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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Traitors and Criminals, or, A Man is Known by the Company That He Keeps

by | May 31st, 2012 | 05:10 am

Over dinner a number of years ago, five friends ended up discussing how our families had come to the United States.  In two of the five cases, their grandfathers had fled west at the outset of the First World War to avoid conscription in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian armies, respectively, eventually making it to America. I laughed and observed that maybe we would be less chauvinistic if we remembered that we were a nation of draft dodgers.

So maybe it’s some kind of cultural predisposition, but according to a statement released by the North Korean foreign ministry, I spend my time consorting with “traitors and criminals.”  Last week the State Department released its 2011 Human Rights Report, and to my surprise and delight, Witness to Transformation is cited repeatedly. The foreign ministry statement derided the survey-based evidence presented in the report as “‘rumors’ concocted by a handful of traitors and criminals to earn living expenses after running away from their country and families.”

Treason and criminality? It sure beat being used as some emperor’s cannon-fodder a hundred years ago, and I am sure that the grandchildren of our interviewees will feel the same way a hundred years from now.