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Hither and Yon

Junket for peace: Gloria and ‘sisters’ feel good, stay on message — Pyongyang’s talking points

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
The crusade of WomenCrossDMZ for peace on the Korean Peninsula had certain defined boundaries.
Don’t talk about human rights and nukes. Say all you want about American sanctions on North Korea and the need for a peace treaty to end the Korean War.
The women were no doubt disappointed that they could not dramatize their plea for a treaty by going from North to South last Sunday through the truce village of Panmunjom. Surely they would have liked to have stood there saying the armistice signed on that very spot more than 60 years ago was no substitute for a treaty guaranteeing enduring peace.
You could see why South Korea and the U.N. Command were a little reluctant to provide such an easy forum for the women to publicize demands heard regularly from North Korea.
Nonetheless, making the crossing by the well-traveled road running by the nearby Gaeseong Industrial Complex, the 30, including U.S. activist Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, made the most of a mission that played into the hands of their hosts in Pyongyang.
Steinem’s claim to have really gotten to know her North Korean “sisters” by sitting around in a circle and talking about their lives was silly enough considering that any North Koreans assigned to the group had to have been well tutored on how to behave and what to say.
Her boast of “one of the great triumphs” in getting human rights included in a “statement of purpose” was even less convincing in view of North Korea’s record of abuses that the women did not want to talk about.
Still more remarkable, however, was the picture drawn by the Northern Ireland Nobel laureate, Mairead Maguire, of the suffering of the North Koreans at the hands of the Americans. At a symposium Monday in the multi-purpose room of Seoul City Hall, Maguire said it was “beautiful to walk down the street in Pyongyang “where thousands of North Koreans were singing, ‘Free North Korea'” and then “saddening to walk across the DMZ and see their tears” as the women left.
Maguire soared to lyrical heights as she intoned, “In Korea, the birds fly freely, but the North Korean people cannot fly.” And why would that be? “They’ve been subjected to sanctions, subjected to war,” was her ready explanation. “They say we need to recognize their fear the country will be destroyed.”
Why, Maguire asked, “would they want to bomb their South Korean brothers and sisters?” Why indeed. She might have found the answer in any number of articles carried by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, but she preferred to beg South Koreans, “to insist they will not buy into demonization of North Korea or into demonization of North Korean leadership.”
Would it really be unfair to demonize Kim Jong-Un after the record of executions, of reports of torture, executions and hunger, of thousands confined within a gulag system that we’ve been hearing about for years? None of the women seemed to have considered that question as they demonized the U.S. for perpetuating the state of war, for failing to enter into a dialogue with Pyongyang.
The other Nobel laureate in attendance, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, if anything outdid Maguire in absurdities. “We had human interaction,” she declaimed. “Confidence was built. There were tears. People were crying because we had made friends.”
She got better as she moved along. “We walked in fearless,” she shouted as the crowd applauded. “We took a journey and left a legacy. I left with my integrity intact.”
Actually, how could all these women so easily brush aside everything that’s been reported on the agonies of North Koreans, on the repression of the dynastic regime, on the investment of billions into a nuclear program that should be spent on feeding the people?
For these women, such questions were far off message. Jodie Evans, co-founder of Code Pink, a U.S. anti-war group dedicated to fighting American “militarism,” stuck to the point. She called on President Obama to give priority to peace with North Korea as he had done in opening relations with Cuba ― a plea that glossed over the reality that Cuba, by comparison, is almost a free country.
Group-think prevailed. Critical thinking was out. The women could walk by the signs of protesters declaring, “Women Cross ― Go to Hell” and “Peace Treaty, Fake Peace,” among others, but they had more trouble ignoring the shouted remarks of Lee Ae-Ran, a noted defector who raised the only note of dissent. How was it, she asked, that these women could go to Pyongyang but she was unable to send food to an uncle who had died in prison in North Korea?
Gbowee, descending from the stage, smiling graciously, accepted letters from Lee to Kim Jong-Un and to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. It’s conceivable Ban might respond, but somehow I doubt she’ll be hearing from Kim.
Columnist Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in the region for decades. He’s at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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