In What Sense Is John Choe Morally Distinguishable from a Neo-Nazi?

024_john_choe.jpgJohn Choe, personifying the appellation “useful idiot” as pictured here, won’t shift U.S. foreign policy if he’s elected to represent a district in Queens in the New York City Council.  Technically, Choe is correct when he evades questions about his sympathies with North Korea’s regime and demurs,

“I’m not running for secretary of state–I’m running to represent the 20th district in the City Council,” Choe said.

That is true in the same sense that David Duke ran for governor of Louisiana, not Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  When Duke ran, he accused his opponents of unfairly raising his previous leadership of Ku Klu Klan and Neo-Nazi organizations, which he claimed were a part of his past (though Duke continued to operate an organization called the National Association for the Advancement of White People).

I make this comparison because John Choe, who has the endorsement of the Queens Democratic Party, is the co-founder of a group called Nodutdol, which, in rhetoric indistinguishable from North Korea’s, says:

The danger of war is real – during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, U.S. pre-emptive strikes were threatened over the issue of North Korea’s potentially having nuclear weapons. Currently, the U.S. has been reconfiguring its presence in South Korea, increasing the size and capabilities of bases like Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek, south of Seoul, while the U.S., South Korea, and Japan have stepped up joint military exercises to “maintain regional stability”.  The most recent just ended this March, as 26,000 U.S. forces joined the R.O.K. forces in an enormous war game, “Key Resolve/ Foal Eagle”, exercises aimed at North Korea, who condemned the actions as provocative.  Then, North Korea launched a satellite in early April, which the U.S., South Korea and Japan denounced as provocative.   [Nodutdol]

Choe has not repudiated Nodutdol, and Nodutdol has not repudiated Choe, whom it describes as a “former member.”  Since at least 2003, when Choe was still associated with Nodutdol, Nodutdol has sponsored political pilgrimages to North Korea:

The mission of DEEP is to bring activists and socially concerned Korean Americans to the northern part of our homeland, in the only such program in this country.  Because of the biased and negative portrayal of north Korea by the US government and mainstream media, most of us [even Koreans who are already committed to social justice], are poorly informed about the DPRK. This program helps to demystify the DPRK, and build person to person understanding. To organize in this collective, socialist society. Each year, DEEP organizes a fundraising drive to support the people of north Korea and uses the proceeds to bring medical supplies, books, and other materials to the DPRK.  [Nodutdol]

Even this appears to be a sanitized version of what a New York Times reporter found several years ago, and you know you’re far afield when even the New York Times looks at you askance for your far-left sympathies:

It is not hard to see the worries. Nodutdol’s Web site, which is in English at, includes a journal and photographs by Yul San Liem, 24, who presents North Korea as a harmonious place, full of happy people free of Western advertising. There is plenty of praise for the former dictator Kim Il Sung.

North Koreans, Ms. Liem writes, ”have built a nation from nothing when the Western Imperialists would have had them fall, have constructed a society in which people actually desire what is best of each other, rather than what is best for the individual self, who resist the clutches of global capitalism, who have survived such hardships and risen up alive, united and strong.”

The site doesn’t mention that North Korean citizens can reportedly be sent to the gulag for watching television. There is only a passing reference to the famine that killed an estimated 2.5 million North Koreans in the mid-1990’s, a result, many observers say, of the government’s policies.  [N.Y. Times, Robert F. Worth]

Among the groups with which Notudol allies itself are the repugnant National Lawyers’ Guild, whose pro-regime propaganda has trumetped North Korea’s judicial procedure and its treatment of prisoners, and the violent, North Koreaninfiltrated Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

One of Kim Jong Il’s palaces
If I am not questioning the patriotism of Nodutdol’s members, it’s because the authors of the group’s web site have saved me the trouble by repeatedly referring to them not as Korean-Americans or Americans of Korean descent, but as first- to fourth-generation “Koreans living in the U.S.,” and referring to Korea as their homeland.  And while one can certainly question the Marxist bona fides of any supporter of an oligarchy that wallows in luxury while the proletarian classes cover acres of land with the graves of their loved ones, there is one identifiable consistency in Nodutdol’s agenda — its advocacy of a defenseless America and a defenseless South Korea.

The graves of Hamhung
But do these views still reflect Choe’s own?  Choe, who volunteers that he spent part of his honeymoon in North Korea, is non-responsive when asked of the North’s atrocities toward its people:

“I believe in productive and constructive criticism. There is also criticism that is meant to undermine a peaceful process. I believe if you’re gonna build a relationship you have to engage in constructive criticism.[“¦] You can’t be holier than thou, saying why aren’t you fixing this, or fixing that?[“¦] That part of U.S. policy is currently being reviewed by the Obama administration. The unilateralism that the U.S. has pushed around the world hasn’t been very productive,” said Choe. [….]

In regards to human rights violations, Choe criticized the former military government of South Korea, especially their National Security Law, which he said led to the “restricted free speech and freedom of conscience, [and] allowed the authorities to detain, torture and sometimes kill their political opponents whether they were professors, poetry, labor activists.   “If a similar system is in place in North Korea, I would also oppose it,” said Choe.  [Queens Tribune]

It is a strange variation of Holocaust denial that “opposes” what it still refuses to acknowledge.  But the horrors that are there for anyone to see, or to hear the victims describe.  The number of people murdered or allowed to starve by North Korea’s regime exceed by at least a hundredfold the worst abuses of South Korea’s old right, to which Choe attempts to redirect his response.

Barracks huts at Camp 22

Choe wasn’t so circumspect in a 2006 speech, which he has not repudiated:

Korea is at the front line of the liberation struggles against imperialism,” Choe was quoted as telling a conference here in May 2006 on “Preparing for the Rebirth of the Global Struggle for Socialism.”

“From the very beginning, when the US intervened and occupied Korea, the Korean people have been resisting and struggling. And I urge all of you here to help us in our dark days trying to win back freedom and independence from the United States and its military.” [David Seifman, New York Post]

If a moral distinction can be made between the Nazi regime and North Korea’s, it certainly isn’t in degrees of cruelty so much as the number of victims the regimes could access.  When David Duke sought and won the Republican primary while running for governor of Louisiana in 1988, Ronald Reagan recorded radio spots to endorse his corrupt Democratic opponent.  That is because we have made the national decision to drive those who sympathize with the perpetrators of genocide from polite society.  Yet too many “progressives” seem untroubled by sharing their movement with those who traffic in one of the world’s most illiberal ideologies.  Perhaps the Queens Democratic Party endorsed Choe while ignorant of his views, but by now, it cannot be unaware of them.  If the Democratic Party has made the decision to create a space within its ranks for the advocates of genocide, then by all means, it should stand by that endorsement.

After all, the Nazis meant well, too.

Related:   Notwithstanding there being some sort of rule against this, I also question the patriotism of Wilfred Burchett.


  1. I blame Bruce Cumings.

    In his glowing description of the misunderstood North Korean utopia juxtaposed with the condemnation of South Korea’s past militarist regimes, I saw hints of Cumings’s irrational reputation-saver, Korea’s Place In the SUn, where alleged atrocities committed by US or ROK troops are laid out in painstaking detail — in a way that assumes the worst accusations must be true — while North Korea’s far more egregious atrocities are given short shrift.

    I can understand someone wanting to un-mystify and de-demonize a people, such as the citizenry of North Korea, but that does not justify apologism for such a regime.


  2. I met John at a future leaders’ conference hosted by the Korean government. Had the chance to share a few beers with him. Not a bad guy, actually, but then again, we never talked politics.

    I personally know one guy pretty well who’s well connected with the nodutdol guys and came back from one of those DEEP trips enamoured with North Korea. However, I never got a sense (at least from him) that he was defending the regime for its well documented ills: for instance, he acknowledges the existence of the prison camps and also visited northeast China to get the “other side” of the story and has willingly participated and volunteered in many of our own awareness raising events, despite the fact that the North Korean regime is usually painted in shades of brown organic matter, which is due to the fact that we are an advocacy group on behalf of North Korean refugees and human rights.

    Of course, there’s a far, far left bent to his thinking (heavily criticizing American and South Korean governments as well) but in the end, he’s what I’d term an “equal opportunity” critic. But then again, we Canadians are more open minded than you Yanks. 😉



  3. Queens has a large Koreatown, and it would benefit those people to get a Korean-American representative to the NY City Council. As long as John Choe is a competent person in city politics, I don’t think his views on foreign policy should matter that much.

    I read the writings on the Nodutdol website, and they seem very leftist and anti-US military, but their views are not that different from many anti-war leftist groups in America.

    I don’t think it’s right to characterize John Choe as a neo-Nazi, because he doesn’t seem to be a holocaust denier. His group, Nodutdol, seems to be mainly interested in a peaceful reunion between the two Koreas.


  4. What distinguishes him from a neo-Nazi is that the media would be all over him. But, as we all know, the Left can do no wrong, so he will get no media attention.


  5. I think that John Choe is not an “advocate of genocide.” Rather I believe he is someone who believes that North Korea in particular and Korea in general is oppressed by the U.S. and that much of their problems, such as the famine, are not their fault. He is probably not aware of the enormous evil occurring in North Korea and it would be good to educate him about it.

    But I can understand your outrage.


  6. “Korea in general is oppressed by the U.S.”

    Most South Koreans and Korean-Americans would disagree with that view. They know too well how valuable the US is to South Korea.

    I don’t think that John Choe is advocating that either, otherwise he would not be a US resident running for public office in America. He seems to be someone who is opposed to America taking military action against North Korea. That sentiment is shared by many Korean-Americans.


  7. –sigh–

    As a great champion of socialism — in its global, historical, not strictly contemporary Western European variety — on initial viewing, it would seem obvious he is not a champion of “Korean Unification” for both North and South — but unification of the South by the North. Every indication these b#$@#$% so frequently puke up is there — attacking American “imperialism”, attacking South Korea for its infringement of human rights, always coupled with defending the North from criticism of its gross violations of them.

    The fact that chooses to live in the United States means little. Bill Ayers considered himself a true American even when he was openly calling himself a terrorist against its government and a leader in a group that envisioned the need to put tens of millions of his fellow Americans in “reeducation camps” once the great socialist revolution he was helping spearhead became successful. All societies have tools living within them…

    At least Bill Ayers was acting back then in a time period significantly different from our own today.

    Give the evolution social anthropology has been able to witness since the start of the 20th Century, especially the unavoidable recognitions since the end of the Cold War, — and specifically in Korea’s case – since the growth in technology in peering into the North and the collecting of stories from people who made it out of the North or who send information out of the North — people like this are beyond contemptible.

    I’d really like to put them in a room together with North Korean refugees or gulag survivors and watch them tell that group they are wrongheaded and just too simple to understand the bigger picture and how Pyongyang is just trying to do what is best for all Koreans – North and South…


  8. This idiots spewing their garbage amazes me some times. They are just like the ones that feel terrorists are, “misunderstood.”