Tag Archives: oppression
Aside

Why is one death a tragedy and thousand a statistic?

5 Oct

” LONG LIVE KIM IL-SUNG. KIM JONG-IL, SUN OF THE 21ST CENTURY. LET’S LIVE OUR OWN WAY. WE WILL DO AS THE PARTY TELLS US. WE HAVE NOTHING TO ENVY IN THE WORLD.”

“North Koreans learned to swallow their pride and hold their noses. They picked kernels of undigested corn out of the excrement of farm animals. Shipyard workers developed a technique by which they scraped the bottoms of the cargo holds where food had been stored, then spread the foul-smelling gunk on rooftops to dry so that they could collect from it tiny grains of uncooked rice and other edibles.

On the beaches, people dug out shellfish from the sand and filled buckets with seaweed.When the authorities in 1995 erected fences along the beach (ostensibly to keep out spies, but more likely to prevent people from catching fish the state companies wanted to control), people went out to the unguarded cliffs over the sea and with long rakes tied together hoisted up seaweed. ”

Do I dare to say it? Yes, the book above helped me to restore my faith in humanity when I felt like I might bend double and snap from the weight of all the ‘catastrophe-crisis-death’ headlines we see in the papers everyday. Why, you might ask?

Why would a country where spying is encouraged, where your leader is your religion, where propaganda is the only accepted art form, do that? Why would a country that is synonym for famine, help me to believe in something good?

Yes, I was shocked by the book. I stopped reading it for five months because I had to digest what I was reading. Because frankly, the realisation  and factual evidence that complete oppression is not some Orwellian imagined dystopia but a living thing affecting millions was a shock to me.

But then I realised that the shock was exactly what I needed. I needed to feel the weight of all the headlines and had to be reminded of the suffering. Because there is something more dangerous than violence and cruelty and oppression. It’s violence and cruelty and oppression becoming normal. Because when all we feel is numbness facing something horrible, we lose the will to do anything about it. Abnormal becoming normal is paralysing.

“She often felt sick over what she did and didn’t do to help her young students. How could she have eaten so well herself when they were starving? It is axiomatic that one death is a tragedy, a thousand a statistic. So it was for Mi-ran. What she didn’t realise is that her indifference was an acquired survival skill. In order to get through the 1990s alive, one had to suppress any impulse to share food. To avoid going insane, one had to learn to stop caring. In time, Mi-ran would learn to walk around a dead body on the street withouth paying much attention.”

I hope the day comes when that is a survival skill no-one has to learn.

And yet, every time people question my belief in altruistic actions and unconditional, unselfish love as naiive and dead, I recommend them this book. Why? Because it assured me that love does exist even in the darkest places. Oppression can kill many things, but it cannot kill love.

Quoted extracts from Barbara Demick’s Nothing To Envy, Real lives in North Korea.

Photo: Wikipedia