Koreans sent back from China have been herded like beasts, with wires forced through their palms or under their collarbones. People who steal food have been burned at the stake, with their relatives recruited to light the match. Then there was the woman who was a true believer and suggested that the Dear Leader should stop womanizing: after she was ordered executed, her own husband volunteered to pull the trigger.
"The biggest scandal in progressive politics," Tony Blair told The New Yorker this year, "is that you do not have people with placards out in the street on North Korea. I mean, that is a disgusting regime. The people are kept in a form of slavery, 23 million of them, and no one protests!"
Correction, says Kristof, the Christian Right does protest; but he quickly dismisses them as deluded and counterproductive, and says liberals are the North Koreans' only hope:
So can anything be done to help North Koreans? Yes, if liberals stop ceding the issue to conservative Christians. Ultimately, the solution to the nuclear standoff is the same as the solution to human rights abuses: dragging North Korea into the family of nations, as we did with Maoist China and Communist Vietnam.
Our first step should be to talk directly to North Koreans, even invite senior officials to the United States. Many conservatives would accept direct talks, as long as the agenda included human rights (on the model of the Helsinki accords).
I would be happy to cede the issue to liberals if they had a solution, but bilateral talks that include human rights issues don't seem very promising. We know how seriously North Korea takes its agreements, and you can count me among those who think that China will ultimately be the country to force change upon the North Koreans. Still, I applaud Kristof for using his stage to throw light on the North Korean nightmare. At this point, any approach is better than inaction.