I‘m always surprised when reporters want to write about me. As I usually tell them, it is bad news when a reporter seeks you out for an extended interview. This week, I was interviewed for a documentary, a radio show, and a blog.
Advice for Kim Jong-un?
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
I was recently asked by an expert on North Korea what I would tell dictator Kim Jong-un if I had a chance to meet him.
My response: “Nothing.”
As I explained to my baffled colleague: “Do you think I could convince KFC to stop killing chickens? The mafia to stop committing crime? Kim Jong-un is in charge of a country, treating 24 million people like they are his personal property. His wonderful life depends on controlling, terrorizing, brainwashing and extracting wealth from North Koreans.”
And vice versa. There is nothing the third dictator of North Korea could tell me that could get me to support his system. If I did start lecturing him about the right of locomotion or respect for individual autonomy, he’d probably interrupt me to ask: “Which country are you in charge of where you make your magic happen?”
Like my colleague, North Korea experts may want to give the North Korean dictator a piece of their minds. While the talkers debate, I would suggest that the mere mortals among us who would like to engage in practical action in our lifetimes check out the call to action paper “Light Through the Darkness” issued by the George W. Bush Institute.
Victor Cha, Fellow in Human Freedom at the institute and author of the paper, outlines six main areas for “improving the human condition in North Korea,” recommending specific actions. They include breaking through North Korea’s information barriers, engaging and supporting U.S.-based escapees and raising global awareness. The paper makes specific recommendations for individuals, organizations, governments and non-experts. The many bullet points could keep NGOs looking to engage in practical action busy for years or decades to come.
A beautiful thing about Cha’s paper is that it encourages people to focus on actions, not words of wisdom for the North Korean dictator. When I listen to the experts talk about North Korea, they seem to be having life-and-death discussions over which policy is correct. With so many options available, it would be like having a heated argument to resolve the “apples versus oranges” debate while at a buffet.
That’s why Cha’s paper goes against the grain when it comes to North Korean issues. The approach of the paper is to let a thousand flowers bloom rather than to debate about a particular policy in isolation. Analysts will engage in endless verbal fisticuffs, for example, over whether air balloons being sent into North Korea can topple the regime. As a stand-alone action, no, it can’t, anymore than humanitarian assistance, tourism, increased engagement, a peace treaty or sanctions can. That kind of snapshot analysis, isolating just one part when there are many moving, would be like concluding that tires are ineffective because, by themselves, they can’t make a car move.
As Cha writes: “Thus, it is not a question of choice ― a new approach to North Korean human rights must operate on all tracks simultaneously to have the most effect.” Some can focus on the 24 million people in North Korea, some can focus on helping North Korean refugees on the run in China and other countries, and others can focus on helping North Korean resettle and adjust. It isn’t hypocrisy to focus one’s limited time and resources on just one. There doesn’t have to be agreement, in advance, about which policy or approach is correct when there is so much to do, different people have different skills to get things done and we can’t know in advance which will work (or who has the ability to make the “golden key” or “silver bullet” happen).
It is often said that there is a “marketplace of ideas.”Arguments can be useful, stimulating and invigorating, but we don’t have to wait for experts to come to agreement before doing what we can. There needs to be a separate “marketplace of action.”Anyone who wants to engage in action, but is not sure where to start, can check out Cha’s paper.
The experts will continue to debate which policy is correct, I know. I’d like to remind them of something objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand said when asked by a student: “What should be done about the poor?” Rand responded curtly: “If you want to help them, you won’t be stopped.”
It sounds harsh, but it is a point that needs to be made to various researchers and activists debating about what to do about North Korea, that they won’t be stopped, except by government in some cases, from putting legs and arms to their ideas. If they look through the Bush Institute report and find something practical they can do, I promise that when Kim Jong-un asks me for advice, I will tell him not to stop them.
The writer is director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu
Original Korea Times link,
Casey Lartigue quoted (accurately) by NK News about the Bush Center’s recent Call to Action report about North Korea. I must be somebody important, considering who is quoted in the article: Greg Scarlatoi, Suzanne Scholte, Victor Cha, Lindsay Lloyd and Casey Lartigue.
* There is a “however” before my comments, but I strongly agree with Suzanne Scholte’s point that the proposals in the report need to be financed, not just talked about…
However, Casey Lartigue of the Seoul-based Freedom Factory think tank said that the report “presents numerous practical options for individuals, NGOs and governments to do something in their own way to help.”
“There are so many analysts and talkers who are so busy attacking each other that they don’t focus enough on actual action to help North Korean exiles as well as those still trapped in North Korea,” he said. “After this, no one will have an excuse to say they didn’t know what to do to help.”
Recently North Korea seized upon the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture – which documented instances of harsh interrogation techniques taking place under the administration of George W. Bush, the center’s namesake – in an effort to counter attention generated by the COI report.
Given this, Lartigue, whose organization promotes individual liberty, addressed whether the Bush Center’s role in the report was ultimately beneficial to the cause of North Korean human rights.
“… some may question if the Bush Center is an appropriate outlet for such a report, but the report itself shows why such a question is ludicrous,” said Lartigue. “It isn’t going to take just one organization, policy, action or idea to help liberate North Koreans. Analysts and activists have their own visions and policies, and they can present their ideas and activities, and find others who would like to collaborate with them or put their ideas into action.
“We don’t need a vote about who is entitled to act or speak.”
1/24 TNKR Matching session
1/31 Korean language Matching session
2/14 speech–Frederick Douglass
2/28 speech contest
6 speeches in three weeks on different topics in 2 different countries…
This morning I gave a speech at the Chadwick International School. Wow! One of the most active audiences I’ve ever had. And the kids were really kids. I guess I didn’t read the email closely enough, I assumed they were high school kids. But as I was walking around the school, I finally said, “There are only little people here.” Meaning, children.
It was too late to change my presentation too much, so I let it go. And the kids loved it! They had so many questions and even comments during the presentation. One little whipper snapper even challenged me!!!
And at the end, the teachers were telling me that I was the most popular guest speaker they had ever had. So I feel sorry for anyone following in my footsteps.
The kids lined up to get my autograph and were showing it off to the teachers. One even went to get her mom, who happened to be at the school, to come by to take a photo with me. It was hilarious, one of the most pleasant times I’ve had as a speaker.
Like others, when I was first stating my career, I wanted to speak at huge venues with important people… but now, I enjoy gatherings where the audiences really listen to what I have to say.
Thanks to Domenique Marie for setting it up, guiding me through the day, and blocking the kids from mobbing me.^^
Here’s the column I wrote about this speech.
In the 2008 movie “Yes Man,” actor Jim Carrey portrays a character who withdraws from society after going through an emotional divorce. Encouraged by a friend trying to bring him out of his shell, he attends a workshop given by a self-help guru who encourages him to change from being a “No Man.” He starts to say “Yes to life,” becoming an energetic “Yes Man” who tries everything ― even learning Korean.
In contrast, in South Korea, “yes man” still refers to a brown-nosing employee who is obedient to superiors. It is still better to be a yes man who obeys so you won’t be blamed when things go wrong because even one failure in school, the office, or family is unacceptable. Koreans I have mentioned the movie to immediately recoiled at the very mention of yes man, thinking it is the submissive yes man (or woman) in the office.
The different definitions of “Yes Man” (doing things) versus “yes man” (following the rules) are playing out now in Korea, most significantly in President Park Geun-hye’s policy of creating a “creative economy.” How do you foster a creative economy in a country of checklist checkers?
President Park also pledged during the campaign to make citizens happy, but the reality of doing this in a “No country” reminds me of the old saying: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
As a non-Korean, I am free from such pressure, floating like a leaf in the wind. My luck has gotten even better because I am re-joining forceswith Yonsei University professor Kim Chung-Ho, the president of the newly established Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. Whereas many Korean employers issue commandments, Prof. Kim is a bona fide “Yes Man.”
It is a great opportunity, but also a great challenge. My first day at work, I mentioned an idea to him. The approval process took about 15 seconds. I proposed the idea. He said, “Yes. Good idea.” I proposed another idea a few days later. He added even more ideas, quickly escalating it beyond what I had imagined. A “Yes Man” boss is more excited about ideas than employees are.
Based on what I have heard and experienced, a supervisor, manager or boss saying “good idea” in Korea (and Asia in general) seems to be translated as: “Let me think about it, let’s have many meetings, then we can make a decision…at which point I will say ‘no’ if you haven’t already come to your senses.”
But with Prof. Kim?” Good idea means, “Get started, let’s make it big.” It isn’t surprising that Prof. Kim is a big fan of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. In the 1956 book “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality,” Mises argued that people loathe capitalism because it takes away the excuse for their own failures. At the office or in a kingdom, people can blame the boss for their own inaction or individual failures.
I don’t know if that is Prof. Kim’s strategy, but here’s what happens: His “Yes Man” approach takes away the excuse for inaction. I am so used to hearing people say, “If I were in charge, then I would….” or “The boss should listen to me, we’d finally get something done around here!” With a “Yes Man” boss ― or living in a country based on freedom ― things depend on you and your own efforts.
A Korean-American friend of mine who says she was brought in to her company to bring “creative ideas” complains that her boss doesn’t listen to her. Laughing out-loud, I told her: “Don’t you realize that hiring you was the creative idea!” She has barriers at every turn ― either real or imagined ― because of her “No” supervisor. In contrast, I will have the freedom to do as I please, but also rise and fall with the results.
The last time Prof. Kim and I worked together, we did a fun rap battle music video titled “We can do it!” When I proposed that idea in 2010, before we first started working together, his email response was simple, something like, “I will do it.” And he did, and then some!!! He is now the Freedom Rapper. People are shocked to see him, a geeky Korean academic rapping about economics. I see a “Yes Man” celebrating freedom.
After a year, I may regret getting what I wished for, and start looking for a stern Korean boss who will gladly tell me what to do, blocking me until I come to my senses and just scurry about at his or her commands. But for at least the next year, I will be colleagues with a “Yes Man.”
the air conditioner is broken at work…
my coworker located a fan, and pointed it directly at me–then closed the door when he left.
is this an attempt on my life?
Check out fan death, still one of my all-time favorite Web sites.
I wonder, have there any been any attempts at killing someone through fan death? Such as, a wife closing the door and turning on the fan while her drunk husband slept.
Or attempted fan death suicides?
I went to E-Mart (a large Korean grocery/department store). Bought a pair of earphones because the pair that came with my iPOD stopped working a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy another pair. That’s because I have about 5 pairs of earphones back in storage in Virginia. It was getting kind of bad because I could only hear Ray Charles in the duet song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Sounds good, but Ray can’t carry the song alone…But the option was to spend $1,500 on a ticket to Virginia to get several pairs of earphones.
* * *
After E-Mart I stopped at a PC room to check my email.
Seemed okay when I first walked into the building. The name of the place is “Game Holic.”
There’s even a welcome mat at the front of the door of the place.
But wait…was it a grammatical problem? I don’t mean “f” in “foreigner.”
As in…”No! foreigner, please.” Please, what? Please, come in?
In many cases, when Americans ask a question like, “Wouldn’t you like to eat some ice cream,” Americans will answer either, “Yes, I would,” or “No, I wouldn’t.” Koreans would answer the opposite.
* * *
A few days ago in Suwon I stopped at a book store, with “Book Store” written in English on the side of the building. Imagine my surprise when I found only Korean books in a store with “Book Store” written on the side of the building. At least the sign wasn’t written, “No! english books.” Or would that mean that there were English books there?
* * *
At the PC room I wasn’t in the mood to be Martin Luther King Jr., but I decided to walk in just to check their reaction. The employee on duty was playing a game, but he hopped up and rushed to me. Seemed nice enough, he was ready to seat me.
I’ve always admired those civil rights activists from the past who demanded to be served at all-white restaurants, knowing full well in many cases that the white employees would spit in their food. I asked the guy in Korean if they had a business card I could have but he said they didn’t have any. So I decided to go to a different place. This one is named “Thank U”. I did thank them when I came in…
* * *
Back during the mid-1990s there was a minor controversy in Itaewon (an area where a lot of non-Koreans live). There were various drinking establishments there that had competing “No foreigner” or “No Koreans Allowed” signs. A friend of mine at the time had his birthday party at one of the “No Koreans Allowed” places (I think it was called the Nashville Club). A Korean friend who joined at the last minute stopped in his tracks when he saw the sign, “No Koreans Allowed.”
I told him, “No problem, we’ll get you in.” Actually, I didn’t know about the sign before we arrived, but was willing to raise a ruckus to get him into the place. I’ve always been a libertarian at heart recognizing the rights of owners to prohibit undesirable customers, but I also recognize that it isn’t unlibertarian to make an argument to owners that I’ll do everything I can to embarrass them if they don’t change their ways.
So at that time at the Nashville I didn’t mind playing Martin Luther King Jr.–or in that case, the late Pee Wee Reese (the Dodgers white shortstop who wrapped his arm around Jackie Robinson at a time other players avoided him).
I was ready for a battle…instead, we got a welcome mat that wasn’t pulled under our feet. We walked in, sat down, and ordered food and drinks. We were both surprised to see so many Koreans inside. I later learned that the sign was (allegedly) put there to keep groups of Korean males from entering the place and harassing Korean females hanging out with non-Koreans. So it may be that the place today would let me in by myself, meaning the sign should have been written, “No! korean, please.”
* * *
August 25, 2004
A few days ago I was in front of the Mayflower Hotel, and I do what I always do when I’m there–I look at the area down the street where for one of the few times in my life I risked my life for someone else.
|The inside of the Mayflower Hotel.|
It was New Year’s Eve, I had just returned from my first visit to South Korea. My best friend and I were hanging out with his roommate, party-hopping. As we drove through one neighborhood we heard some people celebrating the New Year by shooting with guns. Apparently they weren’t shooting at anyone or anything in particular, just shooting in the air. When we lost contact with his roommate at some point during the night, we started taking cabs from place to place.
Somewhat stranded at 1 a.m. when it got tougher to hail cabs, we stopped at the Mayflower Hotel to call our girlfriends as well as my best friend’s roommate, hoping he would eventually answer his beeper. Wait. I wrote beeper? Yep, that was back in the day.
We went back outside of the hotel to consider our options. We weren’t that far from my friend’s home, so walking wasn’t out of the question. Suddenly, a guy came running, yelling:
“HEY! THERE’S A WOMAN BEING BEATEN DOWN THE STREET.”