And yet, North Korea's plight is not news. It's been the status quo for two generations. Everyone knows that it is an anachronistic, totalitarian police state, and yet the spirit of "never again" finds little purchase in the Western conscience. Indeed, with the exception of some heroic human rights organizations, such as the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the debate is defined almost entirely by what some call "realism." If North Korea could be trusted to abandon its nuclear ambitions and mischief -- an absolute impossibility -- one gets the sense that vast swaths of the foreign policy establishment would be happy to call it a day.
After all, America, we are told again and again, is overextended. And we all know that the concept of regime change -- the only conceivable remedy for North Korea's plight -- is out of favor.
The simple truth: Deterrence works. The madmen running North Korea have made it clear that they will at least try to drown the peninsula in blood if their rule is threatened.
Stopping Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program is rightly a priority because of the threat it poses to the U.S. and our allies. But it should also be a priority because, if we don't, the regime may stagger on for another half-century of barbarous cruelty.
Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history's. No one will be able to claim they didn't know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.