The Internet Campaign to Help North Korean Flood Victims


On August 20, The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest circulating daily, published the following article on its editorial page attacking me and our humanitarian project for the North Korean flood victims. After copies reached me I had it translated into English (below) and called the editorial page editor to inquire if they would publish my response. The editor agreed to receive my text and I in turn requested to receive the translation and final version in the event they would cut or edit it. The version I received by fax was very short, less than half the size of the original article and had all the critical points removed. It hardly resembled what I sent. Furthermore the newspaper said my brief rebuttal would in turn be countered by another response from Mr. Kim Han-gwang, who wrote the original article.

Since the Chosun Ilbo seemed not to desire to give me a real opportunity to present my side and was ready to attack me again, I requested that they either publish my entire article or nothing at all and they chose the latter.

Thanks to the freedom of the press and wide dissemination offered by the World Wide Web of the Internet, I take the opportunity of reprinting here both the attack on me by the Chosun Ilbo as well as my response which they declined to print.

This is a very good example of how anyone today is able to be heard to defend one's actions and views against the power of an arrogant press simply by opening up one's own Home Page which has an even wider audience. This is one of the greatest advances of our age.

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title: "Hypocritical" Aid to North Korea writer: Kim Han-gwang, political department writer source: Chosun Ilbo newspaper, August 20, 1996 unofficial translation

Bernard Krisher, who has been launching an Internet drive since last year to collect funds to help North Korean flood victims, has urged "civil disobedience." He is a former journalist who previously served as Newsweek Tokyo bureau chief. In his long article aired on his web site (, he has appealed the south Korean citizens to "follow the dictates of their conscience" and lose no time in taking action in confrontation with the south Korean government that has banned any private-sector aid to north Korea.

Citing the natural law thought of Enlightenmentalists including John Locke, he went the length of urging everyone to disregard a possible (government) punishment and join the campaign to help the north Korean flood victims in compliance with natural law. Not only Krisher, but many Internet web sites to relieve north Korean floods portray the south Korean government as "a dark force" strangulating even the human consciences.

However, there is more than one portion with the Krisher-style argument which I find difficulty in sharing. First of all, they all talk only about the acute food shortage facing the north Korean inhabitants but fail to refer to the cause of the disaster.

The north Korean food shortage was not caused by floods. A recent opinion poll reported that 66.1% of the south Koreans blamed the north Korean food shortage on the excessive military spending and 18.3% of the respondents attributed the crisis to contradictions in the farming practices while a mere 11.8% cited the natural calamity as the cause.

The north Korean food shortage is a by product of the north Korean policy-makers that put armaments before the hunger of their people. South Korean hold that "if the north Korean government should conclude production contracts with the farmers to allow them to freely sell surplus produce, they would be able to find a complete solution to the food shortage." It is no the south Korean citizens but the north Korean people that Krisher should address in urging acts of civil disobedience.

It is also true that humanitarianism cannot become a code of conduct transcending misgovernment and international relations. The UN, despite its knowledge that many people have starved in Iraq due to the dearth of medicines and food, is still continuing its economic embargo on the country. North Korea, while sending letters of thanks to international NGOs for their flood relief supplies, refuses to turn to the south Korean government for help. In these circumstance, it is impossible for the south Korean government alone to maintain "humanitarianism."

Not only international organizations but domestic private-sector organizations are showing signs of disobedience. A unification board official voiced his exasperation: "Is there any difference between relief to north Korean flood victims through the Red Cross and that by private-sector organizations? Such hypocrisy must be shaken off."

The wisdom of private-sector organizations that have undertaken to help north Korea is to be deplored.


I would like to take issue with Mr. Kim Han-gwang who accused my rice donation campaign to North Korea as being "hypocritical."

The United States and many other countries and international organizations are engaged in such relief activities and even encourage their populations to contribute to the relief of the suffering people there. At the height of the Cold War the United States provided emergency grain relief to the Soviet Union and food to Communist Ethiopia. Is this hypocritical?

Only South Korea requires its citizens to donate exclusively through its Red Cross which intentionally dilutes their contributions and provides what is more expensive and less beneficial. In lieu of rice, where one ton (at $250) can feed 75 persons for a month, much costlier staples are purchased, such as packed instant noodles or unwanted clothes or blankets which offer less relief and are also costlier to transport within fuel-short North Korea. This is tantamount to giving chocolate to hungry children.

The dictionary defines a hypocrite, how Mr. Kim labels me, as a "person who pretends to be better than he really is, or to be pious, virtuous, etc. without really being so."

I do not pretend to be anything. As a survivor of the Nazi holocaust who was helped to survive by people now like myself, I merely chose to devote some of my time to helping the needy in Cambodia, and the hungry in North Korea, because they are trapped in situations beyond their control. My distribution of rice also goes directly to the civilian victims, distributed by myself as the photos on my Internet Home Page ( graphically document .

Mr. Kim accuses me of failing to refer to the cause of the disaster. I am not disputing any cause which anyone wishes to attribute to the disaster. The cause, however, is not at issue with me and should not be a reason for declining humanitarian aid to hungry people short of food. When a ship sinks and sends an SOS one doesn't wait to seek the reason for the accident but aims to save the passengers and crew. Some sectors investigate the cause, others just want to move on and help the victims. It is inhuman to reach out with a loaf of bread to a starving person and make the gesture conditional on a political agenda.

I maintain there exists a higher law than civil law in regard to saving lives. Civil disobedience (as in the case of Kim Dae Jung who willingly went to jail to fight for the democracy Koreans enjoy today) is justified when it follows such a higher law. In the Nuremberg judgments officials were infact held accountable even for obeying the law and following orders to kill people. Historically it has been laudable to break unjust laws that violate higher laws. Gandhi and Martin Luther King broke such laws through passive resistance and created a better world for us. They did not oppose the system itself nor advocate violence. One may break an unjust law, but must also be ready to be punished, in this case helping people, particularly children, from dying.

There is also a fatal flaw in Mr. Kim's attack on me. He bases his argument against helping the North Korean victims on his mistaken view that "The UN, despite its knowledge that many people have starved in Iraq due to the dearth of medicines and food, is still continuing its economic embargo on the country." To the contrary, the U.N. months ago negotiated an oil-for-food deal with Iraq expressly to prevent such a situation. Under this agreement Iraq would be allowed to sell $2 billion worth of oil for an initial 180-day period to buy food and medicine for its people. (It was temporarily suspended this week primarily from concern over the security of the workers needed to monitor the sales). This fact is well-known and must have been reported at the time in your newspaper as well. It is surprising that Mr. Kim as well as your editors would publish such an inaccurate fact to bolster your argument that my campaign is "hypocritical."


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