In South Hwanghae, Echoes of the Holodomor

The Daily NK asks, fittingly, how there can be famine in the “breadbasket” — the rice bowl — of North Korea today, and adds that the reports of starvation are not easily attributed to natural causes.

To North Korean defectors, it is clear that the civilian starvation is a direct result of the decision to prioritize the military under the military-first policy and the subsequent obligation on the part of cooperative farms to provide rice for soldiers, coupled to controls covering trading activities by farm employees.

34-year old Lee Mi Kyung, who defected in 2011 from South Hwanghae Province, explained to Daily NK, “If everything grown did not go to military rice stores, then nobody would die. When I was in North Korea, because everything went for military rice there was nothing to eat in the farming season so we couldn’t work properly.”

“When autumn harvest time comes, soldiers guard the threshing shed and take all the grain that comes through it,” she went on. “If that proves not to be enough, then they also take privately farmed cereals into state stores in the name of military stocks.” [….]

According to defector Cha Young Ho (50), this is clearly a rural problem. He said, “People in the cities can trade, so there haven’t been many starvation deaths since the end of the March of Tribulation. But since last summer it started getting so bad that people have been collapsing in the fields for lack of food.” [Daily NK]

Spring and early summer are traditionally the hungriest parts of the year for North Koreans. Remember, most of the crop seizures precipitating this famine — it may well be something more like a cluster of microfamines — would have happened last fall. Meanwhile, the Rodong Sinmun is printing pictures of “active and seemingly successful rice planting going on in the region surrounding the North Korean capital.”

[Guard tower in a North Korean cornfield]

Having read too much of the terrible history of the last century, I am struck again by North Korea chooses to reenact the horrors of Mauthausen, and now, chooses to reenact Stalin’s Holodomor of the 1930s.

I suppose history is not just an endless loop of brutality and stupidity, but there are moments when that aspect eclipses all others. Then, as now, there are apologists and deniers, but if we’re looking for comfort in signs of progress, at least Stalin’s apologists were more talented. Stalin had Walter Duranty, but Jean Lee and David Guttenfelder don’t dare to cross the line into affirmative denial, and they must answer to their critics. Stalin had Anna Louise Strong and George Bernard Shaw; Kim Jong Un must settle for the otherwise talentless Christine Ahn. If there is anything hopeful to be taken from this, it is how new technologies have put capabilities like Google Earth and global publishing in the hands of nobodies working from their living rooms after work. The Internet has given lies instant global reach, but it has also given the truth something it didn’t have in 1932 — a fighting chance at catching up. Just imagine the impact of putting that technology into the hands of the North Korean people themselves.