Trending on Facebook today is news I wish I could ignore (I am really busy with a writing project), but I can’t. Gloria Steinem and a group of international activists visited Pyongyang, North Korea, and then crossed the Demilitarized Zone into South Korea by bus. They were demonstrating for peace. But as it happens, I am writing an essay about my encounters with North Korea over the years I was a correspondent in the Russian Far East and visited the North Korean border several times, in Russia, China, and South Korea.
As the peace activists’ website explains, they intended to “call for an end to the Korean War and for a new beginning for a reunified Korea.” It goes on:
We will hold international peace symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul where we can listen to Korean women and share our experiences and ideas of mobilizing women to bring an end to violent conflict…
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division into two separate states by Cold War powers, which precipitated the 1950-53 Korean War. After nearly 4 million people were killed, mostly Korean civilians, fighting was halted when North Korea, China, and the United States representing the UN Command signed a ceasefire agreement. They promised within three months to sign a peace treaty; over 60 years later, we’re still waiting.
As Steinem and her group crossed the border into South Korea, “the reception was more frosty as around 500 conservative protesters greeted the WomenCrossDMZ group with placards telling them to ‘go to hell,’ ‘get out’ or go back to North Korea,” Reuters reports.
Sigh. Those kooky right wingers: militarists and warmongers, all of them. Who could be opposed to peace? And they are probably all sexists, too—opposing Steinem because of her feminism, right?
Well, for one thing, the peace activists might consider that there is a reason the world is still waiting for a treaty. North Korea refuses to recognize the government of South Korea.
More immediately, the regime’s treatment of women surely ranks among the worst in the world. Joshua Stanton points out in the blog One Free Korea that Pyongyang referred to South Korea’s woman president, Park Geun Hye in sexist terms: “N. Korea calls S. Korea’s president a skirt-lifting, crotch-licking whore, just as Gloria Steinem arrives in Pyongyang.” He adds: Continue reading