William F. Buckley
President Bush has made two statements on the matter of food and hunger. The first was that Kim Jong Il of North Korea has opted for national hunger by his single-minded policies aimed at weapons production. Mr. Bush is correct: Thirty percent of the gross domestic product of North Korea goes into the military. It was so in the Soviet Union, which dragooned 30 percent and more of its productive resources into the military, resulting in widespread misery.

The second statement Mr. Bush made is arresting. He was talking now about U.S. food shipments to North Korea. "We've got a great heart, but I have no heart for somebody who starves his folks." There's a mixture of realpolitik and Christian concern here, and the two need lives independent from each other.

It is undeniable that the poverty of North Korea translates to a shortage of food. And no one denies that the United States has been perhaps the primary food supplier for a nation in distress. But fast-moving events involving North Korea leave the Bush administration clinging to mutually exclusive propositions. The first is that one should feed people who are starving. The second, that we must retaliate against the North Korean decision to pursue the production of nuclear bombs.

Last summer, when we satisfied ourselves that the North Koreans were violating their commitments of 1994, the U.S. led a movement to suspend shipments of oil to Pyongyang. That oil had been our part of the 1994 bargain, on which Kim had defaulted. The oil-shipment freeze has worked the hardships intended, and they necessarily include the diminution of food production, and therefore more privation.

But it is now contemplated to increase the pressure by actively discouraging not merely oil, but grain. This leaves Mr. Bush with responsibility for enhancing starvation in North Korea, and this appears to run against the moral grain. Granted, the United States has never undertaken to feed every country in the world that is short of food, but to withhold grain as a matter of policy is something more merely than the question of acknowledging that in many countries food is scarce.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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