Flat White

They don’t have safe spaces in North Korea

1 July 2021

5:15 PM

1 July 2021

5:15 PM

If you still have a copy of the important 1976 volume by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A Warning to the West, it will be worth your while to find it, blow off the dust, and revisit it – as I have just done. In it are five talks the Soviet dissident gave in the United States and Britian during 1975 to 1976. 

Since my focus here is actually on a North Korean defector who is likewise sounding the alarm, let me briefly offer two quotes from Solzhenitsyn before moving on. In a March 1976 interview he gave with the BBC he said this: “At the moment the question is not how the Soviet Union will find a way out of totalitarianism, but how the West will be able to avoid the same fate. How will the West be able to withstand the unprecedented force of totalitarianism? That is the problem.”  

And when asked about the threat of nuclear war he replied: “Nuclear war is not even necessary to the Soviet Union. You can be taken simply with bare hands. Why on earth, then, should one have nuclear war? If you have raised your hands and are giving in, why have nuclear war? The most important aspect of detente today is that there is no ideological detente. You Western people, you simply can’t grasp the power of Soviet propaganda. 

I say all this by way of introducing another voice from a communist hellhole who is sounding the alarm: 27-year old Yeonmi Park. Her story is actually not new, and was told in the 2015 book, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom. 

A quick overview of her incredible life runs as follows: Her escape plans began in earnest when she managed to view an illegal DVD of the 1997 movie Titanic. Watching the film made her realise what a massive lie North Korea is, and that things like freedom existed and were worth risking everything for. But simply trying to find something to eat was inducement enough for her and her family to risk their very lives with an attempt to flee. 

They attempted their escape in 2007 when she was just 13 years old. They made it into China after crossing mountain ranges and frozen rivers. But while there she and her mother were forced into sexual slavery. However, she eventually made it to Mongolia, and eventually settled in South Korea in 2009.  

In 2014 Park came to New York, and she published her book the following year. She attended Columbia University, and quickly became amazed at how similar things are in Western universities to what she had fled. And that is where she has again become the stuff of (at least some) recent news headlines: last month she started to speak out about her experience in the US while at Columbia. 


She is now warning America about what she sees happening there. Things in the US remind her too much of home! Woke culture and leftist indoctrination in the West is painting false pictures of reality. As someone who knows exactly what real tyranny and oppression is like, she is shocked by what is being claimed in the West, especially in our universities. Those pushing victim narratives in the West should shut up and try spending a few weeks in North Korea. 

She, like millions of other North Koreans, had lived with 24/7 propaganda. Only one radio station is available, and it must not be turned off. Government brainwashing is non-stop. Complete and utter control of everything one thinks and says is the norm. 

And while the Communist elites live like kings, the masses are living in hellish conditions. People have to chase grasshoppers just to survive – hunger is constant, and starvation is a way of life for most people. There is no heating during the winter, and all the basic necessities of life that we Westerners take for granted are simply not found there. 

So she recently told Fox News this: “I expected that I was paying this fortune, all this time and energy, to learn how to think. But they are forcing you to think the way they want you to think. I realized, wow, this is insane. I thought America was different but I saw so many similarities to what I saw in North Korea that I started worrying.”   

In an interview with Sean Hannity she said more of the same. 

There is no free speech or even free thought allowed in North Korea. So to hear about “hate speech” and “safe spaces” in the West was just so incredible to Park. She cannot believe how cavalier and ignorant Westerners are about the supreme value of freedom, including freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. 

She says that if America is no longer free, there is no other place left where freedom will exist. She is shocked that Westerners actually think they are living an oppressed life. They know nothing of oppression. But she is censored on YouTube and Twitter when she tries to talk about North Korea. ‘You have to fight for freedom’ she says. 

Her story has attracted a lot of attention. Here in Australia, she just recently did a very important 67-minute interview with former Nationals’ leader John Anderson. It really is a must-watch.

And in the UK, Peter Hitchens has just written up her story, and he too shares her warnings about how the West is trying to outdo North Korea in the brainwashing department. He says this about her time at Columbia: 

Almost immediately she met the new, sweet and sticky marshmallow totalitarianism which has taken over so many Western seats of learning. A staff member ticked her off when she revealed that she enjoyed classics such as the books of Jane Austen. ‘I said, “I love those books.” I thought it was a good thing,’ she told Fox News in an interview. But the staff member replied: ‘Did you know those writers had a colonial mindset? They were racists and bigots and are subconsciously brainwashing you.’ 

After encountering the new requirement for the use of gender-neutral pronouns, she concluded ‘Even North Korea is not this nuts… North Korea was pretty crazy, but not this crazy.’ She came to fear that making a fuss would affect her grades and her degree. Eventually, she learned to keep quiet, as people do when they try to live under intolerant regimes, and let the drivel wash over her. 

Anyone who has lived through the past two years in this country, especially the takeover of the National Trust by radicals, and the increasingly politically correct behaviour of major universities, will know that her account has the ring of truth. But what is important is that a survivor of North Korean terror is saying it. She is not claiming that the modern West is like the thuggish Kim regime.  

She is saying that we willingly give in to what has to be forced on to Koreans by police terror, sealed borders and labour camps. And we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. As Ms Park says, at least North Koreans, who live under a regime of brainwashed fear and who are forcibly isolated from all news of the outside world, have an excuse for believing the mad bilge pumped out by their government. We don’t.

‘North Koreans, we don’t have the internet, we don’t have access to any of these great thinkers, we don’t know anything. But here, while having everything, people choose to be brainwashed. And they deny it.’ She warns: ‘You guys have lost common sense to a degree that I as a North Korean cannot even comprehend.’  

This is a strong warning to the West from someone who knows exactly what she is talking about. But as Solzhenitsyn was largely ignored a half-century ago, I fear that this will likely also be her fate. If so, the West will not long last – not when one prophetic voice after another is simply treated with contempt, or mere winked at and ignored. 

Bill Muehlenberg is a Melbourne cultural commentator.

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