North Korea is smaller than the state of Mississippi, but it seemed to say that it's not afraid of the big ol' U.S.A. when it fired missiles on Independence Day.
Talk about sending a message. The news about Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, was cause for concern because it chose to test fire short-range missiles that ended up in the Sea of Japan on Tuesday, the day this country celebrated its 230th anniversary and NASA sent off the shuttle Discovery.
North Korea also fired a long-range missile that authorities believe could have reached these shores. But that one either accidentally malfunctioned or was purposely aborted since it blew up shortly after it was launched. Thank goodness.
So what is North Korea trying to do? It didn't only get America's attention, it got the whole world's.
Now, all eyes are on its dictator since 1994, the man with a king-size ego. Kim Jong Il seemed to be saying after the Bush Administration had dealt with him for six years that he will not be dismissed, ignored, or tossed or ordered about by U.S. leaders.
The tension between America and North Korea is decades old, and Washington considers the exercise earlier this week a provocation, even though it says North Korea is not an immediate threat.
I don't know how they figure that. Even little guys with weapons are to be taken seriously and considered a definite and possibly an immediate threat in my book. Say their missiles can't reach these shores? It's just not a good idea to underestimate enemies.
While Washington decodes exactly what Mr. Kim's exercise meant, a look at his policies tell me North Korea is a horrible place to live. Tuesday's TV news programs about life for the 23 million citizens in North Korea left me grateful that I live in a democracy, even with its flaws.
North Korea is a communist state that controls its citizens' lives. Many have died from starvation, a free press is unheard of, health care makes the worst programs in this nation appear stellar, and the way the North Korean government deals with citizens is scary.
No wonder hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have defected, and not over their nation's nuclear weapons program either. Whether the government has become incapable of providing food supplies or because it has placed such tight restrictions on them, the people are still starving to death.
This has been going on for more than a decade. Human Rights Watch reported in May that the government marginalizes the World Food Programme and refuses to permit the monitoring of food aid effort. Between a half million and 3 million people died 10 years ago when policies like these were in place in North Korea.
Health care is free for the asking because it's so pathetically inadequate. North Korea could be a cesspool of communicable disease in part because water and sanitary systems are in terrible shape. Since hospitals hardly have any of the amenities that Americans are accustomed to, any semblance of "good" medical care is underground.
It was three years ago when Andrew Natsios, former administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, discussed North Korea's repressive regime with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington. Comparing his remarks then with reports about life in North Korea just this week, it was as if his observations were made only yesterday.
In Mr. Natsios' outline of frightening details, he said that North Korea doesn't just have concentration camps. It has "re-education" camps for political prisoners. Those prisoners don't have to be involved in politics either, but they can be detained simply because the government wants them held. Individuals are not only subject to that treatment, but whole families are too.
North Korea also controls citizens by squelching anything that resembles a free press. It is forbidden to read, see, or hear reports about the outside world.
Of course the human spirit yearns to be free. But when people don't know there is a better way, they might not try to attain it. Hence, the loyalty to Mr. Kim, also aptly described as a cult figure.
However, that devotion is diminishing. Frustrated citizens are managing to leak reports to the world about how awful their country is, so outsiders are learning what it's really like in North Korea.
Mr. Natsios offered a poignant statement in his testimony to the Senate committee when he said, "North Korean refugees have often described their country as one massive prison."
And as they learn that outside, some other people are allowed to live freely in democracies, they want out. Democracies are not perfect, but they beat life under dictatorships.
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