The Real Football and North Korea
It is always strange for me to see North Koreans compete at high-profile events like the World Cup. It seems out of place: the most brutal dictatorship on earth taking part in fun and games. Something doesn’t seem right about it, like stories about children raised by wolves. They often seem to get there, though, be it the Olympics or the World Cup.
When I think of North Korea, I don’t normally think of athletic, muscle-clad, well-fed men who play games as their full time jobs. But there they were: fighting Brazil yesterday with fervor. In fact, Jong Tae Se and his teammates stole my heart a little as they faced Goliath.
During the game, the announcers offered a few jokes about the country’s leader Kim Jong Il, and some laughs at his expense. The commentators giggled about the rumors that the handful of North Korean fans in South Africa are in fact hired Chinese actors. (The country is so oppressed that their people aren’t allowed to leave! Ha! That’s hilarious.) We seem to have forgotten what it means to get mad at genocidal maniacs.
But mostly the men announcing the game just talked about the mystery surrounding the country, and admitted that we don’t really know very much about North Korea.
To be clear, we do know some things. Human rights groups have been smuggling people and aid into North Korea for years. We know about the famines that have left children’s bodies piled in the streets, and we have not only heard about their massive concentration camp system: we can see the camps in overhead images of the country.
Voice of the Martyrs (or VOM, a Christian non-profit that combats religious persecution and aids victims) published a booklet in 2008 called “Restricted Nations: North Korea.”
In it, they cite a letter from a man who was imprisoned in North Korea’s vast system of camps. He describes the camps as a “living hell” where guards beat the prisoners until they become mentally unstable. One prisoner who lost his daily rations – a few spoonfuls of rice – got so hungry that he ate dirty rags used on the toilets.
According to eyewitnesses and survivors, the guards torture grandmothers and children. They rape women and exterminate men. Half of the prisoners in the interrogation centers are said to die after 10 months, and families of prisoners are always at risk as well.
Families who aren’t imprisoned live in extreme poverty and depend on aid. They often eat what they can find: acorns, grass, nothing. They worship their dictator, but die for lack of basic sustenance.
We don’t have much to back up these claims of relief workers and survivors. No video, few images. So yes, in that sense we don’t “know” much.
You may wonder, why the sad news? Don’t we get enough of that every day? What in the world can people do about this besides get all worked up?
Not much. We can support the efforts of groups like LiNK: Liberty in North Korea. And we can pray.
But it needs to be said, because yesterday, when North Korea fought so well against Brazil, the country’s sad situation seemed to be a laughing matter to some people. It is not.
Did you catch the North Korea/Brazil game? Did anything stand out to you about the North Korean team or the commentary?
Have you heard much about some of the suffering of the North Korean people? Where did you first hear about it?
For many more resources and info, check out the “Learn” tab at LiNK’s website.