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,
In March 2013, Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue co-founded the Teach North Korean Refugees Project–at that time, we called it English Matching. The point was to match North Korean Refugees with volunteer English teachers. This grew out of my experience with being 1) part of the team cheering for Hyeonseo Lee as she developed into being an international speaker and 2) being the International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School. Since then, we have matched 156 North Korean refugees with 216 volunteer English tutors. In addition, we have also matched 12 South Korean volunteers (who help North Korean refugees) with volunteer English tutors.
Yesterday we had our 22nd English matching session (we have also had 1 Spanish & Latin and 1 “Track 2” session). Our team has grown beyond just Eunkoo and myself.Suzanne Atwill Stewart is our Special Assistant, her presence has really allowed us to expand our activities/allowed me to go wild. Sodam Jeong is our Academic Adviser.Angela Miller is taking over as our Party Planner (or as I say, “Minister of Fun”). Others who previously have been part of the TNKR volunteer management team have been Joo Yeon Cho, Victoria Oh, Yeonhee Han and Yeonmi Park, each helped us expand TNKR to make it what it is now. Our honorary development team is highlighted by Andrew Soaresand Pam Davidson. Sung Hee Ko and Julie Ouziyo have been supporters from the moment they heard about us. Mike Ashley has never been one of our TNKR tutors, but that doesn’t stop him from donating money and computers The Mulmangcho School has been allowing us to use their space since June 2013. We now have numerous people donating to us, talking positively about the project, and adding value.
I am thankful and honored by the praise we get, but I know I couldn’t do this without the team members who have volunteered. And of course, for all our magical organizing, we certainly couldn’t do it without the volunteer tutors. Yesterday we were joined by Ren Haynes, Van SD Hur, Ben Engel (returnee), Ashley Zelina, Audie Wilkinson, Renee Kardel, Kristi Cashin, Seán Brophy, Julie Meyer Super, Clair Devine, Laughlin McKee.
Some misc things about yesterday and the future:
* 3 of the 11 volunteers are from Minnesota.
* 7 from the USA, 3 from the UK area (Ireland and Scotland), 1 from South Korea (as a reminder, we welcome different nationalities and accents and bilingual speakers are always welcome).
* We ask for disclosure–one volunteer is interested in doing a video project out of this. We welcome such as long as we are informed and I’m not asked to do too much about it.^^
* Ben was our one returning tutor. If I recall correctly, four of the 8 refugees were also returning.
* In the future, we are planning to do separate orientations in advance. This will give the tutors more time to discuss the project with us, so we don’t have to rush to get to the matching session. As I said yesterday, our orientation is like the process of waiting in line at an amusement park, and then the two minute ride off matching which happens rather quickly.
* All of the tutors got selected yesterday. We worry every time that someone might not get selected–although, from what I have heard, the tutors worry even more than we do! We try to let in as many tutors and refugees as possible, but have the reality of space and time…
We still have many challenges and are always looking for help. This started as “English Matching” because we wanted good pairs for studying. It became “Teach North Korean Refugees” because (eventually people will catch on that) we want people to teach what they know, what they can, or what they think they can help North Korean refugees with.
Check out our Website: http://www.teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/
Supporters without borders just wrote a love note about us.
to support us
TNKR Speech contest on 2/28
TNKR Facebook group
wrap up in Korean (at Dream Makers for North Korea site)
wrap up in Korea (Mulmangcho Website)
Volunteering for Mulmangcho (to teach NK refugee adolescents)
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…
a) In the morning, TNKR co-director Lee Eunkoo and I made a site visit to a possible venue for the 2/28 speech contest.
b) After that, we had a meeting with 고기완 of the Korea Economic Daily newspaper.
c) Then after that, I joined, in progress, a Freedom Factory meeting with intellectual Bok Geo-Il, he gave me a signed copy of his latest book, The Unforgotten War. He was or is battling cancer, he declined chemotherapy, he has continued writing and thinking…
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Although I absolutely love my job, I occasionally update my resume to track milestones and achievements. How should I categorize this? I have been included on former North Korean leader “Kim Jong-il’s Official Enemies List.”
There are 30 of us on the list, including former U.S. President George W. Bush and former Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Nikita Khrushchev. Just two enemies list names above my own: Former South Korean President Kim Young-sam, on page 417 of the hilarious new book, “Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong-il.” According to the book cover, everything, as dictated to celebrity ghostwriter Michael Malice, who never met Kim Jong-il, is 100 percent “TRUE”!
I wish I had thought to write such a book. Several years ago, I joked about editing a collection of laugh-out-loud dispatches of the North Korean propaganda machine 1) flattering the Kim dictators and 2) flattening South Korean puppets and American imperialists. But I realized that I might end up on an enemies list ― of South Korea’s National Security Act.
Writers using irony about a nation’s enemy are running through minefields. The commentary that filled my in-box with the angriest responses was my Korea Times column “I Believe.” I mentioned various North Korean terrorist acts, then made tongue-in-cheek excuses for North Korea. Progressive friends soft on North Korea were elated, hoping that I had finally seen the errors of my previous ways.
North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov says analysts trying to understand North Korea should evaluate it from the perspective of North Korea. “Dear Reader” does a reductio ad absurdum, dead-panning the Dear Leader’s words to hilariously present them as undisputed history. Malice uses original sources ― Kim Jong-il books he collected during a trip to North Korea ― to take on the dead dictator’s persona, humbly basking in the sunshine of his own lifelong brilliance.
Malice starts “Dear Reader” with Kim Jong-il recalling his own birth, writing, “I remember the day that I was born perfectly.” As a youngster, the future dictator admired his own academic excellence, but he was most proud of “how skilled I grew at fixing my fellow children.” He continued “fixing” everyone ― school teachers, professors, party leaders, artists, musicians, writers, movie directors ― with his endless insights.
He was vigilante about eliminating wrong-thinking, wrong ideas, and opposing ideas through public executions or hard labor (after all, opposing ideas=wrong ideas). He claimed to master “time-shrinking” ― although he was more skilled at shrinking the economy and North Koreans (who reportedly are 1 to 3 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts).
Even Muhammad Ali, during his heyday as the loquacious heavyweight boxing champion, didn’t pour syrup on himself to the level Kim Jong-il sweetened up himself. The dead dictator didn’t claim to float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, but he did write, “I remembered everything I saw and perceived 10 things when I heard one. I was so profound that all my utterances were original, novel and inventive.” Oh, except that every profound utterance was due to his father, the Great Leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung.
Malice peers into the brain of Kim Jong-il, but also gives a glimpse of what it must be like to grow up under rulers who are never wrong, never in doubt, always outmaneuver the well-fed puppets and rich imperialists ― and won’t change the subject about their benevolence and genius. I had a new appreciation for those brave souls who ignore the round-the-clock propaganda and escape past armed guards. I also wanted to hug those poorly funded NGOs in South Korea who send information via shortwave radio, USB drives, CDs into North Korea. North Koreans need to hear opposing ― wrong ― views.
“Dear Reader” is a good reminder that my North Korean refugee friends now in South Korea were constantly taught that Americans started the “Fatherland Liberation War,” are blood-thirsty and immoral.
Oh, and that Americans smell. When North Korea seized the USS Pueblo in 1968, Kim Jong-il was informed that the captured Americans “smell,” even after taking showers. Worse, they “want to have sex with each other.” That was that, Kim was ready to send them back. “The American depravity knows no limits.”
“Dear Reader” reminded me that I have already been on enemies’ lists ― of the North Korean refugees, before they escaped. Now, I help some improve their English as co-director of the English Matching Project, I have numerous refugee friends, and I am a proud member of the “Kim Jong-il official enemies list.”
When I told a refugee friend about being on the list, she gushed: “Awesome!” In addition to updating my resume, I wish I could capture the importance of that endorsement in a reference.
P.S., to my own dear readers: Malice’s “enemies list” is really his “acknowledgements” page.
The writer is the director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Original Korea Times link
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.