Greg Elich 
Member since Nov 16, 2009


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Re: “Understanding North Korea

This was an interesting article on an important topic. It is heartening that there are activists who work hard at encouraging a change in direction in U.S.-North Korean relations. As one who is familiar with the work of Christine Ahn, I was curious enough to go to Joshua Stanton's website where I read the original post referred to in Ms. Wentz's article, and where I also found his more recent post about Ahn. It is clear to me that Mr. Stanton misrepresented the views of Ms. Ahn. That Stanton would not agree with Ahn is not surprising, given the ideological gap between the two. Stanton writes that he advocated human rights for North Korean people to former UN Ambassador John Bolton, and in reading his website it does not take too long to discover that he is pretty much in line with Bolton in terms of ideology.

In the earlier post, Stanton offers up various quotations from Ahn, along with his arguments. For someone who knows Ahn, the picture Stanton paints of her is inaccurate, and it is clear that he is offended at wider issues, such as the fact that Ahn does not share his devotion to an unrestricted free market.

One example of how Stanton misreprents Ahn's views is his quotation from Ahn that "most experts agree that the MAIN cause of famine was a series of catastrophic events," specifically the collapse of the Soviet Union and drought and floods. Stanton writes, "Contrary to Ms. Ahn's assertions, however, most experts do not agree that 'geopolitical and ecological events' ALONE caused the North Korean famine." He then goes on to list some additional factors, as given by the World Food Program, factors with which I am sure Ahn would agree also played a part. However, Ahn did not write that geopolitical and ecological factors ALONE caused the famine, she wrote that they were the MAIN cause. It is also interesting to note that many of the additional factors are geopolitically or ecologically related. Stanton tosses in his own comment that natural disasters in North Korea "presumably also struck South Korea." He can presume that if he likes, but that was not the case.

Another example is his quotation from a comment by Ahn that on a trip to North Korea, she met "conservation agriculturalists from around the world who were working with the government to move their food production to a more sustainable, less energy-intensive model." Stanton derides Ahn for "holding up the world's hungriest, most dysfunctional nation as a model for 'sustainable, less energy-intensive' agriculture. But that is not what Ahn wrote. She was not holding up North Korea as "a model" to be emulated. She was only pointing out that contrary to the popular image, North Korea was not devoid of foreigners, and that the nation, with the assistance of outside help, was making some efforts in a desirable direction. That is not the same thing as saying its agricultural system is "a model". It was moving towards a model.

In his more recent post, Stanton again misrepresents Ahn, attempting to paint her as hyper-sensitive and whining. It seems to me that it is not criticism in itself that aparently disturbed Ahn. It is Stanton's position in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the potential for the transferrence of his personal dislike of Ahn into public action against her, that appears disturbing. To be fair, Stanton clearly indicates in his more recent post (subsequent to Wentz's article) that this is not something that can or will happen. But it would be natural for anyone to be concerned about that possibility when first learning the news.

Mr. Stanton's attacks on Ahn actually are a sort of compliment. If he weren't concerned that her work was having an effect, he wouldn't have bothered to expend so much effort.

I commend activists like Christine Ahn, as well as the others mentioned in Wentz's article, for their important work. There are indeed problems in North Korea, but the foreign policy approach of hostility and isolation has done no one any good, not even the political prisoners that Stanton is concerned about. More dialogue is needed, not less. More contact is needed, not less. Differences between the U.S. and North Korea can never be overcome through the approach of the last half century. Alternative approaches need to be considered and discussed, and Ahn and her fellow activists are helping to make that transition a reality.

Posted by Greg Elich on 11/16/2009 at 3:33 PM

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