Dare To Call Evil Evil

June 16, 2009

[First published on March 29, 2005] I am told that some of my colleagues and readers wince when I use the term “evil.” How can I say that democide, terrorism, and mass murderers like Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, and Omar Hassan al-Basher (Sudan) are evil? This is the worst moral accusation one can level at an activity or another human being. Who am I to do so?

To discuss evil in any depth requires either a theological discussion of evil, or a philosophical safari into ethics. I wish to leave theology aside, and as far as ethics is concerned, simply express my view of evil. First, I do not accept some prevailing ethics, such as that ethics is simply a personal emotive expression of something one hates (like ugh!), a situational expression about some gross immorality, or an objective fact that exists outside of us. In my view, ethical statements are prescriptive, state what ought to be deontologically (I’m a Kantian on this), and are universal. That is, they state what everyone would agree to for their moral governance, were they to have to live under them without advanced knowledge as to their socio-economic status, race, religion, sex, etc.

Evil for me is then something all would agree is not only morally reprehensible under these conditions, but also fundamentally reprehensible to what it means to be human and civilized. In this sense, any murder is evil. We lock up people for life or execute them for this reason. But we also have to recognize that there are different levels of reprehensibility, as to whether a person murders one fellow human being, 10, or 10,000 in one pen stroke, as have some political leaders like Stalin.

I would turn the question around and ask, “How can one not call such thugs evil, or the mass murderers of millions evil (Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot)?” Not to do so means that one is without the moral gauge that is crucial to civilization and humanity, or his real politics has corrupted him, as it has the leaders of South Korea.


Link of Note

” Toxic Indifference to North Korea” (3/26/05) By Abraham Cooper

Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a member of the North Korean Freedom Coalition.

He says:

Since 2002, defectors among the flood of refugees from North Korea have detailed firsthand accounts of systematic starvation, torture and murder. Enemies of the state are used in experiments to develop new generations of chemical and biological weapons that threaten the world. A microcosm of these horrors is Camp 22, one of 12 concentration camps housing an estimated 200,000 political prisoners facing torture or execution for such “crimes” as being a Christian or a relative of someone suspected of deviation from “official ideology of the state.” Another eyewitness, Kwon Hyuk, formerly chief manager at Camp 22, repeated to me what he asserted to the BBC: “I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. . . . The parents were vomiting and dying, but until the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth

From Colleague:

I re-read this article again, still not believing the incredible tale told.

What do North Korean apologists have to say about this?

Where are the voices of Johan Galtung, Bruce Cummings, Chalmers Johnson, Noam Chomsky. . . ? These people are so willing to accept any story of US evil, no matter what the evidence, and so unwilling to accept anything critical of the remaining communist regimes — despite the inescapably logic that argues that regime with lots of power tend to kill lots of people.

Oh, right. How dumb of me. All these stories of North Korean murder are nothing more than CIA propaganda and deceit. After all, no Beloved Leader would permit anything such as gassing political prisoners….unless there was good cause. Anyway, I’m sure America has gassed more political prisoners than North Korea ever dreamed of gassing.. . .

I wonder, when Korea is re-unified, how many people will emerge to give color to this dismal portrait of power run amok. And how many leftists will be trying to first deny, then disparage, then defend these actions, finally changing their tune to how all this democide was really the work of right-wing North Koreans.


The Commonplace Horror Of It All.

March 9, 2009

20th Century Democide

I find it more revealing to read the reports or biographies of escaped refugees and political dissidents from an evil dictatorship than what the country-experts write about it. This way I get a sense of the commonplace horror of it all. I just finished reading Kang Chol-Hwan’s The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Kang, you may recall, spent about 45 minutes with President Bush giving him a briefing on his experience. Taken in by North Korean propaganda, his whole extended Korean family emigrated from Japan to the “paradise of North Korea.” Of course, coming from a highly developed and free country to the bankrupt, rigidly control North Korea, his family was loose lipped. Eventually they were all arrested and sent to a forced labor camp when Kang was ten-years old. He and those of his family who survived spent ten awful years there.

This book as mainly about Kang’s experience in the camp, but enough about North Korea itself is described to show that life inside and outside the camps is a matter of degree. Trying to escape the camps means execution if caught; similarly, trying to escape the country means a fast death by execution or a slow one in the camps. A returned escapee is then one of the so-called irredeemables who along with those who spoke out against the regime, or the “revered Great Leader,” are purposely worked to death. And their children with them.

Some things that stick in my mind:

One is that it seems so easy for people’s minds to be so swayed by propaganda as to give up their freedom and wealth in a democracy to enter . . . hell.

Also, as in South Vietnam when it was taken over by the North, everything is a matter of bribes. They are not the lubricant, but the basis of order. Whatever one needs or wants to be done in North Korea was possible if one had enough money or precious goods to barter. Up and down the communist hierarchy, the currency was Omega watches, color TV sets, Japanese Yen, food, and anything else of material value.

Third, are the deaths. Deaths from malnutrition, deaths from lack of medical treatment, deaths from accidents, deaths from everyday beatings, deaths from overwork, deaths from the cold in winter, and deaths from executions. One vignette that sticks in my mind is of three boys that were put to work in a gold mine setting off explosives without adult supervision. They would light the fuses and run. Once they were not fast enough, and two were killed in the explosion and one had half his face blown off.

Fourth is the food, always inadequate, such that painful hunger would cause people to lose their decency, and even take food from their children’s mouths. The ever-present hunger stimulated creativity in catching and nurturing rats for food, catching insects, or finding something to eat in the woods around the camp.

Finally, is the ease with which people were sent to these gulags. No trial, no hearing, no interrogation. Perhaps word from friends or insiders that one was under surveillance would be a first clue of what was to come. But one day, the security police would arrive and haul a whole family, even babies and children, off to one of the camps with virtually no time for preparation or explanation. Or, one might be arrested at work without any chance of one’s family finding out what happened, even when it was separately arrested.

Is this gulag worse than Stalin’s? It’s like asking which is worse, torture with a burning hot iron, or with a knife.

Quite understandably, Kang condemns the South Korean government’s refusal to make human rights in the North an issue, and reluctance to help North Korean refugees, who when caught in China are returned to Kim Jung Il’s loving arms to be executed or worked to death in one of the camps.

His book should be widely read. But, it won’t be by those who need to be educated by it the most.

Link of Note

“N. Korea defector seeks help from Bush” (7/19/05) By Bill Gertz. In The Washington Times

Gertz says:

A North Korean defector who survived 10 years in a prison labor camp said he told President Bush last month that the United States should do more to help those who flee the communist regime. 
    “The people who are at the camps, the [North Korean] government wants to kill them all,” Kang Chol-hwan said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Instead of executing them, they kill them slowly, making them work in forced labor. That was the hardest part.”

What gets me the most about this horror is that it is happening now. Not 60-years ago under the Nazis, or Stalin, or 50-years ago under Mao, or 30-years ago under Pol Pot, but now.
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM