byFaith | 10.3.14
By Alan Dowd
The North Korean government recently allowed a pair of American
criminals to speak to Western media. Jeffrey Fowle, who has been held in
Pyongyang since May, worries that his children in Ohio “might be out on the
street,” adding: “If this goes beyond the end of September, then I’m in grave
danger of losing my job.” Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years
of prison labor in April 2013, says his health is deteriorating and implores
Washington to “send an envoy as soon as possible.” Their crimes? Bae is a
missionary guilty of “trying to use religion to overthrow [North Korea’s]
political system,”as Newsweekreports.
Fowle was arrested for leaving a Bible in his hotel room.
Their ordeals—their “crimes”—shock us as Americans. But this
is the norm for the North Korean people. North Korea stands out “for its
absolute prohibition of religious organizations and harsh punishments for any
unauthorized religious activities,” according to the State Department.
In fact, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is
consigned to the lowest tier—the bottom eight—on a U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ranking. Pyongyang “tightly controls all religious activity and
perpetuates an extreme cult of personality venerating the Kim family as a
pseudo-religion,” according to USCIRF. “Individuals engaged in clandestine
religious activity are arrested, tortured, imprisoned and sometimes executed.
Thousands of religious believers and their families are imprisoned in penal
Yet it could be argued that issues of religious liberty are the
least of the North Korean people’s worries. After all, North Korea is a place
where citizens are required to donate food rations to the armed forces, where
people subsist on a diet that relies on “wild foods”—Pyongyang’s Orwellian euphemism for tree bark and grass—during times
of scarcity, where children are being orphaned by mass-starvation.
the Kim Dynasty diverts one-third of its GDP to the armed
forces, tests long-range rockets and nuclear bombs, and buys new tanks.
North Korea has 200 more tanks today than in 2008.
It gets worse.
The government of North Korea is guilty of “a wide array of
crimes against humanity” and “unspeakable atrocities,” a special United Nations
panel concludes in a sobering report.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not
have any parallel in the contemporary world,” according to the 372-page
The government-sponsored crimes include “extermination,
murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment…persecution on political, religious,
racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced
disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged
The report also finds in North Korea a “complete denial of
the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the
rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association,” noting
that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are being held in
It gets worse.
The North Korean
regime engages in systemic sexual violence, including rape, forced abortions
and infanticide. Newborns are regularly killed by drowning and suffocation, the
Many forced abortions are a
function of Pyongyang’s retrograde desire to preserve a “pure Korean race,”
according to the UN. “The concept of ‘pure Korean blood’ remains in the
DPRK psyche,” the UN
report notes, quoting a former North Korean internal-security official.
“Having a child who is not ‘100 percent’ Korean makes a woman ‘less than human.’”
Recognizingthe “many parallels” between North Korea and the Nazi regime, Michael
Kirby, chairman of the UN panel, concedes, “I never thought that in my lifetime
it would be part of my duty to bring revelations of a similar kind.”
Pointing to the nature and volume of Pyongyang’s crimes, the UN condemns
“the inadequacy of the response of the international community.” (Of course, in
doing so, it is condemning itself.)
United Nations must ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against
humanity committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are held
accountable. Options to achieve this end include a Security Council referral of
the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the establishment of
an ad hoc tribunal by the United Nations.”
Nuremburg-style tribunal or ICC referral may be warranted, but the creaking machinery
of the UN Security Council—where China routinely shields North Korea from international
condemnation and punitive sanctions—prevents any such action. And even if the
UN Security Council somehow agreed to haul North Korean leaders before the ICC
tribunal, the ICC has no power to apprehend the accused. That task would be
left to civilization’s first responder and last line of defense—the U.S.
military—and that would be an act of war.
No one of sound mind wants another war in Korea. The toll from the 1950-53 Korean War should give us pause: 38,000
Americans, 103,000 South Koreans, 316,000 North Koreans, 422,000 Chinese and 2
million civilians killed during three years of conventional warfare. Six
decades later, we have the specter of a mushroom cloud hanging over the sequel.
But there are things we can do.
Preach from the bully pulpit
little less détente,” President Reagan once counseled with regard to another
evil regime, “and more encouragement to the dissenters might be worth a lot of
In other words, President Obama, congressional leaders, the secretary of State,
diplomats and other policymakers should draw attention—relentlessly—to the
North Korean regime’s illegitimacy, brutality and widespread assault on basic human
here would not be to shame Pyongyang—for the shameless cannot be shamed—but
rather to challenge its enablers. Toward that end, the White House should shame
and name regimes that support the monsters in Pyongyang (China and Russia come to mind), shine
a light on the daily plight of the North Korean people, point out the vast differences between North Korea
and South Korea, and offer a platform to
the DPRK’s expat enemies.
Prepare to prevent
“We’re within an inch of war almost
every day in that part of the world,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
said of the Korean Peninsula in 2012. He wasn’t exaggerating. In 2010,
North Korea shelled a South Korean island and torpedoed a South Korean warship,
killing dozens of South Koreans. In 2012, North Korea conducted two long-range
missile tests. In 2013, Kim Jong-Un, the third member of the Kim Dynasty to
rule north of the 38th Parallel, detonated a nuclear bomb,
proclaimed the 1953 armistice “dead” and threatened
nuclear strikes against the U.S. And so far this year, Pyongyang has conducted almost 100
missile, artillery and rocket tests.
The only thing that has maintained the
fragile peace in Korea since 1953 is America’s deterrent strength. Yet the U.S.
defense budget has fallen from 4.7 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.4 percent today;
to 3.2 percent next year; and if current projections hold, to just 2.7
percent of GDP a decade from now.
The last time America invested less than 3 percent on defense was, ominously,
1940. This is the best way to invite the very worst of possibilities: what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength.”
Policymakers should recognize that a well-equipped military is not a liability
to cut but an asset to nurture. And
people of faith should recognize that the purpose of deterrent military strength is, by definition, todeter war, not wage it. As
President Washington explained, “There is nothing so likely to produce peace as
to be well prepared to meet an enemy.”
A policy of patient
preparedness—bracing for the worst, getting through another day, another year,
another term without another war—is how U.S. presidents have measured success
in Korea for 61 years. Still, in light of Pyongyang’s beastly crimes, one
wonders how much longer the friendless North Korean people can hold on.
Pray for transformation
That brings us to the most
important thing we can do as Christians. “The real business of your life as a
saved soul,” Oswald Chambers wrote a century ago, “is intercessory prayer.”
If, as Asia specialist Minxin Pei
observes, “No modern authoritarian dynastic regime has succeeded in passing
power to the third generation,” then the Kim Dynasty isn’t long for this world.
Perhaps our prayers can push it over the edge.
As a kid, I remember a solemn man praying a
simple but crazy prayer: “For the conversion of the Soviet Union,” he prayed aloud.
For years and years, he offered that prayer during open-prayer time. This was
in 1982, 1983 and 1984—among the coldest days of the Cold War. The atheist Soviet Union will never be
converted, I thought. What a silly
prayer. But it happened—and it happened peacefully—because so many of God’s
people prayed so earnestly for it.
In some mysterious way, intercession works. It
pays to recall that Moses, Mordecai, Peter and Paul were
all intercessors. And then there’s
Jonah. At the Lord’s prompting, Jonah engaged in a kind of intercessory prayer
for Nineveh—albeit less than
wholeheartedly—and God changed the heart of Nineveh’s king.
The good news is that God still changes hearts—and still
hears the prayers of imperfect people like Jonah and us.
Dowd writes a monthly column exploring the crossroads of faith and public policy for byFaith.