An oppressive country, a starved and brainwashed people, and crazy dictator; those are the thoughts most people conjure up of North Korea.
While there’s truth to that, the perception can be hindering the empathy and hope we need to be part of a movement to free North Korea. That movement is already happening, and the liberation of the North Korean people will happen sooner than you think. The only question is if you’ll be part of that movement when it happens.
There’s a Level of Apathy Towards North Korea
As far back as I can remember, the narrative of North Korea has been the same – a dictator who controls and oppresses his people, and is also creating more nuclear weapons.
Even with a change in leadership from father to son, nothing has really changed. When the story of hopelessness has been the same for literally decades, it’s easy to become apathetic. You don’t see it changing anytime soon, and so you care less and less.
The stories that news media shares about North Korea frame a lot of our perceptions, and you probably have one or more of these going through your mind.
Fear of an Aggressive Nuclear Country
North Korea has openly and frequently threatened the United States with a nuclear attack. Every now and then, we get reports of more missile tests in North Korea, and each one demonstrates greater capability to send a nuclear warhead to the U.S.
While these stories are concerning, the spikes in news coverage stoke fear in Americans, which reduces empathy for the North Korean people. It gets harder to separate the dictator from the people he oppresses, and it’s harder to feel compassion towards the nation as a whole.
Mockery of an Eccentric Dictator
It’s surreal that while North Koreans can’t say anything negative about the Kim regime or family, most of the world openly mocks him. From his appearance to the outlandish propaganda about his accomplishments and godhood, he’s become the center of internet amusement. This was heightened even more by the movie “The Interview,” which made fun of his eccentric nature.
Yet, humor is often a coping mechanism. I believe for many of us, it’s a way to avoid dealing with the reality that Kim Jong Un is a brutal dictator who holds an entire nation captive and harshly punishes any dissidents.
Pity Towards a Brainwashed Population
While people “feel sorry” for North Koreans, it seems to fall short of true empathy and hope. The lack of freedom and safety in North Korea is talked about rather nonchalantly and sometimes in amusement. This stems from a bit of arrogance, especially in Western democracies.
In the U.S., there’s this narrative that we cared enough about freedom to fight for it, and that expectation is placed on other countries. The same questions seem to pop up a lot – “Why don’t they just flee the country or fight back?” I’m sure those thoughts have probably crept in your head. It leads to the conclusion that the North Korean people simply don’t want freedom that much or are too weak. Or they’re just too brainwashed, and so they warrant our pity, but not our hope.
Sadly, these perceptions and narratives of North Korea keep us fascinated for news entertainment purposes, but prevent us from experiencing true empathy and taking hopeful action. But, there is reason to hope.
Why You Should Have Hope in North Korea
Though the situation seems like it’s going from gloom to gloomier, what we don’t often hear about are the seeds of change that are starting to sprout. Here’s why you should be excited about what’s happening in and around North Korea.
Defectors are Escaping
We hear the occasional stories of defectors who escape North Korea. The risk is extreme, the journey is terrifying, and those who are caught endure brutal punishment. But the reality is that despite the challenges, there are over 1,000 North Koreans who escape each year – that’s 3 every day. And that’s only those who go to South Korea and are accounted for.
This means a few things. First, not all North Koreans are “brainwashed.” Many know they’re living in a dystopia, and many are actively trying to flee. It’s just very challenging and life-threatening, and the majority don’t make it. Second, the diaspora is growing. As more and more North Koreans enter the world, they are able to speak up and shed a light on what is really going on in North Korea, and advocate for change.
Culture is Changing from Within
The Kim regime will eventually collapse, but some believe it will happen sooner than later. In an interview with a high ranking North Korean defector, he says that the younger, millennial generation may be the key. They’ve grown up with computers and are getting bits of content from the outside world. South Korean culture is having an influence on them. While the educational propaganda continues to churn, it’s not affecting them as strongly as previous generations. He estimates that within a decade or two, we’ll start seeing mass protests – the kind that topple governments.
Though it seems like it’s hard to get people to care, there are in fact a lot of people that do care and are working towards a better North Korea. There are organizations that are helping North Koreans flee, resettling North Korean refugees, spreading awareness, and advocating for policy changes that puts pressure on the regime.
If you can see the hope for North Korea, you can join the growing number of people who will be part of the generation who will help free 25 million people.
How You Can Help the North Korean People
Though there are numerous organizations, I’ll highlight 3 here that are doing tremendous work. Take a look at their websites and find ways to get involved.
LiNK is an international nonprofit who’s name states their mission – to see liberty in North Korea. Their work involves helping North Koreans escape via secret routes, resettling North Korean refugees, and sharing stories of North Koreans to change public perception.
HRNK is more of a policy think tank. They do research and develop papers that shed light on the issues in North Korea and help provide the framework for many other nonprofits and governments to work off of.
This is a coalition of multiple individuals and nonprofits all dedicated to one thing: human rights in North Korea. Though all their member organizations do different work, all members have some involvement in North Korea and agree to promoting human rights there. This has involved providing humanitarian assistance inside of North Korea, helping refugees who escape, and disseminating information into North Korea.
When prolonged suffering exists, it’s easy to become numb to the news. It becomes a simple reality that we just accept. But it’s a harsh reality that 25 million people have to endure everyday.
Real change in people’s lives begins first with real change in the hearts and minds of those who are willing to help. You seem like someone who wants to help.
An entire population of people are being oppressed; the immense potential in this generation is being suppressed. But in our lifetime, we will see them unleashed and free, and you can be part of that movement.