Jonah Goldberg

If North Koreans were pandas, would we have let them suffer so?

In October 1993, Edward N. Luttwak wrote a brilliant essay for Commentary magazine asking a similar question: "If the Bosnian Muslims had been bottlenose dolphins, would the world have allowed Croats and Serbs to slaughter them by the tens of thousands? If Sarajevo had been an Amazonian rainforest or merely an American wood containing spotted owls, would the Serbs have been allowed to blast it and burn it with their artillery fire?

"The answers are too obvious, the questions merely rhetorical. And therein lies a very great irony. At long last a genuine spirit of transnational benevolence has arisen, fulfilling the highest hopes of the rare pioneering globalists of the 19th century and before. No longer does this disinterested benevolence abruptly stop at the boundaries of state, nation or culture. Instead it now encompasses all of life both animal and vegetal across the entire globe, with only one exception: Homo sapiens."

Luttwak overstated how good animals have it, alas. But his point was well taken. And to America's credit, it wasn't long after Luttwak's essay that the United States and NATO (but not the United Nations) finally did something to curb the slaughter in the former Yugoslavia.

But that's probably little solace to the people of North Korea.

The West ultimately intervened in the Balkans for several reasons. The slaughter was in "Europe's backyard," and images of the sunken eyes peering from emaciated souls kept in concentration camps on European soil couldn't be ignored. The memory of World War II and the Holocaust crept into every debate. Moreover, the violence and cruelty emerged fairly suddenly, making it "news" instead of the status quo. No one could deceitfully claim -- as President Clinton would in the case of the Rwandan genocide -- that we didn't know what was going on. And, perhaps most important, ending the aggression was relatively cheap and easy. The U.S. sent no ground troops and suffered "only" one American life lost in combat.

None of that applies to North Korea. The Hermit Kingdom's regime has kept images of concentration camps and mass starvation limited. The gulag archipelago of political prisons doesn't get much airtime, nor do the women forced into having abortions or, in some instances, compelled to deliver their babies only to watch them suffocated because they contain "impure" Chinese blood. You see, the North Koreans contend they are the "master race" and have strict eugenic laws against what they see as race-mixing.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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