WASHINGTON, December 20, 2014 — The North Korean cyberattack on Sony Studios and subsequent decision by Sony not to distribute a film North Korea wanted pulled has elicited responses ranging from concern to outrage from Newt Gingrich to Mitt Romney to President Obama.
A level of disgust over the attack and the fallout is warranted.
This is an assault not just on a studio, but on a basic American liberty. The hackers started by releasing embarrassing emails to isolate Sony and make its managers the objects of disgust before they threatened violence if the film were shown. It was an astute approach to make the assault on free expression seem more palatable, but the affair has still produced widespread anger at North Korea.
It appears that a lot of people are discovering North Korea for the first time. For years, we’ve given it little thought at all, most people treating it like a bad joke. The North Korean leaders have been treated like the somewhat quaint, backward, amusingly crazy uncles of international politics. That has been a terrible mistake.
By treating Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un as if they were crazy, we’ve been able to pretend that they weren’t evil. The North Korean regime is one of the most brutal, repressive, xenophobic regimes of the last century, a century that has set the bar very high on brutal repression.
The UN’s commission on human rights in North Korea issued a report earlier this year which laid out a case that North Korea’s leaders have engaged in crimes against humanity on a scale and with a level of organization unmatched since the 1930s. The regime has engaged in a systematic program of deliberate starvation, imprisonment, torture, executions, and the suppression of free thought and belief. One of the UN commissioners says that the bodies of starvation victims are being burned in the concentration camps and then used as fertilizer.
North Korea has done all of this largely unnoticed, crushing the people of a nation that has little to offer the rest of the world outside the world’s notice, a people who have suffered in near total silence.
North Korea is a concentration camp, a house of horrors, a land of living ghosts deprived of voice and made invisible. There is nothing funny or quaint about it. If ever a group of national leaders deserved to be lined up against a wall and hanged with piano wire, it is the leaders of North Korea.
And we’re upset that Sony was hacked.
Should we be disgusted that theater chains decided to reject “The Interview” in the face of threats? Yes. Had they not folded, and had there been an attack on a theater, we’d have been horrified and disgusted, and disgusted again by the lawyers who would descend to litigate over the “irresponsible” decision of the theaters to show the film. But that doesn’t make the decision to not show the film a good one. Craven and sensible is still craven.
The North Korean regime has been repulsive from the day it was born, and the failure of the world community to do anything about it and its human rights abuses — we should be disgusted that there are people to whom those abuses are news — has been a dereliction of humanity.
But if it takes an attack on a movie studio to get people angry enough at North Korea to push governments into doing something, then we should be delighted that people have finally discovered their disgust. Unfortunately, our response will be measured and “proportional” (what on earth does that mean? that we’re going to hack a North Korean movie studio?), because no one in power wants to rock the boat, upset North Korea, threaten its Chinese sponsors (ah, China – there’s the rub), or undo sensitive diplomacy.
As if diplomacy with people like that is possible or desirable. The only desirable outcome is the obliteration of the regime. Not because of Sony — it would be absurd to obliterate a regime because of that — but because of the Kims, the oppression, the torture, the concentration camps, the Siberian labor camps, the starvation — because of the totality of the horror that is North Korea.
If someone figures out how to do that without destroying South Korea or starting a war with China, we should do it.
Kim Jong Un is not funny. He is not this crazy fellow in a far off land who is only bad for a few of his countrymen. He is vicious, and his existence is an affront to human decency. His regime is an affront to the international order, and our failure to do anything about it is a testament to our lack of imagination or our self-absorption.