Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is North Korea a real-world "Hunger Games"?

That's the message of an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, whose writer lays out the case here:
Still, the movie turned my stomach — and not because of what I saw on the screen. What flashed through my mind were images of North Korea. There, in a real totalitarian state, children are bred like livestock in labor camps. They are taught to betray their parents. They are worked to death.

The Kim family dynasty — founder Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il, who died in December, and Kim Jong Un, the third-generation successor — has presided over this human rights catastrophe for more than half a century without provoking much interest, understanding or outrage from the American public.

Make-believe dystopias, it seems, are easier on our eyes and kinder to our conscience. In "The Hunger Games," the evil regime is no match for Katniss Everdeen, played by the well-nourished Jennifer Lawrence. But in North Korea's labor camps, the captives are always hungry and the games are always rigged.

There are about 200,000 inmates in six camps, the largest of which is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. According to the testimony of camp survivors, prisoners live and die without soap, socks, underwear, toilet paper or sanitary napkins. They are forced to do hard labor while subsisting on a starvation diet of corn, cabbage, salt — and the occasional rat. As they age, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and they hunch over at the waist. They usually die of hunger-related illness before turning 50.
Perhaps focusing on a real-world case might make people feel for those who are going through this horror:
I learned about daily life in these camps from Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person known to have been born in one of them and escape to the West. Shin was born in Camp 14 in 1982 after guards selected his mother and father for a "reward marriage" and instructed them to have sex. Shin was 14 when he was forced to watch camp guards hang his mother and shoot his brother.

Years later, in interviews for a book about his life, Shin told me he was responsible for these executions. He had memorized camp rule No. 1: "Any witness to an attempted escape who fails to report it will be shot immediately." After overhearing his mother and brother discussing escape, he betrayed his family in order to save his life, please his jailers and earn extra food. His snitching, though, did him no good. He was tortured for suspected involvement in the escape and received no extra food.
The writer suggests that we read books and watch films like Hunger Games because we enjoy the fantasy but can't stomach the same in reality:
As for "The Hunger Games," my daughter liked the movie and can't wait for the sequels, which means that I will be buying more tickets and that I am in no position to judge others for spending money on escapist fantasy. But it breaks my heart that even as we root for the survival of the fictional Katniss, we do not know enough — or care enough — to raise our collective voice and demand that North Korea stop breeding, starving and enslaving labor-camp children.
I, for one, am glad that people are waking up to the egregious treatment of so many North Koreans at the hands of their "leadership." At the same time, however, I hope they also are alerted to China's role in perpetuating that murderous regime. If Beijing starts to feel like they are hurt more by their patronage than helped, they might actually try to change things.



  1. I believe I said the same thing "here" well over a week ago on Mar. 27th: "The fact of the matter is that the series of "The Hunger Games" books share more in common with the true hunger games and oppression in North Korea than just about anything else out there in previous fictional films and books."

    And not to spoil it, but there is a "China" helping to support the evil "Hunger Games" regime in the series of books, but it isn't until the final book that this is made clear.

    1. You did, indeed.

      And you know what, I am nearly 100% certain at least one journalist or two has cribbed ideas they've read on this very blog, so why not mine the comments section.

      Unless this is one of those ideas (I haven't seen the movie yet) that people could independently come up with.


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