Donald Kirk: One Korean people, two completely different Korean nations

By Donald Kirk

Los Angeles Times

Published: Sunday, April 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The South Korean brand of noisy, fractious democracy may be far from perfect, but it is crucial for maintaining the freedom in which business can innovate and flourish and citizens can argue issues, battle malfeasance and denounce and advocate policies. The total absence of democracy in North Korea means no one can question for a moment the wisdom of a missile test and birthday celebration that cost enough to feed the North's hungry masses for a year, on top of a nuclear program that costs multibillions more.

Economic reform has been impossible in North Korea while the Kim dynasty rules every sector of society. No one thinks of protesting the harsh system in which dissenters are sentenced to prison camps for terms that end only in death from starvation, disease, torture or execution.

What is most incredible is that the two "halves" of the Korean peninsula could have fostered such disparate systems when they're populated by people of the same ethnic origins, speaking the same language, steeped in thousands of years of the same traditions. In one week they put their respective systems to the test. In any free and fair election to choose between the two, there could be no doubt as to which would be the winner.

Donald Kirk is a journalist and author of numerous books about Korea, most recently "Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine."

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