In an effort to avoid talking politics, I took to the internet for anything that didn’t have to do with how awful Trump is or how wonderful Biden is.
It was difficult, but I found such a thing in a Valuetainment podcast. And as it turns out, this story is quite possibly the most powerful statement of the human condition and how one person overcame unspeakable oppression of what we in the West could not fathom.
Valuetainment’s Patrick Bet-David, certainly no stranger to oppression, as he himself got out of Iran, interviewed a most remarkable young woman. Her name is Yeonmi Park, now 26 years old, and she escaped from North Korea at the age of only 13.
She tells her harrowing story of escape to China, then to South Korea, Ireland and finally ending up in the United States. In the 72 years the Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea, she is one of only 200 who made it out alive to defect to the United States. And even after all this time, she says she’s still a target of the regime.
What is most fascinating and cryptically enlightening is her accounting of the 13 years spent in the isolated Communist nation. I’m not surprised by much anymore, but I’ll tell you, I was shocked by the level of control the regime has over its people.
Yeonmi shares what it was, and still is, like to “exist” in North Korea. She purposely did not say what it was like to “live” there. The way she describes it is stranger and crueler than fiction.
She begins by saying that the “1 percent” has all they desire, but the rest have nothing. And by nothing she means absolutely nothing!
We in West often speak of “stress” and “depression,” etc. Yet in North Korea, these words don’t even exist. They are not in any North Korean dictionary. The terms had to be explained after her escape.
A simple thing like a calendar, which the rest of the world takes for granted, is vastly different there. To the world, the New Year begins on Jan. 1, but not in North Korea. There the year begins on April 15, marking the birth of their original “Dear leader,” Kim Il-Sung, “when time itself began, or was renewed.” And because they remain so isolated, no one knows any better. They liken Kim-Il-Sung to be God, and his successor, Kim Jong-Il, Jesus Christ.
Yeonmi describes the first lesson her mother taught her. It was to, “not even whisper, because even the birds and mice could hear her whispers.” What she meant was that they were always being watched – always listened to. Even a whisper of a single wrong word uttered would not only get you killed, and your entire immediate family, but three generations of family members would be executed.
This is not some urban legend – it happens. She knows because her whole family would be ordered to attend these public trials and then executions. Even the youngest children had to witness it.
There is no internet in North Korea. She had never heard the word before escaping. The simple word “love” was completely foreign to her, as it was only used to describe the Dear Leader.
If you were lucky enough to get a toy, children didn’t get a “Barbie or Legos,” but a government-issued toy tank or missile launcher.
They had no electricity, no running water, no heat, etc. They would wash themselves and their cloths in the nearby river. In winter, if you were lucky, you could get maybe one bath.
Their entire education consisted of hate-filled propaganda. Yeonmi had never seen a world map and knew nothing of other planets. She didn’t even know there were other races.
Although they didn’t know where America was, they were taught that we are pure evil. She described a typical math problem. If there were four “American bastards” and you killed two, how many American bastards are left to kill?
You are never asked for your thoughts or opinion because you’re not permitted to have either.
They were starving all the time, and she says until she escaped, she had never known what it was like to eat until she was full. In fact it was the only reason she did escape. It wasn’t for freedom or anything like that. She had no concept of such things. It was, as she describes, only for food. In fact, she says, even after she escaped, if she could go back and be fed properly and consistently, she would have.
And this is the key to keeping a population of 25 million under lock and key. Yes, there is constant surveillance and threat of execution, but more so, it was simply a lack of food.
If the people are kept in a state of not just hunger, but perpetual starvation, their minds will never wander from where to find their next meal. No one has the time or strength to even imagine a better world or life.
As she says, you just “exist.” That’s all.
So no matter how bad things get, just be thankful you weren’t born in North Korea.
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