Three Things You Might Not Know About North Korea
By Sarah Withrow King
Full disclosure: until a few weeks ago, I was pretty ignorant about basically everything having to do with North Korea. I knew, as anyone who scans the news headlines knows, that tensions between North Korea and the United States seem to be mounting, particularly around issues of nuclear weapons. And I remember feeling shocked and saddened when Otto Warmbier died shortly after being released from seventeen months in captivity in North Korea. Why would U.S. citizens choose to go to a country, I wondered, that seemed eager to detain and imprison us?
After joining other ESA colleagues at a meeting with a group of people who have spent many years living and/or working in North Korea, I am ashamed of my ignorance, and committed to resisting the urge to make assumptions about an entire nation based only on what I see through the lenses of a small number of media outlets.
I am ashamed of my ignorance, and committed to resisting the urge to make assumptions about an entire nation based only on what I see through the lenses of a small number of media outlets.
If you, like me, are just starting to become aware of the complexities of the U.S. relationship with North Korea; if you, like me, are concerned about increasing rhetoric threatening nuclear war; if you, like me, sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of justice issues to keep up with on a day-to-day basis, here are my top three takeaways from our meeting:
- The North Korean government isn't a faceless monolith. There are men and women who work for the government, particularly in low- and mid- level positions, who are simply trying to make sure the people in their care (including their own families) have what they need to survive.
- Not all North Koreans hate Americans. Many have been taught to distrust the West (as we in the West are often taught to distrust North Koreans). But openness and friendship is, more often than not, returned.
- North Korean people are taking the long view. Like those of us in the United States who are "of an age," North Koreans have seen the ebb and flow of global relationships. At one point, not too long ago, the U.S. had no relationship with China. Diplomacy and global economics and prayer changed that reality. Administrations may come and go, but the hope of many is that cultural, educational, and humanitarian engagement will lay the foundation for a future of peaceful and fruitful relationship.
Have you been in relationship with someone from North Korea? What have you learned that confounded the standard narrative?
Sarah Withrow King is the Deputy Director of Evangelicals for Social Action, the co-director of CreatureKind, and the author of two books, Animals Are Not Ours (No Really, They're Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology(Wipf & Stock) and Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan).