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North Korea Starves

And still they play at politics.

North Korea, for years on the edge of famine, has crossed that edge and dropped into the abyss. Food is rationed to one-fifth the necessary amount for survival. UNICEF has stated that 80,000 children are in "imminent peril" of starvation, and up to 5 million people could starve to death. Awful climatic conditions - flooding ironically coupled with terrible drought - have virtually eliminated this nation's crop store.

Climate alone has never fully explained starvation. Climate requires a partner, politics, and the two have always gone hand in hand to form a demon that slays millions. In China, the tag-team of flooding and drought combined with the least well-thought-out economic policies in history to kill thirty million people by starvation from 1958-1961, and another few million by politics alone, when they pointed out to Mao Zedong how inane it was to play politics while people starved.

Even in arid Ethiopia in the 1980s, the nation was able, theoretically, to produce enough food. But warring factions stole most of it to feed their armies while vying for control of their dying land. This same thing has occurred over and over again, like that nightmare where you can see the monsters coming for you but you can't move your feet. Liberia. Chad. Angola. Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire. And that's just in the last ten years.

Once, the West, filled with grain surpluses and good intentions, sang a few sympathetic songs. There won't be Christmas in Africa this year, so let's send them some food. The effort did raise money, and the West did send food, which was promptly stolen by the warlords. More food was sent - hey, there's plenty for everyone - and it sat on the docks, rotting, because the warlords had stolen the transport trucks, too. They played at politics, while their people starved.

In Somalia, the West sent more food, more trucks, and this time they also sent some soldiers to guard the trucks which drive the food. The warlords shot the soldiers, and the US decided that maybe those poor starving Africans weren't worth American lives after all. This time, the Americans played with politics, and let Somalia starve.

And now, the monster is racing toward us again, although once again, it's not racing at us, per se, it's racing at them. This time, the "them" is the North Koreans, who are facing a disaster on the scale that made Michael Jackson sing for other people's supper a decade and a half ago.

And still they play. The United States has once again offered to send food - maybe also trucks - but the North Korean leadership has used the starvation of its people as a political pawn in upcoming four-way negotiations with South Korea, China, and the US. Pyongyang has demanded more food, or they would pull out of the talks designed to officially end the Korean War, for which no armistice was ever signed. North Korea seems not to be bluffing, either. A recent report in Time Magazine records a North Korean telling a member of the US House Intelligence Committee, "We're not going to beg too hard. We are not going to change and have openness. If those people die, they die."

The heightened stakes place America and the West in a difficult position. History has taught American politicians that they can easily get away with playing politics while letting innocent civilians starve, as long as those civilians aren't Americans. However, nobody with an ounce of basic human decency wants to see such a tragedy, and despite outward appearances, a few American politicians still retain an ounce or two. The world, out of decency, should ignore Kim's political games and feed North Korea free of conditions, a position supported by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

But even though the US is leaning that way, North Korea decided to change the rules. They demanded that before they would accept any conditional food aid, the US had to cease its calls for an end to North Korea's nuclear power program, and pull its 37,000 troops out of South Korea. This ridiculous attempt to high-ball the US in order to receive more food will only risk alienating the nation which is not only most capable of alleviating the suffering, but has a history of attempting to do so.

Allowing Kim Jong Il to use his people's starvation to dictate terms endangers the very essence of the talks, and risks turning what could be productive measures towards stability on the Korean peninsula into a farce. The North Koreans have shown virtually no reason that they can be trusted to make any concessions, even if the West does supply ample food. Similarly, there is no guarantee that food shipments would even reach their intended targets. They could just as easily end up feeding the million-man North Korean army. America has demanded more transparency in the food distribution process, but the prickly Koreans have thus far refused.

Yet allowing Korea's prickliness to interfere in food aid is merely another side of playing politics. Some US politicians see Korea's food shortage as an excellent lever to pull in order to gain concessions on Korea's nuclear program and weapons trade. Pushing too hard for these concessions risks a Korean rejection of food aid, and "if they die, they die." Yet it is a sure bet that politicians on both sides will push the starvation issue as a way to get what they want, using millions of innocent civilians as pawns in a chess game where check is political power, and checkmate is unattainable.

The Red Cross reports that the crop size will be only 12% of normal this year. The Japan Times reports that the country needs 800,000 tons of food before the October harvest to avoid widespread starvation, and 9 of the nation's 10 largest reservoirs are dry.

And still they play.

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