North Korean People

"When we talk about North Korea, we forget what’s happening to its people"

On the “Humble Opinion” segment of PBS newshour, host Judy Woodruff spoke with Min Jin Lee about North Korea and the aspect we forget about most often: its people.

As a Korean-American writer, Lee has given lectures and talks on writing, literature, and politics all throughout the US and Asia. As a novelist, Lee has written historical fiction stories about Korean families in Japan.

However, in her most recent talk, Lee delves into her personal history and connection to North Korea. She describes the journey her father made at 16, in the height of the Korean War, aboard a US refugee ship.

Imagine being 16, and because there is a war, you must leave your birthplace and never see your mother again. Imagine now knowing that she must be dead, based only on natural life expectancy, rather than on a real moment in time.

Imagine if you didn’t know that this was your last goodbye.

Lee describes the living conditions she imagines her cousin in—an authoritarian regime clamping down on freedom of movement and expression, and the dangers awaiting her in China if she should defect. Her reminder comes at a time when fears of a nuclear standoff are pervasive and analysis of Kim Jong Un are featured on international newscasts.

Lee reminds us that amid these discussions, we can keep compassion at our core:

So, when I hear about nuclear weapons, like you, I am afraid. But we can also remember the democratic values we cherish. We can learn more about how we can help. And we can have compassion for our global brothers and sisters who are trapped in a dystopian invention not of their making.