Friday, March 7, 2014

Freedom is Worth It. Except When It Isn't

Things seem to be moving fast in Ukraine, where Russia appears to be encouraging a revolt by ethnic Russians.

As pressure builds there, the United States and the European Union are talking economic concessions against Russia, and moving warships and troops closer to presumed battle stations around the Black Sea.  In our media, platitudes about freedom are relayed from politicians through reporters and pundits to the American public, ostensibly to shore up support among voters in case our military, already war-worn from fighting two fruitless battles (for what we were told was freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan), is forced into action yet again.

We're told that freedom is worth such fights.

Meanwhile, over in North Korea, it is being reported that 33 people, believed to be evangelical Christians, will likely be put to death by the government.  South Korean intelligence sources say that as Kim Jong-un, the North's increasingly brutal ruler, tries to consolidate his power, his patience with what is rumored to be a flourishing underground network of religious activity has worn thin.  Currently, a Baptist missionary from South Korea, Kim Jung-wook, is being held on charges of sedition in Pyongyang.  South Korea claims he was actually kidnapped while he was across the border in China.  It is believed that the 33 North Koreans about to be executed had some sort of contact with Jung-wook, either during his current stay in Pyongyang, or perhaps on a previous trip he may have made to the closed country.

And while 33 may seem like a lot of people to us Westerners for the North Koreans to kill all at one go, experts say Jong-un ordered at least 40 mass public executions in 2013 alone.

Yet we don't hear much about any of that, do we?  We heard about Jong-un killing his uncle, and his uncle's family.  We've heard about his release of an American businessman, and an Australian missionary.  But when it comes to Jong-un's apparent attempts to crush the threat he sees in his countrymen's embrace of religion, the Western media becomes remarkably silent.

Now, it must be said that while we're talking about denying North Koreans their religious freedom, Jong-un isn't targeting only Christians.  Apparently, all sorts of religious undercurrents are swirling beneath the surface of North Korea's repressed society, including spiritualism and, according to, "superstitious practices."

As the brutality of the Kim regime drags on, North Koreans are increasingly searching for some sort of meaning in their lives.  If, in their desperation, they're not finding it in Christ, just about anything else will do, it seems.  And for Jong-un, that poses a serious threat to his authority.

So why aren't we freedom-loving Westerners doing more to stop Jong-un?  Freedom is what we're all about, right?  "Freedom isn't free, we're willing to die for our freedom, freedom comes with a price, we believe in freedom, freedom is worth it," yadda, yadda, yadda...

Except when it's inconvenient, perhaps?

Except when it's in the cause of religious freedom, which of all the subcategories of freedom, can get pretty messy?

Except when there's nothing really for Americans to gain from trying to win religious freedom for North Koreans, a country possessing no remarkable natural resources for us to plunder - I mean, purchase?

Okay, so maybe those are the unspoken reasons why some Americans seem hypocritical when it comes to "freedom."  And, since the Kim dynasty has had three generations to really corrupt the minds of their people, and render them practically incompetent at rational thought and functionality in the modern world the rest of us experience, a conventional military war isn't likely the most effective way to introduce freedom to North Korea's 24 million sheltered citizens.

It would probably take the coordinated, patient, and long-term efforts of multiple countries to introduce the type of humanitarian hand-holding required to position a post-Kim-dynasty North Korea as a viable contributor to world affairs, or even unify it with South Korea.  And even then, with China being dominant in that region, it's probable that America and Europe would be minor partners to an official Communist state in such an endeavor.  How long do you think such an arrangement would last?

If you think about it long enough, and you try to corroborate the dilemma of North Korea with our conventional American allegiance to freedom, all sorts of discrepancies appear, don't they?  If we're such freedom-lovers, we have to ask not only why we let North Korea get to this state, but also China.  And Cuba.  Would we have given up on Vietnam?

Let's face it:  if we really believed what our politicians and political pundits preach to us - that freedom is worth dying for - then we'd be clamoring for the overthrow of governments like North Korea's.  But our politicians and political class don't really believe that about freedom, deep in their own souls.  It's more of a mantra for the perpetuation of civic enthusiasm here amongst their own voters and fans, rather than a dearly-cherished credo.  We want freedom for ourselves, and we freak out when we think we're seeing some governmental intrusions into that freedom for ourselves.  We'll even rally around the flag and cheer as our military men and women troop off into battlefields deemed worthwhile for America's foreign interests.

And of course, to a certain extent, we Americans have the unusual ability to challenge encroachments into our freedoms here on our sovereign soil.  And as a super-power, we have a certain humanitarian obligation to come to the aid of countries where freedoms are being marginalized.  In fact, as much as I criticize some of our nation's recent forays into international warfare, I have to give my profound respect to our armed forces for their diligence, their desire to make a positive difference in our world, and their willingness to give their lives towards that cause.  Their service to our country, our presidents, and our congresses often seems to be taken for granted by those elected leaders, and I believe God will hold our leaders particularly accountable for the lives they've sent into combat, and the reasons they did so.

But come on, now.  For the most part, most of us Americans consider freedom to be a relative concept, don't we?  We demand it for ourselves, expect it in other First World countries so we're comfortable when we visit, and blithely wish it for everybody else.

Yet even though we hate to admit it, those wishes of freedom for other people often aren't even worth the lives of 33 North Koreans.

Update June 2014:  South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung Wook has reportedly received a life sentence of hard labor by the North Korean government for allegedly participating in subversive religious activities.

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