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     Feb 3, 2005
Kim Jong-il's 'useful idiots' in the West
By David Scofield

The term "useful idiots" has been widely used over the years to describe apologists from Western democracies who could be counted upon to offer slavish praise despite obvious evidence of egregiousness within the system they supported. During Joseph Stalin's reign of terror there was the infamous Walter Duranty, a correspondent for the New York Times who in 1932 won the Pulitzer Prize for his glowing prose praising Stalin and the communist utopia he was building. Duranty chose to ignore the malice of the regime, the brutality of Stalin's forces and the fact that Stalin's "communist utopia" was being built through the enslavement of more than 10 million people. He also failed to publicly note that some 11 million Kulaks were liquidated under Stalin's plan.

During the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia there were more examples of false portrayals for Western consumption. In April 1975, Sydney Schanberg, another New York Times correspondent, declared while the Khmer Rouge prepared to lobotomize the nation that "for the ordinary people of Indochina...it is difficult to imagine how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." He won a Pulitzer Prize, while Pol Pot's bloody excesses left more than two million people dead.

Decades later the world has arguably more useful idiots filing copy to any manner of agencies than ever before. Kim Jong il's useful idiots have formed a club called the Korea Friendship Association (KFA). The group's website is strikingly similar to North Korea's official government web site; the official Democratic People's Republic of Korea website links directly to it. The KFA indicates clearly that they enjoy the "support and endorsement" of the Northern regime - Kim Jong-il certified. The group's activities include "information" seminars where the enlightened benevolence of Kim's rule is championed, all part of its "alternative" view of the North. The ragged wretched displays of poverty and starvation are edited out and the voice of North Koreans not in the direct employ of Kim Jong-il are conspicuously absent. In place of uncomfortable reality, the KFA offers vacation photos of "their" North Korea taken during recent, state supported visits, complete with bowling, golf, amusement parks and Karaoke with young female party members. Members write glowing pieces, oblations celebrating Kim Jong-il's wise rule. No starving people, torture, summary execution, penury or despair in the Korean Friendship Association's North Korea. Just golf, great meals and evenings in the company of Kim Jong-il's beauties.

That useful idiots like these exist and profit from a system that inflicts so much hardship and misery on millions of people is difficult enough to understand; these organizations exist in various countries. But when Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade offers its financial support, it beggars belief.

Former KFA (Canada) "general secretary" Irwin Oostindie resigned his post last July to promote an exhibition he calls "Axis to Grind". He is, of course, still an active member of Kim's KFA fan club, a fact made abundantly clear in his exhibit. Now, that a person with little direct experience with Korea, training in its history, or apparently any understanding of the dynasty's role in the country's road to perdition would actively disseminate Kim Jong il's propaganda is itself morally reprehensible. But state involvement - the use of Canadian taxes - to subsidize such a vicious portrayal is a deep insult to the millions who suffer and die in North Korea.

Citizens of Canada have a constitutionally protected right to articulate their beliefs, regardless of how muddled, hateful and corrosive to freedom these beliefs may be. The ongoing North Korean famine that has claimed at least a million lives is, as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Medecins Sans Frontieres indicate, a product of, at best, callous indifference within the most senior levels of the regime. Access to food is, as many sources both within the government and outside indicate, determined by political loyalty and caste, so that those closest to the regime live in luxury, while the rest, the vast majority of the country live amid the"hostile" and "wavering" classes, denied sustenance and are starved by the state. North Korea's leaders are guilty of gross negligence causing more than a million deaths. If even a fraction of what those who have escaped assert concerning the establishment of gulags, the use of torture and the slaughter of tens of thousands are true, then the North Korean leader is guilty of mass murder.

Canada's Heritage Front, for example, a radical group of racists who actively deny the Holocaust and offer excuses for the Nazis, have been rightly condemned by the government and the courts of Canada, freedom of speech not withstanding.

Offering excuses for those who use food as a weapon and inflict unspeakable crimes against their own citizens, is as offensive to humanity as the ravings of those who deny the Holocaust. Condoning such a mendacious display through official support of those who seek to sanitize the suffering and distract from the depravity that is inflicted by this system challenges the image of Canada as a country committed to alleviating the suffering of the world's most afflicted. Useful idiots, indeed.

David Scofield, former lecturer at the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies, Kyung Hee University, is currently conducting post-graduate research at the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.

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