Note: The following is an excerpt from a book I am currently working on and expect to publish in the coming months.
The theme of the book will be “the facets of liberty”
Keep an eye out for it.
The Korean peninsula provides a dramatic and clear illustration of the consequences of tyranny, and the contrasts between liberty and tyranny. As the satellite photo above shows, nights in North Korea are probably cold and miserable for most North Korean citizens, especially amid very cold winters. Couple this with a severe shortage of food and a government that uses food shortage as a weapon, and you see the worst form of oppression.
This contrast is a recent phenomenon. Both nations arose out of World war II in roughly the same economic and cultural conditions, with the North becoming essentially a client of the Soviet Union (socialism), and the South becoming a client of the United States (free market capitalist). Both however were previously a colony of Imperial Japan.
Eventually, and following the very brutal Korean War from 1950-53, the South came out of years of autocratic rule and developed a constitutional government and a free market capitalist economy which today is a worldwide economic powerhouse. In the United States, we can walk through any typical parking lot, or just watch the cars on the streets and highways, and before long you will see the familiar Kia’s and Hyundai’s. We reach in our pocket to pull out our smart phone, and chances are it will be a Samsung or LG. Same with the appliances in our kitchens and laundry rooms – South Korean Samsung. Shipbuilding and steel are also mainstays of the South Korean economy.
In North Korea, military products, mining, metallurgy, textiles and food processing provide the bulk of the economic engine, what little there is of it — and it seems the North has trouble growing an ear of corn for its badly underfed population.
There are many chilling economic statistics that highlight the disparity between North and South Korea. Gross Domestic Product (per capita) shows the North at $1,800 while in the South it is $32,400.
But the cost in individual human lives shows up in the disparity of physical characteristics of the Korean citizens:
Several reports have attempted to provide evidence on this matter. Pak (2004a) compared the heights and weights of North Korean defectors with South Korean heights and found a height gap of 5·9 and 6·6 cm for male and female young adults, respectively. Moreover, 20to 50-year-old North Korean female refugees were found to weigh 51–55 kg (Pak, 2004b). The South Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 20- to 39-year-old North Korean refugees seem to be 7 cm shorter than the average South Korean (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2006). According to South Korean oﬃcials, North Korean children lag 10–15 cm behind their South Korean counterparts in terms of stature (Yonhapnews, 2006). However, all these reports are based on North Korean refugees measured in South Korea.
The few reports from escaping North Koreans would seem to confirm these numbers. We see increasing reports of fishing boats drifting on to the shores of Japan – many with the dead bodies of North Korean fishermen. We read of the North Korean soldier who escaped to the south but was shot by the border guards of the North. And we read of his malnourished body and a digestive tract infested with parasitic worms.
Returning to the satellite image above, it is instructive to recall that in the early 1930s under Joseph Stalin, a pogrom of deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian populace resulted in the deaths of from 7 million to 10 million innocent lives. But with a lack of satellite surveillance back then it was impossible to even surmise what might have been happening there. With North Korea, we can more reliably connect the dots to a line of great tragedy.
Yes, there is a great cost associated with the lack of liberty – paid for by the weakest among us. And with the juxtaposition of these two nations, that for centuries were one and the same, we can see both the cost and the value sides of that coin called liberty.