Having recently taken a trip to North Korea, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof today informed the world that he is “more alarmed than ever about the risks of a catastrophic confrontation” between Pyongyang and Washington. Kristof’s usual stock in trade is to shame his readers for caring too little about humanitarian causes of his own idiosyncratic choosing, so today’s column came as a real relief.
Sure, Kristof is easy to mock—even more so when he becomes a helicopter journalist dropping into North Korea and claiming to derive real insight from talking to a senior Foreign Ministry official and a second senior Foreign Ministry official. To be fair, Kristof also spoke to a teacher, a factory worker, a university student, some schoolchildren, and a docent (all in the presence of ministry officials). To be fair again, Kristof isn’t naïve enough to believe that anyone spoke to him candidly. But in that case, why be a dog in the dog-and-pony show?
Now, with all those caveats: Kristof’s column achieves the rare feat of humanizing North Koreans, at least a little. Kristof gives us dolphin shows and playgrounds. He gives us a schoolchild who has heard of Facebook but doesn’t know what it is. He gives us a customs official who opines that Kristof’s wife looks pretty in pictures. He gives us a 13-year-old boy who struggles to please simultaneously this pink-skinned foreigner and the foreigner’s sinister minders.
It isn’t much. But as far as the average American is concerned, every North Korean is Kim Jong-un. So it isn’t nothing either.
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