By Harrison Lim
What is the first thought that comes to mind when you think of North Korea? For most people, including United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, words like “solitude,” and “Hermit Kingdom” seem to be a quite accurate description. But why do we instinctively attach an ominous stigma to the quality of life in the nation? We are surrounded by and force-fed the accounts and of the conditions in North Korea by people who have never even been to the country. Very few people have ever ventured to North Korea and the select many who have cannot provide the rest of us with a purely objective account because they too enter with the negative assumptions and preconceptions of the nation that prevent them from fully understanding whether or not its people live the way they do by force or by choice. If this is the case, then why are we so compelled to believe these narratives? Is it nobler to have an unjustified hostile understanding of a subject than to have no knowledge of that subject at all? Is the inimical aurora that surrounds North Korea just a manifestation of the humiliation that comes from a lack of familiarity with the structure within the nation, from not being able to accept that there may be another lifestyle that is not “correct” but still existent? Many recent observations have indicated that most North Koreans are content with their current lifestyle. It is all that they have known and without any other standard to compare it to, their life makes them happy enough to keep living.
But what is happiness? For the western world, happiness is a complex and convoluted entity that differs for the individual, but for the citizens of North Korea, there seems to be a more unified perception of happiness: simply having the privilege of being alive, the privilege of having a place to live, no matter how inadequate. Perhaps if they were a given a chance to live the “American Dream” or any life that is deemed by the Western World to be “better” than the life that they lead, they would refuse and continue to live their current life. Then what would that say about our belief that each and every person under the rule of Kim Jong-Il is waiting to be saved and provided with materialistic happiness? The White Man’s Burden once again disposed. The only thing that we are certain about life in North Korea is that nothing is quite certain at all. No matter how the people really feel about their situation, Western civilization will always want to impose the “ideal” way of life on them and when that fails, placing a menacing stigma on the nation is the next best thing.
Harrison Lim (’12) is a rising senior at the Bronx High School of Science.
Picture courtesy of Reinhard Krause of The Big Picture.