Skip to main content

2015-10-07 A kinder, gentler kidnapper (Korea Times column)

A kinder, gentler kidnapper

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Almost any sign that North Korea is using just one hand (not both) to strangle North Korean citizens is welcomed by some as evidence that the country is changing for the better. My question for such people: Are North Koreans now allowed to leave the country?

Some tourists, teachers and businesspeople talk about great experiences they had in North Korea. I ask: Were the North Koreans you had such a great time with in North Korea allowed to leave with you? Can you call them?

Some say the media is distorting the real North Korea and its internal changes. I agree with the criticism of media, but the bigger point for me: Are North Koreans free to leave to find their own way or tell their own stories?

According to a widely cited (but apparently unsourced) survey, 63 percent of recently arrived North Korean refugees believe Kim Jong-un enjoys support from a majority of the population. Respectable commentators as well as trolls with blogs took the survey seriously, noting that North Korea dictator number three is seen as attractive, charismatic, and likened to his dictator grandfather. Leading analyst Andrei Lankov concluded: “Right now, the Supreme Leader is popular with his people."

Kim may be popular, but he is still the leader of an organized band of kidnappers. It is wonderful to hear that things may be better, but progress, reform and change aren't freedom. Malcolm X used to say, “If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, there’s no progress.” Based on reports from optimists, in comparison to his father and grandfather, Kim may be known as a kinder, gentler kidnapper.

When I read about North Korea, I am often reminded of 19th century arguments about the treatment of American slaves. While acknowledging or downplaying atrocities, as optimists do about North Korea today, defenders of slavery insisted that many owners were kind to their slaves. Pro-slavery narratives defended plantation life and depicted blacks as happy slaves thankful to their masters. I suppose if opinion polls had been used then, that slaves would have thought as highly of their masters as North Koreans do of Kim.

In his first autobiography published in 1845, former slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote that slaves learned the lesson to “suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it,” that “a still tongue makes a wise head.” Defenders of slavery would cite slaves who praised their masters, but Douglass wrote: “[W]hen inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally they say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition.”

As a free man, Douglass routinely denounced slaveholders, even publishing in 1848 a condescending letter to his former master on the 10th anniversary of his escape. But as a slave? “I have been frequently asked, when a slave, if I had a kind master, and do not remember ever to have given a negative answer; nor did I, in pursuing this course, consider myself as uttering what was absolutely false.”

I mention that because despite rumors of change in North Korea, people still cannot leave or speak their minds. Recently arrived refugees say that North Koreans left behind think highly of Kim Jong-Un, but what about those refugees when they were still in North Korea? Would others who knew them have reported them as being supportive of Kim Jong-Un? Or until they escaped, “a still tongue makes a wise head.”

She apparently didn’t say it, but there is a profound quote attributed to abolitionist Harriet Tubman: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” I have talked to North Korean refugees, as free people, who have tried to convince relatives to escape, but say their relatives still fear the unknown.

They still don’t know they are slaves to the Kim regime or what it means to be free.
I know that some will think I am being harsh on the dashing young dictator. I am sometimes asked, "What do you have against North Korea?” or “What’s your problem with North Korea?” I used to say: “You are asking the wrong person. The people who have something against North Korea are the people risking their lives by escaping.”

I have updated my response. My “problem” isn’t the hairstyle, movie watching habits or weight of the particular dictator in charge of North Korea. My “problem” with North Korea is that North Koreans aren’t allowed to leave, a relevant fact left out of commentaries by experts, testimonials by visitors to North Korea, and surveys of what North Koreans think about their captors.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul. He can be reached at

Popular posts from this blog

Forgery or conspiracy? Memorandum 46

Here's an article I co-wrote that will appear in the Sunday Outlook section of the Washington Post . We'll be updating this page over the coming days. So check back for updates. Memorandum 46 timeline , as compiled by us. Audio from our last show on XM 169 before we got fired. That audio is divided into segments, this one is one large MP3 . Who says Memorandum46 is true? Former rep. Cynthia McKinney presents Memo 46 to the United Nations and defends it in a speech . Joe Madison presents Memo 46 at the annual Congressional Black Caucus gathering. Former D.C. delegate Walter Fauntroy, on the Joe Madison show on XM 169 (audio available, upon request) and on Michael Fauntroy's site Boyd Graves (see Exhibit 10 of his lawsuit against the government) The Final Call, with Brzezinski's name misspelled . Len Horowitz Millions for Reparations Various discussion forums or discussants, such as: Greekchat , Jahness , Who says Memorandum 46 is a forgery? Brzezi

Park Jin welcoming remarks to FSI (and Casey Lartigue)

  National Assembly member Park Jin makes the welcoming remarks at FSI's conference featuring North Korean diplomats. Park Jin | Greeting message to FSI and Casey Lartigue mention - YouTube

The Casey Lartigue Show

Guests scheduled for May NOTE: Check here for updates on Memorandum 46! Future Shows Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution This is my first attempt at putting together my own promo , it was rejected because of the sound quality May 19 edition of the Casey Lartigue Show We had a great show yesterday, probably the best so far. The topic: Malcolm X. The occasion? Anniversary of his 82nd birthday. Eliot Morgan and I had a great time talking with the callers. Deneen Borelli called in on our special guest line. You can download the file here. We posed the question: What did Malcolm X do? We contrasted the viewpoint and legacies of Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall. The one mistake I made was not to focus on the question that Marshall asked: What was the one concrete thing that Malcolm X did. In segment 3, callers begin to get personal with us. May 12 edition of the Casey Lartigue Show Featured guest: Don Boudreaux of George Mason University Promo for the May 12 show May 5 edition of the C

2016-11-03 Who is Andrei Lankov?

Disclaimer: NK experts, please don't read this, there will be no rabbits pulled out of a hat. * * * Every couple of months, I meet up with Andrei Lankov to discuss various things. I first met him back in 2011, shortly before he spoke at an event I organized with the Center for Free Enterprise. I have read his articles for years, he has spoken at about four TNKR events over the years. When it comes to analyzing NK, he is one of the leading experts in the field. Last March, I was one of the organizers of the first (and perhaps last) International Volunteers Workshop, we had 227 RSVP in advance. I asked them all as part of the RSVP: "The keynote speaker will be Andrei Lankov. Had you heard of him before hearing about this event?" No: 133 Yes: 94 Even within those 94 "Yes" responses, I am sure there were various levels of awareness--such as some may have seen his name, others may have read some articles, and a few experts may have the Andrei La

2014-07-01 Happy Birthday, Joo Yeon Cho!

Can it be true? I have known Joo Yeon Cho for less than 9 months? Incredible! But I guess that's the way it is with Joo Yeon. I'm not surprised to see so many birthday messages coming from all over Korea and the world. She works for a company that could crush me and everyone I know, but she still calls me "Boss."^^ I checked my emails, she first emailed me back on October 14, and I was surprise d to see it was 2013, not 2012 or even earlier. She wanted to join as a volunteer at the Mulmangcho School. I quickly recognized she was a special lady. She didn't know it, but I had already decided that she would help me with a special project I had planned with Praise Ju that I was going to launch two days later. They hit it off, and the project took off! We are collaborating again--she started off as the first Academic Adviser in the Teach North Korean Refugees Project, and she is now our first External Coordinator. As I posted a few days ago, she regularly blows u