Otto Warmbier’s death should end all hope of accepting Kim Jong-un’s regime as legitimate
John Power says the brutality on display – now targeted at North Koreans and foreigners alike – is a reminder to all that the North Korean dictator cannot be reasoned with or induced to change
The sad and wretched death of Otto Warmbier should obliterate once and for all any doubt about the moral obscenity of the North Korean regime.
We may never know exactly what happened to the 22-year-old college student during his 15 months in custody, but we know enough. We know that Pyongyang sent a healthy young man to his grave for the supposed “crime” of trying to remove a propaganda poster from his hotel.
Whether by torture, poisoning or other mistreatment, the fascist machinery of Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship left Warmbier in a vegetative state and then concealed his perilous condition from his family and diplomats for more than a year. The University of Virginia student’s injuries were so grave that his death on Monday night came just days after he was finally released into the care of his family in the US.
Warmbier’s death is a heinous crime. This should be a watershed moment in how the international community deals with North Korea. Scholars and journalists have long assumed that the North Korean regime was hesitant about seriously harming foreigners in its custody, especially Westerners, out of concern for its international image. Even as three generations of the Kim family have condemned countless numbers of their own countrymen to lifelong misery or death in a gulag, authorities have in the past released tourists from custody relatively unscathed after several months. It’s now clear that the regime no longer feels any need to treat visitors as human beings either.
It is time for the United States and other civilised nations to abandon the fantasy that North Korea can be reasoned with or induced to change. For seven decades, the Kim dynasty has carried out atrocity after atrocity – from consigning generations of families to labour camps to downing South Korean civilian airliners – with the express purpose of strengthening its stranglehold on power. As long as the Kims remain in charge, North Korea will be a blight on humanity.
From this point on, the international community should actively support all efforts to undermine the regime, short of military action. The UN and individual nations should enforce and strengthen sanctions. Governments should endorse and fund activists who seek to breach the regime’s blockade on outside information with USB drops and radio broadcasts.
There is no moral case left for accepting the Kims as rightful rulers on the Korean peninsula. If not much earlier, it died with Otto Warmbier.
John Power is an Australia-based journalist who reported from South Korea between 2010 and March of this year