[OUTLOOK]And probably into drugs as wellOh, those North Koreans! What are we to make of them? Headlines on successive days this week: “Seoul sees hope in talks,” “North says ‘no’ to nuclear talks,” “Security offer now draws interest.” Evident-ly, we have no idea what’s up with North Korea. But we have many entertaining metaphors.
On this page during the election campaign, a columnist described North Korea as an erring husband whose estranged wife (South Korea) is tempted by the attentions of an attractive wooer (the United States). That seemed inapt to another columnist, who said the relationship between South and North is not that of marriage but of a protective mother (South) and her wayward son (North).
I myself have described North Korea as a truculent teenage son: You can ground him, you can cut off his allowance, or you can go the other way, praising him and offering incentives for good behavior. Nothing reaches him; he continues to be defiant, and you’re scared stiff that he is about to get into real trouble, running with the wrong crowd, and is probably into drugs.
A Seoul man who has been in North Korea a number of times over a number of years takes that simile a step further. “It’s like your retarded child,” he said. “What do you do with him? You can’t let him out, because he’s dangerous. But you can’t just kill him, because he’s your child.”
Sometimes I think of the North and remember Private Hancock. In Army basic training, Hancock was the guy who said “No.” When a sergeant took umbrage at his dirty boots and ordered him to drop to the ground and do 25 push-ups, Hancock refused. When he got tired on a hike, Hancock sat down by the roadside and told the sergeant to fetch the truck for him.
And he got away with it. Hancock understood that sergeants have no power but intimidation and the acceptance by privates that they must obey orders. But when intimidation fails and acceptance is withdrawn, what could the sergeants do? Hit Hancock? Deny him food? This was Fort Dix, New Jersey, a phone call away from thousands of Italian and Jewish mothers who would get their congressmen on the case. Kick him out of the Army? Fine by Hancock; he didn’t want to be there anyway.
The rest of us enlisted men couldn’t decide whether to be envious or appalled. We all hated sergeants and we admired Hancock’s guts. But we recognized that if very many people acted like him, the Army would be useless, and if civilians followed his example, such basic conveniences as checking accounts and traffic signals would yield to lawlessness.
I don’t know what ever became of Hancock. Maybe he was kidnapped by North Koreans. After all, they kidnapped Japanese to upgrade their language ability. To upgrade their cinema, they kidnapped a South Korean movie director and his actress wife. Maybe they kidnapped Han-cock to upgrade their amorality.
When I lived in Moscow 25 years ago, it was widely believed that North Korean diplomats were using the diplomatic pouch to smuggle drugs. Western diplomats, though horrified, were reluctant to press the matter, deciding that upholding the sanctity of the diplomatic pouch was more important. And the Russians could ignore the suspected activity, because the drugs were just passing through, not being distributed to the Soviet population.
Since then, North Korea seems only to have expanded its drug-running operations. In Taiwan last summer, in Aus-tralia last week, boats were seized with cargoes of narcotics said to come from North Korea. Its state farms are reported to grow opium poppies and its chemistry labs to make amphetamines to sell for hard currency.
South Korea’s central bank estimates Pyeongyang’s annual revenue from the illegal drug trade at between $500 million and $1 billion ― more than it earns from its secret missile sales or its legitimate exports.
The reason I think my old hero-nemesis Private Hancock may be behind the North Korean drug industry is a neat in-your-face twist reported by the Wall Street Journal. Several seizures in Taiwan found North Korean drugs packed in rice bags ― the same bags that had been used by Taiwan to donate rice to the famine-stricken North.
Yes, let’s negotiate with North Korea. But let’s think twice before guaranteeing the survival of Kim Jong-il’s regime.
* The writer is editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Hal Piper