Yeonmi Park, North Korean defector and human rights activist, spoke at the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) Freedom Conference in Dallas on February 11. To over 400 students from around the country, including students from BYU, Park told of her time in North Korea and the parallels she currently observes between North Korean indoctrination and American education and culture.
Park began by detailing the first thirteen years of her life in a country that didn’t have the word “freedom,” “personal liberty,” or “stress.” She explained that her mother would warn her to watch her mouth because the mice would overhear her saying something wrong, fearing the North Korean government. At the age of thirteen, she and her mother escaped to China, where they were then forced into human trafficking. Park was sold for just over $200. Her mother? Only $65.
After several years as slaves, the two women escaped across the Gobi Desert, first into Mongolia, then finally South Korea. Five years later, Park emigrated to America, where she attended Columbia University in New York. As she started her studies, she was surprised at what was being taught in American classrooms; Park was learning the very same ideas taught in North Korea: math, science, and gender was crafted by white men to keep themselves in power.
To illustrate this point, Park recounted an experience she had at her North Korean elementary school when she was asked by her teacher for the sum of one plus one. Park confidently answered, “two.” To which her teacher responded, “You are wrong, the answer is one.” Kim Jong Il reasoned that one droplet of water combined with a second droplet becomes one larger drop; therefore, Kim Jong Il proved that math and science were fictional concepts developed by white men to oppress minorities.
BYU political science students Ryan Bell and Jacob Christensen had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with Park. Bell asked, “What can the American people and the American government do to take a stronger stand against the communist regimes of China and North Korea?” Park, in response, pointed out that China is a real threat to our safety, explaining:
“We have to elect the right officials who have the right policies. Voting is very important… [We also must] spread the word to the people. I don’t think people in America are really aware how dangerous the Chinese Communist Party is to all of our liberty in the world.”
Park argued that we will be able to help those in China with public awareness, having the correct people in office, and the aid of NGOs.
Jacob Christensen then asked, “What role did Animal Farm by George Orwell play in your awakening from living under the tyranny of North Korea?”
Park responded that it wasn’t until she arrived in South Korea that she learned everything she had been taught in North Korea was a lie: Kim Jong Un was not a god, he could not read her mind, and Americans weren’t terrible people. If everything she had learned in North Korea was a lie, who was to say what she was being told now wasn’t a lie either?
Animal Farm, Park explained, helped her understand what happened to North Korea. She recounts reading that the third generation of animals could not remember a time before the pigs’ revolution; she realized she was like that third generation of animals, born into a society based on lies, knowing no better.
Park also reflected on the North Korean concept of collective guilt she sees taught in America, where whole groups are labeled guilty for the actions of an individual, group, or past generation. If an individual in North Korea were to break the law, not only would they be guilty, but their entire family going back generations would also be considered guilty.
With a quavering voice, Park called out Americans for pulling these injustices “seemingly out of nowhere” when there are real injustices in the world: children being fed mud to put hunger at bay, women and children being sold for less than $100 for sexual slavery, and governments that suppress their citizens’ freedom of speech. When reflecting on what this woke culture is doing to America, Park said:
“When I escaped from North Korea, in some way, I was very lucky. I had a country to escape to: America. This country that embraces people like me and gives me freedom. But I do wonder, if America falls, where would we go?”
You can watch Yeonmi Park’s full speech here.
Written by: Ryan Bell
Contributor at The Cougar Chronicle
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints