn't matter much whether it was a rich Chinese, Korean, Japanese, British, Danish, or Austrian taking your calf: your calf was still gone, and winter was coming. And everybody, everywhere, suffered from disease, drought, and the occasional bad luck.
Lots of other groups have been enslaved, marginalized, massacred, disenfranchised, deprived, and scapegoated, too. Every time you swing a cat you'll hit someone with a sob story somewhere in their background. Some have suffered more than others, but that doesn't mean we're allowed to ignore the suffering of others, happening right now, just because sometime in the past, we suffered, too.
But it's not a race to be the country/group that suffered the most, and wearing one's suffering as a badge of honor that way, is trite and kind of asinine (maybe it's easy for me, male WASP, the oppressor himself, to say that... but still, when has a victim complex, and its attendant feelings of helplessness, helped anyone take control of their own situation? Groups/people take control of their destiny DESPITE their victim complex, not because of it.) [edit: add] and claiming that "our suffering is worse that this other group's suffering" is petty, ugly, and treats disrespectfully the suffering of both groups. Is self-pity the best you can do with surveying your country's history? Is it really so important to keep score, that we'll dismiss somebody else's misery, to make us feel better about our own? Isn't there more to be learned from suffering than victim's pride?

But while those elements of my friend's comment don't sit well with me, here's the real kicker, and this didn't occur to me until just recently: how much MORE trite, asinine, and even insulting, is it, for a SOUTH Korean to say that Koreans have suffered more than the Jews, or, to add a layer of irony, to send that to their friend by text message, when the latest generation of North Koreans is one of the few groups I'd honestly hear out, if they decided to claim that Camp 22 is worse than Auschwitz, and that this most recent generation of North Koreans actually HAVE suffered more than the Holocaust generation did. It's even more outrageous that Camp 22 exists today, when we were supposed to have learned these lessons from the holocaust. Those who gloss over North Korea's atrocities are worse than Holocaust deniers, because we can still DO something about this holocaust... but nobody is.

And still, the Auschwitz sign makes world headlines, when there should be protests every weekend, in every public space, in every South Korean city, and Korean diaspora in the rest of the world's major cities should be doing the same in public spaces abroad, demanding that world governments, and especially the South be more active and aggressive in trying to get food to their North Korean so-called bretheren.

Sorry, South Korea. Brothers don't let brothers starve to death, don't let brothers languish in concentration camps. Don't waffle and deflect about the topic of reunification, because it would be expensive for the south, while their brothers are dying. I wrote earlier that the South's ambivalence toward the North was the best sign I can think of that Koreans are aren't the specialists in "jung" people they claim to be (in a post subtitled, "The Desperation of the North, the Hypocrisy of the South), and now I'll hold up North Korea to repudiate South Korean Han, too.

Go ahead and say North and South Korea aren't the same country anymore, aren't the same culture anymore; heck, I agree. I think South Korea should change its name to... something else... to acknowledge the fact North and South Korea aren't one country anymore. But don't give me one-blood Minjok brotherhood, jung and han out of one side of the mouth, and disown the North, refusing to take responsibility for Camp 22, out of the other, that's all. I'm not saying all Koreans do that, certainly not, but the ones that do are hypocrites of the highest order, and I won't abide that kind of doublethink.


Bob said...

If Koreans tell you that they suffered as much as or more than the Jews and the only thing you can come up with is a bunch of stuff about territory and calves, you truly have been assimilated and I hope you enjoy your time in the land of plastic shoes. I will give you some free advice: the next time you hear some Korean spout that nonsense you ask them, "Where are the ovens?"

You have to get much more practical in your disagreements with Koreans. They want you onside in their emotional dispute with Japan, and if you are still dealing in terms of emotions and vague concepts of homeland you are missing the point. The point is that the Jews of Europe were shot, gassed and hanged by the Japanese en masse and the Koreans were not. Get it straight, get some evidence and stop playing the game by their rules or you, too, will be just another adjushi before you know it.

Bob said...

Christ, the Jews of Europe were not shot, gassed and hanged by the Japanese. I, of course, mean the Nazis. I can't even deal with your comments about North Korea yet, because I am so disappointed with the way you swallowed the ludicrous statement about Korean suffering equaling Jewish suffering. Yes, there are concentration camps in North Korea but as long as you keep buying into this South Korean claptrap about how they were victims of genocide, you undermine your credibility to deal with the issues of today.

kwandongbrian said...

My thinking has moved in a similar direction lately. I came here worried about North Korea, became comfortable even as I understood the horrors beyond the border and lately I've become upset by how they are now overlooked. I wrote recently about the DMZ and what it symbolizes (based on some newspaper article of the time):
The DMZ has given South Korea fifty years of prosperity and stability; at the same time it has kept the North Korean people out-of-sight and recently (without Russian aid) suffering greatly. The DMZ has given us four kilometres of distance and curtaining so we can't see what is happening, but we are getting reports that beyond the DMZ is a hell-hole and Kim Jong-il is probably thrilled that we are looking at the DMZ and thinking about the DMZ and not beyond it.

The DMZ is a pretty bandaid hiding a hideous wound and we are admiring the bandaid.

The DMZ is a beautiful place and you should go and see it. I wish it were as endangered as the animals it protects. See it, but look around and see more than it. It is a symbol of deliberate, selective blindness."

Roboseyo said...

What are you talking about, Bob? I think you missed my entire argument. Go reread my post, in which I never defended South Koreans who claim to be the Jews of Asia, more carefully, and come back to me later, when you have something to say that engages with what I actually wrote.

Kwangdongbrian: thanks for the link.

the Korean said...

I dunno Robo. I certainly agree that something must be done about NK, and it is utter hypocrisy to care about the Auschwitz sign but not Camp 22. But nothing about NK is very simple, and no action regarding NK is met without a host of unintended consequences.

For example, many NK experts are now convinced that had NK been cut off from all food aids during the early/mid-1990s famine, the KJI regime would certainly have collapsed. That may have ended the human rights violations in NK immediately and permanently. But it would have also meant that hundreds of thousands more would have died before the collapse would have happened. I really cannot say which route would have been better.

The ambivalence you see in Korea now is, deep down, a representation of the conflict that Koreans feel right now. They really don't know what to do because nothing is cut and dry. Too often, they resort to deliberate ignorance.

Wayne0714 said...

I'm no Jew hater or anything like that. But this issue seems to prove once again that Koreans in general are not very good at marketing or communicating with the rest of the world while Jews have been quite good at that (Exhibit A: Schindler's List).

Maybe Kim Yuna and Wonder Girls could lend a helping hand and do heart-breaking PSA for the poor North Korea. For some reason, the general Korean population don't listen if some serious looking fella talks about serious stuff in a serious tone. You have to do some really corny stuff to get anybody's attention in this country.

Roboseyo said...

I haven't even heard tell of Korea TRYING to get word out in a government-level, organized way, Wayne. Other than the North Korean refugees sending balloons into the North (and getting threatened to be shut down by the president) I've seen very little action from the South -- most action seems to be of the "brush it under the rug" variety.

The Korean: yeah, I wish the situation were as simple as it seems mid-rant. One of my friends heard an interesting solution to the way North Korea just funnels any food aid to the military, or stockpiles it and sells it for cash: instead of sending rice, he said we should send milk, or lettuce, or bananas: foods that must be consumed, and can't be stockpiled, so that it has to be distributed immediately, and has less chance of being redirected to an army base far from its original drop-off point.

Anonymous said...

rob, a cheap shot to juxtapose the jewish/korean situations this way. pretty disrespectful.

Roboseyo said...

Disrespectful of whom, Steve? I don't think my post diminishes the suffering of either the holocaust victims, or victims of the North Korean regime.

I've been told a number of times, by several different Koreans, that Koreans are "the Jews of asia" -- so I think looking a little closer at that comparison is fair game. And the fact remains, while I don't feel comfortable, in all honestly, saying one group suffered more than another group -- who on earth is qualified to be the arbiter of that? certainly not me -- the fact remains that, especially in light of horrific events in the past, we should know better by now.

I hate invoking Godwin's law... seriously... but the fact remains that the stealing of Auschwitz's sign got more press this week than the fact that concentration camps are still in operation in North Korea, and that's a travesty.

And frankly, I've been accused often enough of being uncritical, and an apologist, and the Korea equivalent of an uncle tom... I think I'm entitled to a rant or two from time to time, thanks.

Bob said...

"I don't feel comfortable, in all honestly, saying one group suffered more than another group"

Well, I do. And that's what bothered me about your post. The scale of suffering in Japanese-occupied Korea does not begin to compare to the suffering of the Holocaust. I cannot begin to engage with your post asking me to feel outrage about South Korean hypocrisy towards the North until you re-evaluate the reasons that you cannot refute statements equating Koreans and the Jews of Europe with something better than land and calves.
I realize that I haven't really said anything new here, but at least I can see that someone else is a little uncomfortable with the comparison you make. You think that writing something like this takes you out of the apologist camp, but it really just makes you look like someone who has swallowed the lie that Korea suffered under Japan in the same way that Jews suffered under the Nazis. As a start, I would direct you to the the documentary "Auschwitz, the Nazis and the Final Solution," Sir Ian McKellen's biography "Hitler," Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann and the Banaity of Evil" and any of the online resources available at the Simon Wiesenthal Center if you need to familiarize yourself with the unprecedented mechanized nature of the killing and deportations of the Holocaust.

Bob said...

Pardon, that's Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil."

Roboseyo said...

This post isn't meant to be about Japanese or German war crimes or colonial oppression. Sorry I didn't make my point clearly. It's about North Korea running concentration camps in North Korea right now, and the world's inaction.

I am not comparing Auschwitz and Camp 22. I am comparing THE THEFT OF AUSCHWITZ'S SIGN and Camp 22, and trying (clumsily) to add, as a rabbit trail, an answer to those who feel they must diminish someone else's suffering to validate their own, the way my Korean friend did when he said Koreans have suffered more than the Jews.

I have adjusted the text of the post, and particularly the paragraph to which you objected. I do not wish to further discuss the holocaust, a topic on which I have already demonstrated my relative ignorance, because the real question is not what happened over sixty years ago, but what needs to happen next in North Korea, where something can still be done.

Thank you for your comments. As you well know, I've never pretended to be an expert on any of this stuff: I'm just a guy with a blog.

Bob said...

Something does indeed need to be done about North Korea. I, too, am shocked by the willful ignorance of South Koreans toward the North. Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree on whether or not the Holocaust still holds significance for people today. Inasmuch as you are advocating for the human rights of the people of North Korea and believe that it is time for South Koreans to become more pro-active in their engagement with Kim Jong-Il, I am in total agreement with you.

the Korean said...

Don't you wish you were only dealing with Korean nationalists, Robo? ;)

Anyway, one of my favorite aid proposals came directly from Mr. Joo Seong-Ha, whose blog I often translate. He proposed:

What if we gave such an exorbitant aid that North Korea cannot control it? We can give so much that North Korea cannot afford to turn down such an overwhelming aid, and that the entire [North Korean] Security Forces cannot control where the aid goes. Imagine the Gaeseong Industrial Complex becoming 10 times bigger. North Korea will have a lot of trouble gagging the laborers and preventing the leak of Korean pop culture, eventually causing a headache for maintaining the current regime. My personal estimate of the amount enough to overwhelm North Korea is around 2 percent of South Korea’s budget. Even the much-criticized “excessive” aid during Roh Moo-Hyun administration was less than 0.2 percent of the budget. Giving as much as my estimation for five years does not even amount to the cost of constructing the second Lotte World [amusement park in Seoul currently being built], which costs around 2 trillion won.


Puffin Watch said...

For a people that have suffered so much you would think they'd do a better job of it. (Then again, arguably, the Israelis don't always treat their Arab minorities in a way jews wanted to be treated in Europe.)

If I was a Korean judge and I had a husband that beat his wife, I'd sentence him to having to wear the uniform of a Japanese Imperial officer for a solid month to work.

I would hope the analogy sunk in with him and those around him who understood the form of punishment. For a nation that had several generations of women suffer so horribly under Japanese rule, Korean men should have a deep deep shame raising their own hands against their women.

And South Koreans should be horrified at what's going on with their relatives to the north. The NK regime is as bad or worse than their old Japanese over lords.

Rebecca said...

I totally agree with Rob. He wasn't being blinded by emotion. It's just the truth that the South wants someone else to take care of the North. Ever hear of passing the buck? I was in Seoul collecting for an orphanage, that helps KOREAN children, and yet plenty of KOREANS had the nerve to tell me that AMERICA should be taking care of things because "we're rich."

Anyway, I love (most) Koreans and that's what got me into learning Korean, but my choice to use my Ivy League education to learn how to serve them and get a position in US diplomacy regarding North Korea is because I know that when the North opens up it's gonna be the "West" that has to take the initiative. I'm not saying we do the best job in these situations, but at least it'll be something. Hopefully it won't be too late.

God, I'm so effing annoyed. Why hasn't anyone just assassinated that bastard by now? I mean, I KNOW why, but I don't sympathize. If I could, I'd do it myself.

Roboseyo said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody, I'm especially intrigued by yours, The Korean, and thanks for catching the real drift of what I was trying to say, Bob.

I do think that humanity can learn from the Holocaust, Bob... I'm not an expert on it, and wouldn't venture to go into it at much depth because of that, especially because it's off topic in a Korea blog. I think the existence of concentration camps in North Korea is evidence that we HAVEN'T learned everything we could have from the holocaust, or at least that we haven't put into action practically what we say we have learned academically.