As we regain our freedom, eager to celebrate life’s offerings curtailed throughout the pandemic, we should recognize that not every nation will have that luxury. Some have fared far better than others in terms of health, freedom, and economic impact.
Emerging from our global hiatus and reconciling ourselves to the existential threats of 21st century life, it would be wise to analyze the forms of government that have led to success or failure along these critical lines. It truly is a matter of life and death, as well as liberty, that we forthrightly articulate the dangers of authoritarianism in its various forms as it manifests both globally and within our own borders.
A North Korean Problem
Much of the world is in need of aid. There’s no shortage of strife across the globe, and even prosperous nations find themselves spread thin. With resources stretched and international concerns dwarfed by the immediacy of domestic needs, there’s little left over for foreign aid.
Although every country has been marred by pestilence and tragedy over the past year-and-a-half, most have done so in relative cooperation. Now, as many nations enter their recovery phase, North Korea, the mysterious hermit kingdom, is on the brink of unimaginable suffering.
Although first-hand accounts are virtually non-existent, it’s safe to assume that COVID-19 has not spared North Korea. Kim Jong-un himself recently acknowledged that his country is facing a “great crisis.” In North Korean terms, this surely means famine. Economic distress and an archaic medical system ill-equipped to deal with the ramifications of COVID-19 may result in the disease’s most dire health crisis to date. Even while Pyongyang refuses vaccines and aid, the country is experiencing tense food shortages. Self-imposed isolation of a socialist totalitarian regime is taking a vicious toll on North Koreans, who suffer alone and in silence.
A Warning to the West
Little is known of North Korea’s inner workings. Most insight comes from those who have escaped its border, crossing into China and, with luck, into the free world. Their stories elicit equal parts sympathy and disbelief, such is North Korea’s tragic state of affairs.
One of the most influential voices that has emerged from North Korea is Yeonmi Park. The young, eloquent human rights activist has been raising awareness about her home country since she escaped from North Korea to China before finding freedom in South Korea and eventually America. Her journey through hunger, slavery, and sorrow, detailed in her memoir “In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
Currently residing in the United States, Park has become an outspoken critic of the regime, recounting her painful story to shed light on the plight of her people. She has appeared on numerous podcasts and networks in recent months, not only discussing the current state of affairs in North Korea, but also the authoritarian influence emerging in American society.
On both the Lex Friedman and Jordan Peterson podcasts, she paralleled the identity politics and political correctness she experienced at Columbia University with the thought-policing of her native country. That someone with Park’s experience would draw such lines between the world’s most ruthless authoritarian regime and one of America’s preeminent universities is startling but not surprising. She is someone painfully aware of what happens to people who lose their ability to think critically or voice independent thought.
The all pervasive thought control of North Korea is carried out through violence, imprisonment, and the purposeful manipulation of language. In North Korea there are no words for familial love, revolution, or human rights. Both the words and the concepts simply don’t exist.
At Columbia, she found herself confronted with the same manipulation of language, where identity politics and oppressor–victim narratives dominated nearly every class.
Park’s insight is not a political one. It’s not a question of right or left but a question of the fundamental virtues of freedom. Her critique goes far beyond politics and speaks to a more disquieting trend in the West, where liberty and freedom are eroding and internal culture wars prevent democratic nations from coming to the aid of countries such as North Korea.
All oppressive regimes curtail speech and thought as the primary mechanism of control. In the West this is being accomplished not through violence and force, but through political correctness and identity politics as a proxy for class struggle. Class division, along any lines, is always a precursor to an incohesive society, one that can’t stand the sight of itself. Communism thrives on class division, and even toying with these ideas could put us firmly on the road to ruin.
The Price of Freedom
By looking at North Korea not as an enemy but as a cautionary example, the free world might rethink its current adulation of Marxist theory and realign its focus on individual rights, limited government, and other core principles of democracy.
The hermit kingdom is at once an existential threat to the world through its rhetoric and nuclear arsenal as well as an example of the dystopian world awaiting a population that has ceded its rights and independence to the ruling class. It would be a win for humanity if the type of tyranny on display in North Korea was wiped from the map.
Comparing the West to North Korea would be hyperbolic at this point, but we’re certainly trending in the wrong direction. Freedom requires constant vigilance against the ideas that would undermine it. It’s not easily won and is difficult to sustain, with authoritarianism constantly nipping at its heels. Unless free nations reassert their commitment to true democratic values, it may be too late to recover what has been too easily lost.
Ryan Moffatt is a journalist based in Vancouver.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.