In recent years, sales of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 have spiked. The hellish dystopian world he describes seems very unrealistic, but for 25.5 million North Koreans, it’s quite similar to how they live every day. According to BBC, “The state controls everything, and actively spies on its citizens using a vast surveillance and informer network.” Sound familiar? The article goes on to note that “everyone is indoctrinated to treat the Kim family almost as something to worship.” As if it weren’t already Orwellian enough, North Korea also has one of the world’s biggest open labor camps. There are between 80,000 and 120,000 people in prison, but not all of them have even committed crimes. North Korea practices collective punishment, so a lot of the people who are imprisoned are the innocent family members of those who have committed the crimes.
As an American resident, 1984 truly opened my eyes to the horrors of totalitarianism. In the novel, the main character lives in a heavily controlled, monitored society where people can be arrested for even an incorrect twitching of the face. By the end of the book, he has been violently tortured and psychologically manipulated into worshiping and loving Big Brother, the nation’s figure and symbol. It is hard to believe that 70 years after the book’s publication, societies built on such extreme fear and hatred still exist. We must do everything in our power to educate people of the conditions in North Korea and try to advocate for the citizens’ basic human rights. Simply put, North Korea’s totalitarian government is killing its citizens; whether it be from the severe malnourishment of children, liberal use of the death penalty, and more. (BBC) Proponents of controlling governments claim that this kind of government deters crime. According to vittana.org, the number of focused crimes in a dictatorship in the Philippines “dropped from over 158,000 to just under 80,000,” but the truth of the matter is that citizens don’t need to commit these atrocities when the government does it for them. In North Korea, it's completely normal for women to be sexually abused by men in power. CNN says “officials -- from police officers and prison guards to market supervisors -- face virtually no consequences for their routine abuse of women.” Men can demand sexual favors from women and they simply have to give in; police are very rarely willing to investigate or take action.
Clearly, North Korea, truly one of the worst places to live in, treats its citizens terribly. Yet another way they do this is by strictly controlling the economy. Essentially, the government funnels money into its nuclear weapons program even though there are widespread shortages of food, fuel, and other necessities (Human Rights Watch). You might be asking “How can I help?” North Korea is one of the most closed-off countries there is, but the best ways to help are to spread knowledge and awareness, and support North Korean refugees. We must act swiftly and strongly if we want to end the humanitarian crisis there—the time is now.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949.
Ayres, Crystal. 16 Pros and Cons of Dictatorship. n.d. 3 March 2019.
BBC News. North Korea's Human Rights: What's Not Being Talked About. 18 February 2019. 3 March 2019.
Human Rights Watch. World Report 2019: Rights Trends in North Korea. 17 January 2019. 3 March 2019.
Kwon, Jake; McKirdy, Euan We Are at the Mercy of Men': Reports of Rape and Sexual Abuse in North Korea. 1 November 2018. 3 March 2019.