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Never Again?

Never Again?

Gas chambers. Poisoned food. Torture. Families murdered en masse. How much more do we need to know about North Korea's crimes before we act to stop them?


Two words -- "never again" -- sum up the most important lesson that civilized men and women were supposed to have learned from the 20th century. It is forbidden to keep silent, forbidden to look the other way, when tyrants embark on genocide and slaughter -- if Auschwitz and Kolyma and the Cambodian killing fields taught us nothing else, they taught us that.

Or so, at any rate, we like to tell ourselves. As Samantha Power discovered upon returning to the United States after two years as a war correspondent in Bosnia, the lesson of "never again" is invoked far more often than it is applied.

"Everywhere I went," Power recalled in a speech at Swarthmore College in 2002, "I heard 'never again.' Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' had been a smash hit. The Holocaust Museum had opened on the Mall in Washington. College seminars were taught on the 'lessons' of the singular crime of the 20th century. But why, I wondered, had nobody applied those lessons to the atrocities of the 1990s: the systematic murder of 200,000 Bosnian civilians in Europe between 1992 and 1995 and the extermination of some 800,000 Rwandan Tutsi in 1994.

"Did 'never again' simply mean 'never again will Germans kill Jews in Europe between 1939 and 1945?' "

Power went on to write A Problem From Hell, her Pulitzer Prize-winning account of America's failure to intervene in the genocides of the 20th century. The book was hugely and deservedly praised. It made clear, as no previous book ever had, just how much Americans knew about some of the most horrific massacres of the last century even as they were happening, and how little we did to stop them -- or even, in most cases, condemn them.

Which brings us to North Korea.

It is not exactly news that the communist regime of Kim Jong II has sent millions of North Koreans to early graves. Estimates back in 1998 were that as many as 800,000 people were dying in North Korea each year from starvation and malnutrition caused by Kim's ruthless and irrational policies. World Vision, a Christian relief organization, calculated that 1 million to 2 million North Koreans had been killed by "a full-scale famine" largely of Pyongyang's creation.

"I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. The parents, a son, and a daughter."

Nor is it breaking news that North Korea operates a vicious prison gulag -- "not unlike the worst labor camps built by Mao and Stalin in the last century," as NBC News reported more than a year ago. Some 200,000 men, women, and children are held in these slave-labor camps; hundreds of thousands of others have perished in them over the years. Some of the camps are so hellish that 20 percent or more of their prisoners die from torture and abuse each year. The dead can be of any age: North Korea's longstanding policy is to imprison not only those accused of such "crimes" as practicing Christianity or complaining about North Korean life, but their entire families, grandparents and grandchildren included.

And of course it is widely known that Kim is openly pursuing nuclear weapons, has fired missiles capable of reaching Japan, and controls one of the largest military forces on earth.

All of this is hideous enough, and more than sufficient reason for making Kim's ouster -- and his prosecution for crimes against humanity -- an explicit goal of the United States. But now comes something new.

"I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. The parents, a son, and a daughter." The speaker is Kwon Hyuk, a former North Korean intelligence agent and a one-time administrator at Camp 22, the country's largest concentration camp. His testimony was heard on a television documentary that aired last week on the BBC. "The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save the kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing."

Like other communist officials, Kwon was not bothered by what he saw. "I felt that they thoroughly deserved such a death. Because all of us were led to believe that all the bad things that were happening to North Korea were their fault… Under the society and the regime I was in at the time, I only felt that they were the enemies. So I felt no sympathy or pity for them at all."

Another eyewitness was Soon Ok-lee, who was imprisoned for seven years in a different North Korean camp. She described the use of prisoners as guinea pigs for biochemical weapons.

"An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners," she testified. "One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it, but to give it to the 50 women. I gave them out and heard a scream…They were all screaming and vomiting blood. All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes, they were dead."

Gas chambers. Poisoned food. Torture. Families murdered en masse. Staggering death tolls. How much more do we need to know about North Korea's crimes before we act to stop them? How many more victims must be fed into the gas chambers before we cry out "never again!" -- and mean it?

February 14, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 19

(19) Jeffrey A. Pomykala, March 25, 2004 12:00 AM

More than Apathy

The events in the article ARE well known -- and still nothing is done, may G-d have mercy on ALL our souls!. Beverly Kurtin's comment below isn't correct though; it's not because "they're not us" that we (Americans) don't go in there. To stop the situation in North Korea militarily would mean an invasion of a peninsula that, though a different country, is part of mainland China. They would not sit idly by were we to invade. It would be nice if we could get China to take charge and make a regime change in N. Korea, but they won't because they are a communist regime with huge infractions in Human Rights themselves. Oh, and yes, for us to "do something" WOULD entail war! Despots NEVER relinquish power willingly! I wish to remind Beverly that we have helped in Bosnia to stop the ethnic cleansing there. The ones we were protecting were Muslims, by the way, not that that means anything to Osama Bin Laden (or any other Arab, it seems). Also, we went to Somalia to protect---Muslims again. And when "Blackhawk Down" happened we cut and ran with our tails between our legs - giving radicals extremists an easy victory.
Iraq isn't about oil. It's about much more. As stated in other comments, Hussein had his own torture chambers. It IS humanitarian...not to mention that it IS entwined with Islamic radicalism and we hope that, by freeing the Iraqi people and helping to start a new democracy, we could have beneficial repercussion in the rest of the Arab world, and consequently help bring them from the 15th century into this new millennium, as well as bringing belated justice for the tens of thousand of Iraqi men, woman and children found buried in mass graves. But, as also eloquently stated in other comments on this page (please read them all!!) if we DID go in ---we would be castigated just as we are being castigated for liberating Iraq. That is no reason not to go in however, but certainly it's a different situation than Iraq, politically, and must be handled carefully.
Another comment stated the truth, too, in that; America is castigated for NOT doing anything - but if we DO go in and do something, we are castigated as "imperialists" etc. We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't - the EXACT situation Israel finds herself in vis a vis the Palestinian situation.
Why? I don't know. But there is certainly some kind of mass psychosis involved in our present day humanity. In Christian theology, their scripture states that towards the "end times" G-d will send "strong delusion, so that they will believe a lie". (not that I believe their stuff, but it IS part of their theology!) It seems that there are MANY outrageous lies out there circulating in this world today (like all the lies about Israel!) that people ravenously eat up and believe, so I can see how this may be possible. The best example (other than the believed lies about Israel) is….the WMD issue inre Iraq! How is this so? Well, the biggest gripe the world over (and in the Democratic party/liberal elites here in America) is that Bush lied about the WMD issue and THIS lie is being accepted and vehemently spewed out, almost like a curse at Bush! But people, my brothers! my sisters! ~ Are we on the same planet?-- because I remember years ago the ENTIRE WORLD including ex-pres. Clinton, John Kerry and every other national leader and news outlet putting out the information/belief that Iraq HAD WMDs - including using chemical warfare in their war with Iran as well as on the Kurds. It was reported left and right! - Mr. Kaye (from the Kaye report inre WMDs) had stated basically; “Well, maybe Hussein just THOUGHT he had WMDs” (as far as nukes go) - we KNOW he used chemical warfare on the kurds and Iranians)....Okay. so, let's see -- the entire world, including Saddam Hussein, thought he was thisclose to having nukes – and President Bush uses that in PART of his reasoning to liberate Iraq – and now the world’s screaming “Bush lied!!”
Since the whole world INCLUDING SADDAM HUSSEIN at one point in time believed Iraq not only had WMDs in the form of a chemical warfare apparatus, and was very close to having nukes….how is it that “Bush lied!”?? Again, are we on the same planet? Because I, for one, remember REAL history!. Thank G-d that there are documented accounts of Clinton and other world leaders expressing the view he was a threat inre WMDs, or I would think I was going crazy and remembering a false reality! The insanity of the current “Bush lied” thing is almost enough to make me believe that Christian theology about G-d allowing strong delusion to encompass the world is true…
We ALL need to unanimously and loudly scream for ALL the nations to do something about the atrocities in North Korea! But bear in mind that we will be vehemently opposed every step of the way by the Democrats, the liberal elites and all their “darling” despots who themselves perform their own atrocities. Still…we MUST raise our voices! We MUST try to bring justice and freedom to those in N. korean "gulags".

May there be true peace in Israel….and may Hashem help us to have the moral clarity, strength and courage to do something about N. Korea….soon.

(18) Beverly Kurtin, March 12, 2004 12:00 AM


I'm as frustrated as many other readers, but at least I have the answer. Nobody is willing to do anything simply because THEY'RE NOT LIKE US!

Sure, what happended in Cambodia was terrible, but THEY'RE NOT US.

What happened in Bosnia...tsk, tsk...but THEY'RE NOT US.

What happened in Africa...devestating! But THEY'RE NOT US.

George W. Bush went after Saddam because THEY HAVE SOMETHING WE NEED: OIL!

Those North Koreans don't have a damned thing we want, and besides, THEY'RE NOT US.

Let's see, they came for the unionists...

Let us hang our heads in shame and cry for those who are in pain this very moment.

(17) Jim Boldt, March 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Thanks for Exposing Our Inaction on N. Korea

This article summarizes crimes against humanity going on right now---and which, with few exceptions, the U.S. an the world is ignoring.
Jews everywhere should be proud of this geopolitical / informational tikkun olam.

(16) Jess, February 22, 2004 12:00 AM

The Truth

What a touching article.I agree the world turns a blnd eye to the atrocities that are being commited as we speak.We need to join together to stop it.

(15) Bennet M. Epstein, February 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Jews thought "Never again

"Never again" was supposed to be the lesson the Holocaust taught the world. But did anything change?

For us Jews, this has been a particularly painful lesson - the lesson that nothing changed.

For a Jewish context, read:

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