The Morality of Visiting North Korea

Discussion in 'Travel' started by wedge35, May 3, 2013.

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  1. I posted this in - ahem - another place but would be interested in the thoughts of ARRSErs (especially as this is one of the few sub-forums that hasn't been overwhelmed by mongs):

    In a North Korea trip report posted In February, a TT user made the following comment when introducing his thread:

    "During the preparation for my trip, a few one-sided members that frequent the same forums as I, scolded me for visiting a repressive country where people starve, where there was a strong possibility that they would incarcerate me for life, among other things; you know the type. If you are such a kind of person, don't try this experience, as you're going to hate it. To enjoy North Korea you must have an open mind; must be non judgemental; must respect other people’s opinions, even if you disagree; must realize that we may consider our system the best – and I would never live there even for a month - but that there are one or two aspects of their culture that can teach us some lessons. In summary, you must be the kind of "live and let live" person."

    I am not the most widely-travelled person in the world, still less the most well-informed about international relations, but I do know North-East Asia reasonably well and wouldn't consider my closed-minded or insensitive to cultural differences. My thoughts on the matter (and the above comments) are that, interesting as it would be to visit the DPRK, the harm you could potentially do outweighs the desire to have an unusual holiday. For a start, given the nature of visits to North Korea, a significant proportion of the money you pay will go directly to one of the most evil regimes on earth. Forget moral relativism, there comes a point when a line in the sand has to be drawn and any country that makes (for example) the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the People's Republic of China look like bastions of liberty surely represents the far side of that line.

    Related to the above is the fact that, in my opinion, "giving North Korea a chance" or adopting a "live and let live attitude" is to hold the Government of the DPRK to a lesser account than other regimes and, quite frankly, to say that the Korean people are somehow more culturally-suited to being starved, lied to and imprisoned en mass than we in the West are. I suppose that you could make an arguement that that is indeed the case, but I would suggest that the existence of the Republic of (South) Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau and the Republic of China (Taiwan) prove otherwise.

    Furthermore, there is the issue of making yourself a "useful idiot", to use Lenin's apt phrase. By visiting such a country, you run the risk of being used as an inadvertent propaganda tool; it's well doumented that the USSR and various other 'communist' states in Eastern Europe used tourists in such a way, at least in the most repressive phases of their existence. A person's very presence in such a state invites the regime to say: 'things can't be that bad, all these foreigners come here willingly and - look - even bow to the Great Leader'.

    curiosity is a prime motivator in deciding where to travel but I don't think that it should always be the definitive factor. I can think of few places and few periods of history as fascinating as the People's Republic of China during the height of the Maoist era but I'm not so sure that my curiosity would have trumped my doubts about the morality of going and seeing it for myself. As with China then, so with North Korea now. In fact, you could make the case that going to the DPRK is worse; the full horror of the Great Leap Forward is only now emerging thanks to the partial opening of the archives and the work of Chinese and foreign scholars. In an age of mass communication and in the absence of a 'communist bloc' to help shield abuse and mass starvation from the eyes of the world, most people who are even considering a visit to the DPRK will be as aware as most outsiders can be of just what sort of country they are visiting.

    I should perhaps point out that I am not saying that the world outside the Korean peninsular is perfect, or anything close to it; all of our countries have their problems and all are guilty to a greater or lesser extent of failing their citizens in various areas. But few Governments are as willing to let their citizens fill their stomachs with clay and tree bark as the regime in North Korea have been. Short of committing mass suicide, we can't do much to avoid living in an unfair world where some of us live decent lives and others suffer horribly. But I can't help thinking that it's one thing to do so in your own country, quite another to travel to another to dine in luxury while bare-footed children look for grains of rice in the gutter. That doesn't just apply to North Korea, of course, but almost everywhere else in the world at least allows aid agencies to help alleviate the suffering.

    Finally, there is the danger that returning tourists become small-time apologists for the DPRK, perhaps without even realising it (as in the above quote). With so few tourists visiting North Korea, it is entirely to be expected that those who have made the trip are treated as having some inside knowledge not possessed by the rest of us. Given the nature of tours to the DPRK, this is as ridiculous as someone who has been to Disneyland Paris claiming intimate familiarity with France. But we are travellers and we know how satisfying it can be to be treated as an expert on some far-away place; so much so that the temptation can be hard to avoid, even if we know deep down that we know very little. And in a place like North Korea, where you will be shielded from the harsh reality, the above is doubly true. I was a NATO soldier in Bosnia for a year and have visited that country many times since and yet am very, very far from being any sort of expert on the country. Does a one-week escorted tour make anyone an expert on North Korea (especially when the professionals of the CIA, MI5 etc find it so difficult to penetrate the facade)?

    I would be really interested in other people's opinions. I think this is something that each person has to make their own mind up about but, even so, I refuse to accept that not wanting to have a holdiay in someone else's misery makes me any more closed-minded than someone who has made the trip.
  2. No idea mate, just wanted to say nice to see you posting.
  3. The risks are there, everyone knows of the risks, yet year in year out witless ******* morons go to these places, get murdered, raped or kidnapped for ransom and then expect to be rescued by the S AS, all because they think that risk, warning and absolute promises of grave consequences doesn't apply to them all because "they're travellers and the earth is free for everyone"
    They deserve everything they get
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  4. I would bloody love to visit there. I believe, somewhere in the murky past is a thread on here I started about it.
  5. Go for it and sod what other people think....

    You seem switched on to the fact you'll probably only be able to see a very sanitised version of North Korea
    and that you will be exposed to a lot of propoganda.

    Personally I would jump at the chance........

    Dont forget the post card!!!!!
  6. The ****** will probably start a sock-puppet account from a NK IP and kick off WW3....2 weeks into it we'll receive a WAH!!!!
    • Like Like x 1
  7. It holds a fascination for me, too, but I'm also ambivalent about whether I'd actually go there given the chance. Not just for reasons of personal morality but because if you don't know how to navigate your way around such a tightly-controlled society it would be easy to drop some poor sod in the poo with an off-guard comment or some act of supposed kindness.
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  8. Now I appreciate they are not the best looking but the opportunites must be as good as the good old days post wall coming down
  9. The same could be said of India, there are people starving to death there etc etc etc, yet no one has a problem going there, as in Africa. Personally I would love to go to N. Korea to see whats what there and at the end of the day who gives a flying f about what other people think you should or should not do.
  10. I would love to as well....and Cuba too....something about them fascinates me. And Cuba looks like a country frozen in time in the American 40s and 50s from what I've seen on TV. With an apparently fantastic healthcare system. My "great" country could learn a thing or two from them....apart from the whole Commie thing, of course.

    I probably will have more trouble coming back into the U.S. than going there. The CBP (or whatever the hell they are called these days) ***** sometimes act like I am trying to sneak in with a fake American passport or something.
  11. Cuba definitely and China, but NK doesn't appeal. My point was a bit vague, what I meant was if it's safe do it have a great time, but when the warnings are there use common sense. Like not sailing through pirate waters unprotected, or going hill walking with your pregnant girlfriend in the tribal mountains of Afghanistan. Some of the stories begger belief

    I've just read 'Escape from Camp 14' so am a bit biaised at the mo
  12. It depends on what you believe should be your moral compass. Why single out the DPRK? Would it still be ok to visit Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Cuba, Belarus, Yemen, etc? It's probably easier for the mind to single out one specific country to be the most evil of all so you (not you personally) can visit other places and have peace of mind. Basically it's about the latter. Would you avoid visiting the US because of Guantanamo Bay or because of their preferance to lock up certain people without a proper trial? It probably doesn't even cross your mind when you're booking a trip to New York.

    I visited North Korea 9 years ago. The propaganda hurled at us was so incredibly crude and over the top that it was almost Monty Pythonesque. The situation is more unstable at the moment and I wouldn't go there now. They are bat shit crazy and wouldn't think twice about locking you up or using you as a negotiation tool. Unless someone is an ardent communist I wouldn't worry about people being positive about the DPRK. It's suffocating and a bit scary to be there. Everybody is relieved to be out of the place again.

    People deem certain countries off limits because it makes them feel good about themselves. In my opinion it has nothing to do with the reality in those countries. If you want to go I can only advise you to wait after the current tension subsides.
  13. TheIronDuke

    TheIronDuke LE Book Reviewer

    You can go to Cuba. You need to buzz up to Canada, then you can fly into Havana from there. The Cubans know the score so they do not stamp your passport. They stick your visa on a loose-leaf page they put into your passport. Then you can return via Canada, no sweat.

    Given the hassle the US Government has given to Cuba, they welcome Americans who make the effort with open arms. Go to the Montserrat Bar and ask for Nicsai. Tell him The Iron Duke sent you. Enjoy.
  14. The problem with Western Society is that as a whole we seem to have been conditioned to think about the political ramifications of everything we do, be it visiting countries like NK or buying a cup of coffee/pair of joggers that may have been produced by someone working for a pittance. **** it, if you want to go, go mate, it's your choice and no one else's. You could always visit Thailand, they'll welcome you with open arms and you can shag yourself silly with underage prostitutes with everyone's blessing.